06: Archetypes cont’d

with 5 comments

This separate category altogether, one which itself is not a fixed, prescribed archetype, rather a broad spectrum of positions, is an ideal segue from our two strategies of thinking about different types of archetypes to thinking differently about archetypes. To begin with, as I have already noted, the mythopoetic understanding of archetypes is a greatly simplified version of Jung’s presentation of archetypes. A vast volume of words could be consumed discussing what Jung did and did not mean, but suffice to say he was a product of his time and cannot be taken as an exemplar for how people should be thinking about gender in the present day.

Of significant interest is the 2009 publication of Jung’s visionary journal The Red Book, the editor of which—Sonu Shamdasani—claims is “nothing less than the central book in his oeuvre,” and that his other work cannot really be understood without reading this in tandem. There is little in The Red Book that resonates with a mythopoetic understanding of masculinity, and it would be interesting to speculate how the mythopoetic movement would have been different if it had this source at its disposal. Remember, too, that Jung was at heart a mythologist: he constructed ways of understanding reality through and as myth. The mythopoetic movement repeatedly referred to story and myth, and repeatedly conflated it with reality: for archetypes to be useful they must genuinely be considered mythical, with all the caveats that implies.

Further still, however much we unpack what Jung may or may not have understood by archetypes, his is not the only view on the matter. As one commenter (Butters) on the first chapter of The Masculinity Conspiracy writes:

I hope your definition of archetypes do not rest on one definition of them only—the classical Jungian definition. The Archetypal Psychology school of thought, which branched from Jung in the work of James Hillman, and was popularized by Thomas Moore (e.g. Care of the Soul) is at least as popular as the classical definition of archetypes. Difference being that the classical school perpetuates stereotypes under the name archetypes, whereas the movement launched by Hillman and co has philosophically corrected the limitations of the former. The Archetypal Psychology branch of Jung’s Analytical psychology is almost completely compatible with the notion of a plurality of masculinities and indeed promotes the cause very strongly among the masses! For instance, Hillman and co state that both sexes have equal access to roles of nurturer (Geb/Gaia), the Warrior (Athena/Ares), the lover of beauty (Adonis/Aphrodite), the power/status seekers (Zeus/Hera).

I don’t cite Butters here to agree with him (I’m not sufficiently informed on archetypal psychology to have a useful opinion), rather to demonstrate that there are always different takes on such things, many of which get overlooked by the popular discourse on the subject at hand.



Written by Joseph Gelfer

July 5, 2011 at 10:47 am

5 Responses

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  1. Hi Joseph,
    I’d like to point out the discrepancy of butters statement, there are two schools of analytical psychology yes, but the ‘classical’ does not have a simplistic view of archetypes as he is implying. He doesn’t actually prove his point, he just makes a claim without evidence. My understanding is, as you have held to throughout this chapter, that Jung’s work is a nuanced. complex and a symbolically derived approach to the psyche. Most people have not actually studied his work because it would take a very long time… again back to your sense of academic laziness. If one begins to see symbols as Jung meant, one is obliged to do some work on ones own ‘conditioning’… that goes with the territory in my experience.
    So what I’d suggest is just take out the polarity between classic and new-jung… 🙂


    March 28, 2012 at 10:06 am

    • Good points: the mobilization and critique of Jung often results in the most detailed responses from people. I wish I new more about Jung to have an informed opinion (mine is reserved more for the neo-Jungian types, which is barely Jungian at all).


      March 28, 2012 at 10:12 am

      • One thing about Jung, that might be of further interest is his sense of ‘individuation’, coming into one’s own way of being – overcoming the conditioning of culture and being your’self’. From the basics of what people may simplify of his work this may sound like a balancing of ‘instincts’: feeling and thinking for example, a sort of homogenizing, but not at all, it’s a profoundly adept way of honouring the person’s uniqueness, while working therapeutically to help them overcome personally or socially damaging neurosis – like sociopathy, narcism etc.
        As you mentioned, the bible is not a literal but metaphorical work. Jung is the same, and the application of where the metaphor meets the literal is the art of a good therapy session. Been there, done that.
        A sense of how the myth and metaphor works in a Jungian way is to watch or listen to the Joseph Campbell interview with Bill Moyers. Campbell is famous for the phrase ‘follow your bliss’, but in a sense he means follow your passion, your meaning – without the masculine conspiracy being involved…

        again, thanks for making me think in new ways about all this!


        March 29, 2012 at 9:00 am

  2. “The mythopoetic movement repeatedly referred to story and myth, and repeatedly conflated it with reality: for archetypes to be useful they must genuinely be considered mythical, with all the caveats that implies.”

    This, together with the Roland Barthes quote you used elsewhere on myth as depoliticised speech, gets to the heart of how dangerous it is for archetypal language, metaphors and images to be reified. Beautifully said.


    September 5, 2011 at 12:32 am

    • Maybe rather than rejecting myth as a source of gender performances it can be re-spun to demonstrate their socially constructed nature? After all, a myth is not real: it comprises and reflects the anxieties and dreams of its creators?


      September 5, 2011 at 7:57 am

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