James Hillman’s restoration of the underlying identity of the senex and puer in a two-sided archetype—along with his diagnosis of the problems of today which stem from the split or sundering of one from the other—echoes an important idea in Blake. According to Frye (p. 210 of Fearful Symmetry), what began as two discrete and antagonistic entities (Orc and Urizen) developed gradually into a single figure who, following a cyclical course resembling that of the seasons or the sun’s rising and setting, comprehended within itself both the revitalizing, regenerative ‘puer’ features, on the one hand, and the exhaustion, the ‘rules,’ and the sterility of the ‘senex.’
If ‘taken to heart,’ this idea of an imaginative healing of a conceptual severance of these two aspects of what, all along, has been joined at the root, has very important implications. For one thing, if there is a kind of inevitability or implacable necessity behind the current phase of cultural decline, exhaustion, and sterility, then wisdom consists in the acknowledgement and conscious acceptance of this sobering truth—rather than stubbornly defying and noisily protesting against it. When we have lived to the age of eighty, we would be foolish to continue to do all those things and to desire all those things that were appropriate for a youth of nineteen years. Analogously, poets, thinkers, and visionaries alive today may be squandering valuable energy and precious time (which could be put to better use) when they strive blindly to ignite a general conflagration where only dampened faggots are to be found. To expect the inviolable and necessary laws of the larger cycle to be overruled by the commendable exuberance of a few scintillae of genius is to expect that one’s outdoor event will be a success when there is a 100% chance of torrential rains in the forecast—and you can see the thunderclouds moving in. Even if our hard-headed and optimistic hosts defy meteorological augury and refuse to postpone the planned picnic, the forecast alone will be enough to keep 95% of the invited guests immured in their cozy, dry homes on the appointed day. Genuine ‘renaissances’ and ‘golden ages’ emerge under rather different conditions, in accordance with cycles of growth and decay which, in their scope and power, greatly exceed the concentrated will of even the most gifted minority. The gifted minority may be necessary for renaissances and golden eras, but they do not appear to be sufficient. Perhaps every bit as much wisdom, strength, and creativity are required to properly clear a field, plant and tend a crop, as is needed to harvest it. The right opportunity (the ‘chairos’) for such (usually brief) periods of incandescent creativity must also be in place—and, like our genetic inheritance or the country in which we are born, these crucial factors are under no one’s control. Individual humans are certainly capable of accomplishing much on their own, but none of us can change the larger context to which fate has assigned us. A big part of this context, obviously, is the particular phase of the larger cycle in which we find ourselves immersed. We may have an unusually developed conscious understanding of ‘where we are’ or, as is more often the case, we may be comparatively unconscious of our situation, vis-à-vis the larger context.
One thing I find quite consistently in my past writings is a disapproving attitude towards the present ‘way of things’—especially in the U.S. To a certain extent—perhaps to a decisive one—this disapproving or condemnatory stance—(usually towards the many unsettling symptoms of decline and spiritual-imaginative exhaustion) is founded upon the assumption that the underlying causal conditions behind these phenomena could be changed or overcome on a grand scale by some organized campaign, like the attack on Normandy or NASA’s lunar voyage. But the more closely I follow Blake and Hillman down the persuasive path whereby ‘puer and senex,’ ‘Orc and Urizen,’ are not just seen, but felt and known to be phases or stages of a single cycle, the more I find this former assumption untenable and an impediment to my understanding which must be surmounted. It is still undetermined: how much wind will be removed from my sails as I go about the removal of this stubborn assumption that has been so long in the making? Certainly, a lot of reliable hot air has been belched up from the subterranean caverns into which the assumption has plunged its tough roots.