The Insidious Perversion

The insidious perversion

You know how sometimes a sentence or a few words or an event can set of a train of thought that goes into some sort of underground tunnel, rumbling away unseen until it pops up into the light with revelations?

This week there’s been three ingredients that have set in motion a sort of Salmagundi of thought. The first was a tweet from an old friend:

The objectification of self. Everyone is a brand. The biggest and most complete and insidious perversion of capitalism” from Monica

I read it and got the shivers.

The second (catalytic) event was the revelation that a romance writer has trademarked a common word and has been sending out cease and desist notices to any author using that word in book titles. I’m not going into this in detail because it’s been written about a lot since it came up, but because it focuses on a very heavy-handed protection of the concept of “BRAND” it also chimed very much.

I have written before about my objection to the notion of author-branding, being told on occasions that I wasn’t understanding it and that in essence it was simple: I am my brand. My books epitomise the brand, and each book is recognisable as mine. I have always felt deeply uncomfortable with this notion, not because there isn’t a strong element of truth to it (see Hopkins’ poem As kingfishers catch fire: “What I do is me: for that I came”) but because it aims to both petrify a moment or a period in my soul’s journey and also to set a price on it.

There was a third ingredient but it was a quote from James Hillman and while I can recall it was about mining the soul for various processes, including raising our consciousness and of the problems of capitalism, I cannot find the quote to save my life. The nearest I can find to it is this:“What we hold close in our imaginal world are not just images and ideas but living bits of soul; when they are spoken, a bit of soul is carried with them. When we tell our tales, we give away our souls. The shame we feel is less about the content of the fantasy than it is that there is fantasy at all, because the revelation of imagination is the revelation of the uncontrollable, spontaneous spirit, an immortal, divine part of the soul, the Memoria Dei. Thus, the shame we feel refers to a sacrilege: the revelation of fantasies expose the divine, which implies that our fantasies are alien because they are not ours” James Hillman (The Myth of Analysis, p. 182). 

When we tell our tales, we give away our souls.” Or in the case of authors, we sell them. I’ve struggled with not being able to write, with having lost the connection to the stories I knew (and still know) were inside me. I have felt hollowed out, empty and bereft. In some of my journeying I have followed many trails, from daydreams and night dreams, stories and songs and poems, and found scraps of clues. Here is one:

“For a nun.

Like your Hopi pottery bowl,
hollowed out, open, beautiful,
you’re being hollowed out by God
not to be filled but to embrace
the sculpted space itself, empty,
yet filled with what you almost see;
intimate poverty’s body.”

Murray Bodo OFM, from the book “Song of the Sparrow- new poems and meditations.”


Am I empty? Or am I simply open, filled with things not seen (and therefore perhaps not valued). I have told many stories. I have others still inside me but I cannot bring them to birth like I once did, naturally but not without great pain and cost to myself. I have become acutely sensitive to the great and terrible turmoil of the world around me, insulated though I am by privilege and accidents of birth. I am caught in a paradox: a need for action and an equal need for withdrawal for self-protection. A need to write my stories (and share them) and a repulsion for the mining of my own soul with those stories. One might say, write them and burn them (as I know one friend, fellow poet Deborah Gregory, has done ) or write them and keep them hidden. Yet just as one would not bear a child and keep it hidden for its whole existence, I cannot write and keep it all locked away in darkness. Yet to publish becomes a connection to the worst of capitalism, the worst of a pervasive, perverted system wherein a writer can lay claim to a common word, seize it and trademark it AND GET AWAY WITH IT (it’s being fought and perhaps will be overturned)


In my scouring of the internet for those words that were the third ingredient, I found the following, part of the essay I shared a bit of further back in this post. It brings me some comfort, but not answers (as you will read). Perhaps I have not become completely lost.

Kenosis seems now the only political way to be—emptied out of certainty…Kenosis is a form of action—not masochistic action, vicitimized, crucified…[but] empty protest: I don’t know how to do the right thing. I don’t even know what’s right. I have no answer. But I sure smell something wrong with the government…‘empty protest’ is a via negativa, a non-positivist way of entering political arena. You take your outrage seriously, but you don’t force yourself to have answers. Trust your nose. You know what stinks. Don’t try to replace the hopeless frustration you feel, the powerless vicitimization, by working out a rational answer. The answers will come, if they come, when they come, to you, to others, but do not fill in the emptiness of the protest with positive suggestions before their time. First, protest!…[An empty protest] doesn’t have an end goal…Empty protest is protest for the sake of the emotions that fuel it and is rooted not in the conscious fullness of improvement, but in the radical negativity…Not only will you be seen as stupid because empty, but you will be also alone,…So empty protest for me is really a kenosis–giving up both the vanity of being admired and the surety of a sound position, and doing it in public” James Hillman (ibid., pp. 103-107).

Post scriptum: this article is very much worth reading. It’s Hillman’s exploration of How the Soul is Sold.

4 thoughts on “The Insidious Perversion

  1. Am I empty or am I open? What a great question Viv! I’m predicting the answer is both. Thank you so much for including a weblink to my Animus Diet. Yes, the ritual burning of the “child of my union” (between Demon Lover & Shadow) was necessary, guided by my dream teacher and Jung himself!

    It feels like there’s lots of stirring, simmering and waiting going on for you at the moment. Within your creative pot I can make out, poetry, mythology and spirituality gently cooking through. Keep stirring my friend and enjoy the process (the journey) for soon you’ll be serving up something delicious and tasty!

    Words are my first love, they got there long before music or anything else really! Selling my work is not why I write, I write because it’s the only way I know how to fully express myself. No wonder I’m a poet and a psychotherapist, as both are, in essence, all about the “words” really! A Merry May Day to you, Deborah.


  2. Thanks for that Viv, still working through the Hillman article but I did like the Hillman quote “After a certain age you do not grow,” he has said. “If you start growing after that age, it’s cancer.” and says we should turn to mining what we have. Challenging, as I have little buried treasure and a rich vein of what christians might call sinfulness!


  3. Shoot Vivienne – a very provocative post indeed. It’s a sad reality that just about everything is branded, hope even … so, we are aware of it, a part of it in some way just because of its existence but we can be apart from it too. Paradox? Yes …

    Strangely, or maybe not, the question of emptiness and fullness has now come up 3 x in my little world in the last 24 hours. Being ’emptied out of certainty’ is wise – imagine being certain of everything or of anything!

    Re protest … I understand about withdrawing from this *^&%^$#*-ed world. If we all remained silent, we would be overly passive and accepting of the status quo or the destruction so evident. It is thanks to protest that here in SA for example, we avoided a shady nuclear deal. The voice of protest has achieved much ..

    Thank you for your post. I write because my thoughts become clearer if only to myself. It’s my way of expression. Thank you for the lovely links.


  4. Some very different and very interesting thoughts, Viv.
    The bit about empty protest stuck with me most. Many of the ready solutions we thought we had have just dissolved. We thought it was a good idea to get rid of Saddam Hussein and Gadaffi, and we, in liberal democracies, had no understanding of what might come in its place. Often, we know something is wrong but are totally bewildered about what to do about it.


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