Friday, 27 February 2015


At Home in the World – Sound and Symmetries of Belonging. Spring Journal Books, New Orleans. 2010. 

This review was written on December 16th 2010

John Hill is a practising Jungian psychotherapist who lives in Zurich. He is a close friend of my brother-in-law Mark Hederman since they were at school together in Glenstal and his family were close to my wife, Louise, Mark and the Hederman family in earlier years. He was trained in philosophy in Dublin University and the Catholic University of America.  

The title provides the full sense of what Hill wishes to convey in the wider sense of home and homelessness but those of us who are not familiar with Jungian psychology will find problems of interpretation and of insights in the earlier chapters.  One professional colleague writes on the back cover of the book as follows

The work offers a profound philosophical and psychological exploration of the multi-dimensional significance of home and the interwoven themes of homelessness and homesickness in contemporary global culture. Home is a particular dwelling place, as a cultural or national identity, as a safe temenos (a sacred enclosure or precinct, according my Random House dictionary- RM) in therapy, and as a metaphor for the individuation process are (sic)  analysed expertly from multi-disciplinary perspectives and, more poignantly, through the sharing of diverse narratives that bear witness to lives lived and endured from memories of homes lost and regained.

Gaia: Primordial Goddess of the earth or Mother Earth
The theme is home in every sense from the individual family to the planet’s role as Gaia, the home of humanity. (He does not use the word Gaia as popularised by James Lovelock in describing our planet home - RM.) The author touches on his own somewhat dysfunctional family, his many changes of home and home’s circumstances during his training and after his thirty years of professional life in Switzerland where he married, had a family, divorced and worked as a deeply committed Jungian psychotherapist.   A meaningful and comprehensive review of John Hill’s text would require me to reread the chapters dealing with the more arcane language of his profession. In his final chapter he returns to Jung and his dreams. He writes

One of Jung’s dreams, evocative of the vertical axis of home, suggests that the human psyche harbors (sic) to embrace the entirety of evolution. The dream inspired him to envisage the human personality as a many storied house, which is still in the process of being built. The top floor would symbolise the conscious personality, but as one descends, one discovers other stories containing relics of a historical consciousness. Already Jung’s description of his 1912 dream makes this kind of experience.

And the author goes on to explain:

It was as though we had to describe and explain a building whose upper storey was erected in the nineteenth century, the ground floor dates back to the sixteenth century, and careful examination of the masonry reveals that it was reconstructed from a tower built in the eleventh century. In the cellar we come upon Roman foundations and under the cellar a choked up cave with Neolithic tools ---- that would be the picture of our psychic structure.  We live on the upper storey and are only aware that the lower storey is a little old-fashioned. As to what lies beneath the earth’s surface, of that we remain totally unconscious.

I leave the more arcane aspects of Hill’s chapters on the conscious
 and unconscious and I deal more with his chapters which include his protean description of the home in its many forms. Home can be related to the closely-knit family, it can refer to a community or nation and is thus related to our commitment to nationality; it can refer to various structures in society, the professions, and political movements, or to humanity as a whole as in the Gaia concept. In the individual, home may change as one ages, as one’s family’s circumstances change and as one adopts a career and changes location. No doubt one’s original childhood and early home will remain a powerful part of one’s consciousness but in to-day’s climate the rapid increase in immigration worldwide raises huge problems contributing to the trauma of homelessness, a factor dealt with in detail in chapter 10 and 11, At home in a Global Society and Traversing Cultural Boundaries. Hill dissects in detail the many problems the immigrants face and the many problems faced by their host nation

Hill states that homelessness appears with many faces: overpopulation, intolerance, poverty, civil strife, the concentration of wealth among the few. He mentions the speed of information, and the ease of transportation which has unleashed world migrations of unparalleled dimensions. He proposes some of the solutions which may be employed to overcome the immigrants’ language, cultural and emotional needs, not to mention loss of possessions and separation from home and nation. Hill states that much can be learned from the psychotherapist’s and social worker’s engagement with immigrant populations and clearly the author is deeply concerned with our current situation.

Although, even with such professional inputs, the lot of the immigrant nowadays cannot easily be solved. Hill talks about the methodology of coping with increasing immigration but the possible solutions which he puts forward surely ignores the cause of this world trend, that is, a burgeoning human population which fails to realise the limitations of Nature on which we depend for our existence and which must add to or, more likely, accelerate the fundamental cause of our woes. And a rise in the oceans of one metre will increase the current high rate of immigration by a hundred fold. The author’s two chapters described so comprehensively about world immigration must add further warning to us of the threat to humanity.

Chapter 12 Ireland Contemplating a Nation from a Place of Exile provides an interesting insight into Irish nationalism, and particularly into our recent revolutionary period and the Northern situation. It is relevant because of the author’s birth in Ireland and of his Irish family. His views on nationalism as the font of revolutionary violence and of alienation of Irish society are very close to my own.

He states that Nationalist movements in Ireland have long sought to legitimise their ideals and objections by referring to the ancestral myths of Celtic heroism, to wit, to Cúchulainn and Mother Ireland in her many guises. The heroism of Cúchulainn and our betrayal and neglect of Mother Ireland came as a stimulus to the revolutionaries.   It should be stated that only certain nationalist movements have shared these as driving myths. They have been largely confined to the military ambitions of those who led 1916 and its aftermath, the War of Independence and the long history of the IRA in all parts of the Island of Ireland. The earlier foundation of the Celtic myths can be found among the poets and academics of the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries and it was they who perhaps inadvertently influenced the Fenians, the IBB, the Irish Volunteers and later the IRA. Hill writes about the ‘dark shadows’ cast by these Irish myths, shadows which owe their appearance to the failure of a comprehensive Irish national identity.  Other national movements such as Home Rule and Griffith’s Sinn Féin could hardly be said to have been too concerned by Irish myths.

His chapter on Ireland may also be relevant to the different levels of psychic consciousness.  Ireland is one of the few countries which have a mythical history and ours is based on the five successive invasions of the island, two of which preceded the Tuatha Dé Danann, the Firbolgs and the final invasion of the Celts. These components of the Irish historical myth may in the author’s opinion symbolise the levels of psychic consciousness, ‘’--- a psychic inheritance embedded in the land’’. The historical myths of our country must surely be evoked in every Irishman who has long ago emigrated if he hears the haunting notes of the Lark in the Clear Air or the Cuileann, or the voice of John McCormack singing I Dreamt I dwelt in Marble Halls.

Hill states that Yeats was one to rekindle the revolutionary spirit with his ‘a Terrible Beauty is Born’. There were of course other literary and political influences which led to 1916 and its 90 year aftermath, such as the centenary celebrations of ’98, the sleeping dog of the Fenians and the IRB, the Celtic Twilight.  Our myths were to lead to the divisive political and military consequences which have lasted to this day. Pearse, initially a moderate supporting home rule as late as 1912, became obsessed with Mother Ireland and Cúchulainn. These were to lead to his blood sacrifice four years later, no doubt influenced by Tom Clarke, who started his career in the late 19th century bombing the English population, and Seán MacDermott who devoted his life to organising a resurgent IRB and, with Tom Clarke, was long committed to a military uprising.  (MacDermott was to meet my mother in 1915 and intended to marry her – RM.) These revolutionaries were ably encouraged by the Irish Americans led by the old warrior, John Devoy of Clan na nGael. In 1916 there were few who supported the rebellion but the British played into the hands of the separatists by executing the leaders - and so our home of nationalism became dysfunctional and scarred by conflicting ideologies.

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