Saturday, February 20, 2010

Planets and Archetypes 3

There is no place without Gods and no activity that does not enact them. Every fantasy, every experience has its archetypal reason. There is nothing that does not belong to one God or another.

Archetypes thus can be understood and described in many ways, and much of the history of Western thought has evolved and revolved around this very issue. For our present purposes, we can define an archetype as a universal principle or force that affects ”impels, structures, permeates ”the human psyche and the world of human experience on many levels. One can think of them in mythic terms as gods and goddesses (or what Blake called the Immortals ), in Platonic terms as transcendent first principles and numinous Ideas, or in Aristotelian terms as immanent universals and dynamic indwelling forms. One can approach them in a Kantian mode as a priori categories of perception and cognition, in Schopenhauerian terms as the universal essences embodied in great works of art, or in the Nietzschean manner as primordial principles symbolizing basic cultural tendencies and modes of being. In the twentieth-century context, one can conceive of them in Husserlian terms as essential structures of human experience, in Wittgensteinian terms as linguistic family resemblances linking disparate but overlapping particulars, or in Whiteheadian terms as eternal objects and pure potentialities whose ingression informs the unfolding process of reality. Finally, with depth psychology, one can approach them in the Freudian mode as primordial instincts impelling and structuring biological and psychological processes, or in the Jungian manner as fundamental formal principles of the human psyche, universal expressions of a collective unconscious and unus mundus.

In a sense, the idea of archetypes is itself an archetype, an arche, a continually shape-shifting principle of principles, with multiple creative inflections and variations through the ages as diffracted through different individual and cultural sensibilities. In the course of that long evolution, the archetypal idea seems to have come full circle, arriving now in its post-synchronicity development at a place very closely resembling its ancient origins as cosmic archai, but with its many inflections and potentialities, as well as new dimensions altogether, having been unfolded and explored.

We can thus conceive of archetypes as possessing a transcendent and numinous quality, and yet simultaneously manifesting in specific down-to-earth physical, emotional, and cognitive embodiments. They are enduring a priori structures and essences, and yet are also dynamically indeterminate, open to inflection by many contingent factors, cultural and biographical, circumstantial and participatory. They are, in one sense, timeless and above the changing flux of phenomena, as in the Platonic understanding, and yet in another sense deeply malleable, evolving, and open to the widest diversity of creative human enaction. They seem to move from both within and without, manifesting as impulses, emotions, images, ideas, and interpretive structures in the interior psyche, yet also as concrete forms, events, and contexts in the external world, including synchronistic phenomena. Finally, they can be discussed and thought of in a scientific or philosophical manner as first principles and formal causes, and yet also be understood at another level in terms of mythic personae dramatis that are most adequately approached or apprehended through the powers of the poetic imagination or spiritual intuition. As Jung noted concerning his own mode of discourse when discussing the archetypal content of psychological phenomena:

It is possible to describe this content in rational, scientific language, but in this way one entirely fails to express its living character. Therefore, in describing the living processes of the psyche, I deliberately and consciously give preference to a dramatic, mythological way of thinking and speaking, because this is not only more expressive but also more exact than an abstract scientific terminology, which is wont to toy with the notion that its theoretic formulations may one fine day be resolved into algebraic equations.


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