Review: “Kinds of Power” by James Hillman

Thumbs up for Kinds of Power: A Guide to its Intelligent Uses by James Hillman. Nonfiction/philosophy.

I enjoyed this book, though I don’t think I understood most of it. Sometimes I will chalk that up to a failure of my own discernment, but in this case I was not entirely sure that Hillman understood what he was getting at, either. I consulted with my dad, on the (correct) guess that he had probably read some Hillman at some point. “Yeah, he’s just like that,” said my dad. So, while this book was not what I thought I was getting into, and I would hesitate to say what I took away from it, and I will have to decline to tell you what it was about, I’m certain it expanded my brain in some subtle way. (Also, more animism here, and polytheism to boot! What’s up, Gods?) Here’s one of the less stream-of-consciousness-y passages, from the chapter on service, which Hillman considers a type of power:

Quality service, then, enhances life by keeping one eye always on the ideal, striving for purity of perfection. Of course, the ideal cannot be achieved, for that is the nature of “ideal,” which explains why an ideal is not simply a benchmark standard. “Ideal” implies qualities that are beyond any preset description. They are only pointers to how things should be and, perhaps, how they desire to be, as if something in each moment of life wants to transcend itself. Perhaps improvement is not only a human desire. Perhaps progress toward perfection, toward the realization of the ideal, is inherent in the very nature of things, which service recognizes by doing what it can to support this desire for enhancement, bringing out of each thing its best possible performance. This is the spiritual impulse that is the true root of service. Our service in life and our service to life attempt to return whatever we do to a utopic vision, the ideal of heaven, which each of us feels in the heart as an aesthetic joy whenever something is done really right.

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