06: Archetypes cont’d

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The Problem

I’ve written about the problem with archetypes in a detailed (read academic) fashion in my earlier book, Numen, Old Men: Contemporary Masculine Spiritualities and the Problem of Patriarchy. A good deal from this section (and in others) is drawn from that book: I’m telling you this so if you happen to have read it you won’t feel deceived about repeated content, and also so that you don’t have to go and read it, or know where to look for greater depth on the subject if you feel inclined.

The mythopoetic men’s movement made a great deal about its use of “Jungian” archetypes, suggesting it was drawing upon a deep and sophisticated psychological and analytical heritage. The reality is somewhat different, which has resulted in the movement more accurately being described as “neo-Jungian,” which in more everyday language might be translated as “Jung lite.” There isn’t the space here to outline how the mythopoetic men’s movement misread Jung, but suffice to say Jungian scholar David Tacey has charged it with “conservative and simplistic appropriation of Jungian theory.” The archetypes the movement aspires to are, in short, simply reflections of the way masculinity is modeled within the conspiracy or, as masculinities researcher and counselor Philip Culbertson has described them, such archetypes are “calcifications of a patriarchal world view.” What I’m more interested in are the types of masculinity such archetypes promote and some of the more general problems with identifying with archetypes (in a neo-Jungian, if not genuinely Jungian sense).

Take, for example, the Wild Man. Let us put aside the problematic issue about initiation around which the Iron John story revolves, as I have shown how this is a conformist strategy on behalf of the conspiracy in the previous Fatherhood chapter. It is a simple fact that Bly claims wildness is the essence of masculinity: it is a clear and prescriptive statement. If you have no inclinations to wildness, in all its earthiness and hairiness, Bly believes you are missing the essence of masculinity and are presumably one of the “soft males” he identifies on numerous occasions in Iron John.

Bly suggests, with his allusion to “the glory of oaks, mountains, glaciers, horses, lions, grasses, waterfalls, deer,” that there is something inherently beautiful about wildness, as if the psychic wildness of masculinity is the same thing as the majestic wildness of nature. But this is not so: the psychic wildness that Bly refers to is subject to all the pathologies and neuroses instilled by the conspiracy, whereas nature is not (although nature is massively impacted by the dominating mindset of the conspiracy, but that’s another story).

Folklorist Jack Zipes does a great job of teasing out some of the inherent messages of Iron John and the Grimm Brothers tale, Iron Hans, on which it is based. In its original form, the Wild Man folklore archetype was a demonic figure, not a mentor. Further still, the tale was used not to encourage some “natural” masculine wildness, but to initiate young aristocrats into the role of warrior or king. Zipes concludes that, “both Iron Hans and Iron John are warrior tales, and both celebrate violence and killing as the means to establish male identity.” Is that the kind of masculinity we really want? Certainly not, but it’s the kind of masculinity the conspiracy promotes, as we have seen specifically in the History chapter.



Written by Joseph Gelfer

July 5, 2011 at 10:37 am

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