Sunday, February 21, 2010

Planets and Archetypes 2

The idea of archetypal or universal forms then underwent a number of important developments in the later classical, medieval, and Renaissance periods.2 It became the focus of one of the central and most sustained debates of Scholastic philosophy, the problem of universals, a controversy that both reflected and mediated the evolution of Western thought as the locus of intelligible reality gradually shifted from the transcendent to the immanent, from the universal to the particular, and ultimately from the divinely given archetypal Form (eidos) to the humanly constructed general name (nomina). After a final efflorescence in the philosophy and art of the High Renaissance, the concept of archetypes gradually retreated and then virtually disappeared with the modern rise of nominalist philosophy and empiricist science. The archetypal perspective remained vital principally in the arts, in classical and mythological studies, and in Romanticism, as a kind of archaic afterglow. Confined to the subjective realm of interior meaning by the dominant Enlightenment world view, it continued in this form latent within the modern sensibility. The radiant ascent and dominance of modern reason coincided precisely with the eclipse of the archetypal vision.

Between the triumph of nominalism in the seventeenth century and the rise of depth psychology in the twentieth, philosophy brought forth a weighty development, Kant's Copernican revolution in philosophy, that would subsequently have major consequences for the form in which the archetypal perspective would eventually reemerge. With Kant's critical turn, focused on discovering those subjective interpretive structures of the mind which order and condition all human knowledge and experience, the a priori categories and forms, the Enlightenment project underwent a crucial shift in philosophical concern, from the object of knowledge to the knowing subject, that would influence virtually every field of modern thought.

It was not until the turn of the twentieth century, foreshadowed by Nietzsche's vision of the Dionysian and Apollonian principles shaping human culture, that the concept of archetypes began to undergo an unexpected renascence. The immediate matrix of its rebirth was the empirical discoveries of depth psychology ”first with Freud's insights into the Oedipus complex, Eros and Thanatos, Ego, Id, and Superego (a powerful mythology, as Wittgenstein called psychoanalysis), and then in an expanded, fully articulated form with the work of Jung and archetypal psychology. Jung, as we have seen, drawing on Kant's critical epistemology as well as Freud's instinct theory, yet going beyond both, described archetypes as autonomous primordial forms in the psyche that structure and impel all human experience and behavior. In his last formulations influenced by his research on synchronicities, Jung came to regard archetypes as expressions not only of a collective unconscious shared by all human beings, but of a larger matrix of being and meaning that informs and encompasses both the physical world and the human psyche.

Finally, further developments of the archetypal perspective emerged in the postmodern period, not only in post-Jungian psychology but in other fields such as anthropology, mythology, religious studies, philosophy of science, linguistic analysis, phenomenology, process philosophy, and feminist scholarship. In the crucible of postmodern thought, the concept of archetypes was elaborated and critiqued, refined through the deconstruction of rigidly essentialist false universals and cultural stereotypes, and enriched through an increased awareness of archetypes' fluid, evolving, multivalent, and participatory nature. Reflecting many of the above influences, James Hillman sums up the archetypal perspective in depth psychology:

Let us then imagine archetypes as the deepest patterns of psychic functioning, the roots of the soul governing the perspectives we have of ourselves and the world. They are the axiomatic, self-evident images to which psychic life and our theories about it ever return. . . . There are many other metaphors for describing them: immaterial potentials of structure, like invisible crystals in solution or forms in plants that suddenly show forth under certain conditions; patterns of instinctual behavior like those in animals that direct actions along unswerving paths; the genres and topoi in literature; the recurring typicalities in history; the basic syndromes in psychiatry; the paradigmatic thought models in science; the world-wide figures, rituals, and relationships in anthropology.

But one thing is absolutely essential to the notion of archetypes: their emotional possessive effect, their bedazzlement of consciousness so that it becomes blind to its own stance. By setting up a universe which tends to hold everything we do, see, and say in the sway of its cosmos, an archetype is best comparable with a God. And Gods, religions sometimes say, are less accessible to the senses and to the intellect than they are to the imaginative vision and emotion of the soul.

They are cosmic perspectives in which the soul participates. They are the lords of its realms of being, the patterns for its mimesis. The soul cannot be, except in one of their patterns. All psychic reality is governed by one or another archetypal fantasy, given sanction by a God. I cannot but be in them.


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