The Grapevine Art & Soul Salon

Presentations: Barbara Knott

NOTE: This review was first published in The Grapevine Art and Soul Salon, Issue 6 (2006). It contains a few quotations from the interview published here that I decided to leave as they are, despite the overlap. Miller merits reading more than once.

Review of DISTURBANCES IN THE FIELD: Essays in Honor of David L. Miller (2006)

When I met David Miller in l972 at a seminar in Lugano, Switzerland, he was already finding his place among a vanguard of intellectuals that encompassed Joseph Campbell (David was also a mythologist), Huston Smith (he was a philosopher of religion as well), C. G. Jung and James Hillman (he was immersed in the study of depth psychology). His learning was also steeped in literature and the arts. He had edited, with Stanley Romaine Hopper (an early mentor), Interpretation: The Poetry of Meaning (1967). He had published his own first book Gods and Games: Toward a Theology of Play (1970) and was moving toward publication of The New Polytheism: Rebirth of the Gods and Goddesses (1974). He had begun attending the Eranos Conferences (see below) in 1969 but had not yet lectured there. In 1975 he would deliver the first of nine Eranos lectures.

Early in his life Miller found a working "edge" from which he positioned his thought, his lectures, and his writing, and he has remained since then well ahead of his time. He was among the first to discuss the need in religion for mental and emotional play to "renew the vitality" of biblical images and ideas. And he brought to his monotheistic religious background the rich psychological resources of polytheistic imagining, shifting focus from the idea of the many-as-one to the multifarious faces and ways of the one-as-many.

This Festschrift collection contains pieces about Miller as well as pieces that do not focus on Miller directly but go along with Miller's work.

In her foreword to the book, editor Christine Downing says that the title is meant "to evoke David's often-voiced conviction that his aim, as teacher, as writer, was derangement." She recounts how, at Pacifica Graduate Institute's fall orientations, Miller would often refer to the Do Not Disturb, Ne Pas Deranger sign hanging on the doorknob of his hotel room as a reminder that what he wanted to do was precisely the opposite: to disturb and challenge his listeners and readers so that they might become disturbers in their turn.

From Miller's colleague and longtime friend James B. Wiggins ("David L. Miller: Scholar, Gentleman, Friend") we learn that David Miller's father was a minister, his mother a high school teacher, that he grew up in the Washington, D. C. area and attended Bridgewater College, a Brethren institution in Virginia, and then Bethany Theological Seminary in Chicago, that he got his Ph.D. from Drew University and taught there for three years before going to Syracuse University where he became the first Tolley Distinguished Teaching Professor of the Humanities. In l983 David Miller was awarded the prestigious Watson-Ledden Professorship. He was made an honorary member of the International Association of Analytical Psychology, an "honor rarely extended to anyone who is not a practicing therapist" (20), and he is a member of the American Academy of Religion. He also worked across country in Santa Barbara, California, until 2004 as Core Faculty Member at Pacifica Graduate Institute. "His courses have repeatedly evoked accolades from students" (21). During his teaching career, Miller has directed more than a hundred Ph.D. dissertations.

Ginette Paris ("I have learned 'Nothing' from David Miller") says, "David has been the most influential and admired professor ever to teach at Pacifica, and one of our most loved colleagues" (54).

And regarding his popularity with students, Ted L. Estes ("Matching the Hatch") offers this amusing anecdote from the time he was Miller's student (21): "The first indication that my new teacher was different from anything I had previously known occurred during registration my first semester at Syracuse. Two saucy undergraduates sidled up to the table where I was sitting. One was advising the other what teachers to take. Oh take Miller! she said. Miller can make crap sound good." Estes also recounts standing around at David Miller's house "talking to Joseph Campbell and Rollo May, Alan Watts and Huston Smith, Sam Keen and Norman O. Brown and the likes" (31).

William Drake's "The Many Face(t)s of David Miller," gives us this picture (46): David has the gift of teaching an idea and making it seem an integral part of oneself; something you have always known; something anciently familiar, and something excitingly new.

Another, Glen Slater's "Miller and the Butterfly," adds (50): He moistens theory on the one hand and unearths insights on the other. He returns concepts to images and experiences and places the instinctual ground of being within the lofty and fiery reaches of intellectual discourse. He knows when to hold the cocoon and when to release the butterfly.

In the latter category, of pieces that do not speak directly to Miller but are offered in his honor, is James Hillman's "On Devotion," in which (113) Hillman defines the word and calls up pious images of devotion (folded hands in prayer, a mother attending her ill child, a dairy-man milking at four in the morning, a sculptor, sealed away amid the debris of her cold studio), then introduces and elaborates, with reference to September 11, 200l, a theme (118): The most abominable cruelties have been perpetrated by the most devoted.

It is fitting that in Miller's Festschrift volume, the center piece is Paul Kugler's "Eranos and Jungian Psychology: A Photographic History." Kugler (69) tells us,

The Eranos Conferences [1933-1988] represent one of the most remarkable cultural and literary achievements in the history of analytical psychology. Intellectual traditions from the Far East, the Middle East, and the West came together at Eranos for over half a century: Max Knoll from Princeton lectured alongside Corbin from Tehran and Paris, Jung from Switzerland, and Suzuki from Japan. At its core, Eranos was interdisciplinary and multicultural, with speakers from various cultures presenting on religion, philosophy, literature, science, psychology, and medicine. Different cultures, different disciplines, and different languages came together at the Eranos Conferences for eight days each August for lectures and discussions over dinner.

Kugler's comments are accompanied by a series of fifty-five photographs (including two of David Miller) that suggest what the place and people and atmosphere were like.

Here is an anecdote that Miller has told on more than one occasion about his first visit to the Eranos Conferences in 1969. This version and the comments following it are from two tapes David made for me between November 1998 and August 1999 for an article to be published in Pilgrimage:

I sat beside a British lady, a woman who was very feisty and lively, short--and wore, I remember, white tennis shoes. Gersham Scholem, the great scholar of Jewish mysticism, had spoken that year, and the speeches were two hours long. There was a break in the middle where the speaker would retire to a room. I learned later when I spoke there the first time in 1975 that they served the speaker champagne during the break and tea biscuits and protected him or her from the audience. That was very nice. You had a little bubbly and got your spirit back (that is, your mind back) from the champagne and went back and gave the second half of your talk.

During this break, the "pausa" as it was called because the German word for break is pause, we'd all go out on the balcony overlooking this beautiful lake, Lago Maggiore in Southern Switzerland on the Italian border, and I talked to the British woman who had been sitting beside me. I said, "Will there be a discussion session with the speaker?"

And she said to me, "You must be an American."

I felt properly ashamed and said, "What do you mean?"

She said, "All the Americans think that. It's sort of a democratic idea. The truth is that the speakers here are asked to speak at the very edge of their thinking and, if they manage to do that, of course, they don't know the answers to the questions that might be asked any better than the audience does, and if they don't manage to speak at the edge of their thought, at the very frontier of thinking, then there is no point in asking questions because it's not worth anything."

David continues about Eranos,

These were remarkable occasions. I was asked to speak there first in 1975, and I gave nine talks between the years 1975 and 1986. And these were certainly the most important moments of my life. I remember when I gave my first talk, I was very nervous beforehand and James Hillman, the archetypal psychologist who was speaking that year also, noticed. He is a therapist, and he noticed that I was nervous and had empathy for it since he was speaking, too, and even though he was more experienced than I, he also exhibited nervousness. He said, "Miller, think of it not as talking to that audience (which was filled with distinguished people and scholars from all over the world), but talk to dead people--talk to Jung or talk to Freud or to St. Augustine or Plato or Kant or Buddha or Mohammed."

So I did that. It had a remarkable effect, and I've thought of that a lot since, in terms of the most effective way to teach--namely, that it may not be to talk to people in the room but to talk precisely to the ghosts, the things that haunt us, the ideas we walk around in, and let the dead give light to the living. I speak out of the emptiness and let the conversation of eternity, of the ghosts, come into the room on its own.

He speaks as well about the background of the conferences:

The 57 years of Eranos conferences were imagined first by a woman, Olga Froebe-Kapteyn, who said to herself in 1933 (think about what was going on in 1933; that is to say, we'd had one world war and we were witnessing the buildup for another one), that if the great thinkers of the world can't come together and talk together and produce harmony, then the world is lost. She set out to demonstrate that the great thinkers of the world could come together and talk and produce harmony. Her only proviso was that these would have to be thinkers for whom their thought was embodied in life. It had to be thinkers who were spiritual, not in an esoteric New Age sense, but a very embodied soulful sense. The idea was that these people would come together in a "feast".

On the website of the Eranos Foundation (, one reads that Olga Froebe-Kapteyn dedicated her "casa" and land on Lake Maggiore to an ideal: she created a "free space for the spirit," a "meeting place between East and West." The Greek word eranos refers to a banquet that included food and drink as one might expect, but more importantly, it was in ancient times a feast for the soul to which guests brought offerings of poetry, thought, and music.

The hostess of the Eranos Conferences invited some of the most remarkable intellectuals of the twentieth century from around the world and asked them for original lectures that would lead to discussions. These often took place at the round table she provided for meals. C. G. Jung influenced the conferences by his regular presence. He also introduced her to Richard Wilhelm, who gave Froebe-Kapteyn access to Far Eastern thought and who expanded her range of subsequent speakers. Some sixty yearbooks have been published from these meetings. The website tells us,

Since the end of the 1930's, the program of the conferences thus concentrated on a specific archetyp[al] theme chosen from year to year, analysed and amplified by manifold perspectives thanks to the lecturers' contributions: psychologists, philosophers, theologians, orientalists, historians of religions, ethnologists, indologists, Islamists, Egyptologists, mythologists, and scientists found in the Eranos conferences and in the informal talks held around the great Round Table[,] a place where they could meet and feel that their highly specialized creative work, as mentioned by M. Eliade in 1960, acquired a deeper meaning when being presented and reformulated as a contribution to the knowledge of mankind.

Speakers at Eranos whose names are generally known to the public include Joseph Campbell, James Hillman, Martin Buber, Henry Corbin, Mircea Eliade, Walter F. Otto, Adolf Portmann, Laurens van der Post, Paul Radin, Kathleen Raine, Herbert Reed, C. G. Jung, D. T. Suzuki, Paul Tillich, Heinrich Zimmer--and David Miller.

And here, in another excerpt from the taped interview, is why the photo spread and comments about Eranos by Paul Kugler are so appropriate to a celebration of David Miller's life:

You asked me about what, among my accomplishments, has brought me the most satisfaction. Well, it's a difficult question. I was at a dinner party in Santa Barbara not so long ago, and there was a large group of people, some of them fairly well known, and after the dinner, we were still sitting around the table. A psychoanalyst said, "Let's go around the table and have each person tell one time in their life they would like to relive because it brought so much joy." I couldn't think of one moment, and I had to pass. I said I didn't want to relive any of it, it was all terrible. But now I think that's not quite true. Those moments at Eranos conferences, and especially the moments when I was preparing lectures--sitting in my study by myself imagining being at that magical place beside the lake in Southern Switzerland--not the books that came from the lectures; four or five books came from them--the lectures themselves, and preparing for them, are what have seemed to me to be the most satisfying moments.

In my 1999 interview I also asked David about disappointments in his life. Among other things, he said the following:

When I started out--in my academic years, there were great theologians and great thinkers. There were Freud and Jung, and in theology, Karl Barth and Paul Tillich, in philosophy Heidegger and Wittgenstein, and that's what I aspired to. He mentions the possibility of youthful ("puer") inflation, but says nevertheless, I aspired to make a difference in ideas, to move the marble, so to say. And I think not only have the things that I've done not done that, but I think no one is doing it these days. When he was a student, he told his philosophy instructor William Willoughby that he wanted to teach, and Prof. Willoughby told him, "Well, one thing about teaching is that you're never permitted the luxury of knowing the effect." At one time, he says, I thought I would teach till I dropped dead in the classroom. That was my goal. Because I knew somehow that the older one gets, the more one has to offer, even if one doesn't have the energy and excitement that one does when one is young.

He mentions his disappointment in the "commodification, commercialization, consumerism of the contemporary university which has crushed the spirit of the liberal arts" in his estimation and says that he will be glad to retire after the coming year of teaching.

He has since retired, of course, but I don't think he has slowed down. He still speaks widely here and there and will, in fact, be speaking in Atlanta in September 2007. And I discovered recently that he spent the past winter as usual on ski slopes. He may be at this very moment--at age 70, mind you--polishing his skis for the new season, putting an edge on them to maneuver successfully over slick surfaces, then dulling it just a bit to avoid "catching an edge" and falling--in other words, to make his flight down the slope, like his work and his conversation, as full of quickness and grace as it is absent of excess or hubris.

In an essay (from which I took the above skiing metaphor) called "At the Edges of the Round Table: Jung, Religion, and Eranos," presented at the l6th Congress of the International Association for Analytical Psychology in Barcelona, Spain, on September 1, 2004, and now available on his website (, in which he elaborates the point that Jung gave a psychological edge to the Eranos Conferences and that Eranos gave an intellectual edge to Jung's psychology, there is this comment:

Some prefer to stay away from the edge. They like to have things clear. They are limited in imagination and in thought. And they have no sense of humor. Others, like Jung, make their home on the edges.

So does David Miller, as I suggested at the beginning of this review.

I am rejoicing in the publication of this Festschrift in honor of David Miller's 70th birthday because I know that at long last he knows something of the effect his teaching and writing have had on others. And I am thinking of the title of his first Eranos lecture, "Images of Happy Endings," in that the publication of Disturbances in the Field: Essays in Honor of David L. Miller, is itself the happy ending of a long period of not knowing whether his work has mattered.

Disturbances in the Field can be ordered from Spring Publications at


James Hillman on devotion, "On Devotion."

Can we live at all without being devoted to something? Something beyond pleasure and desire, and beyond guilt, drives our days; something urges us to care and to serve and attend regularly, unthinkingly, even obsessively. (114)

Devotion to archetypal powers beyond our invention is given with our animal nature, so that becoming conscious means discovering to which God, at which altar, we are dedicating our lives. (115)

Thomas Moore on imagination, "Jesus Hermes and Shifting Worlds: Metanoia as Therapy."

At the wedding of Cana, Jesus didn't actively change water into wine. He simply told the waiters to pour out the water and they tasted it as wine. On another occasion he fed five thousand people lunch with a few pieces of fish and bread. You can do the same once you enter the mundus imaginalis. Deeds impossible in the flat realm of fact become readily available.

Water is wine. Imagination not only gives dimension to the flat ordinary; it also complexifies, intensifies, vivifies, and ferments. Where Freud's death principle rules, the Dionysian, which Jesus restored in Cana, is not to be seen, and without the Dionysian, there can be no resurrected vitality. We don't need passive reflection as much as fermenting conversation and art. Jesus says that his very blood is wine. (176)

Robert Romanyshyn on metaphoric sensibility, "Yes, But Who is Going to Convince the Chicken?: Meditations on the 'Inside' and the "Outside'."

Anecdote: A crazy man believed that he was a grain of wheat and so he had a fear of chickens. The psychiatrists convinced him that he was not a grain of wheat. But he came running back to the clinic, having encountered a chicken. The doctors said, "But didn't we convince you that you were not a grain of wheat?" "Yes," he said, "but who is going to convince the chicken?" (207)

Argument: "that a metaphoric sensibility is the logic of the soul that dissolves the dualism of an outside and an inside." (210)

From Ortega Y Gasset via Romanyshyn: there is in each thing, a certain latent potentiality to be many other things, which is set free and expands when other things come into contact with it. (212)

Romanyshyn: In taking us beyond the dualism of inside/outside, a metaphoric sensibility situates us in a field of relations that, like alchemy, is beyond either/or thinking. (213)

He points to Ortega's suggestion that the capacity for metaphor is the trace of the God left within us. (216)

Susan L. Schwartz on Hinduism, "Magic, Irrationality, and the Shifting Tectonics of Beauty."

This essay will concentrate on one non-Western culture whose influence on European cultures has been considerable, and that embodies the characteristics of great antiquity, namely India. (240)

Hinduism operates on three theological levels: it is monotheistic, in that it recognizes one ultimate reality, Brahman; it is polytheistic, in that it recognizes an infinite number of manifestations of that reality; and it is henotheistic, in that it offers the ability to choose one of those manifestations as the prevailing or dominant theistic presence at any given time. (242)

Romano Guardini, via Stan and Jan Marlin, on worship, "On the Etymology of 'Festschrift' and Other Imaginal Realities."

Worship is a kind of holy play in which the soul, with utter abandonment, learns how to waste time for the sake of God. (179)

Copyright 2006, Barbara Knott. All Rights Reserved
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