Jung and Archetypes

It’s a book of essays on a theme, like most of his other books. Here’s an attempt to describe the whole theory in a few paragraphs. Jung suggests the existence of a 3-layered psyche consisting of (1) the conscious (active part of the mind), (2) the personal unconscious (thinking over which we have little or no control), and (3) the collective unconscious (unevolved, animal-instinctive mental activity). The collective unconscious is “collective” in the sense that humans resemble each other the most at the lowest, biological levels. “The body’s carbon is simply carbon” (pg. 173). We inherit the collective unconscious from the common pool of human characteristics, like morphological aspects of the body such as arms, legs, etc.

The “archetypes” originate in the collective unconscious and are the psychological equivalents of Platonic Forms. (I realized about halfway through the book that archetype-figures also appear in the personal unconscious, where they’re called “complexes”). The most important archetypes appear to be the Shadow (the inferior aspects of the self which we hide from others), the Anima/Animus (our object(s) of desire), and the Wise Old Man (e.g., teacher, medicine man). He also discusses a Mother archetype and a Child archetype and indicates the existence of numerous others. Identifying strongly with an archetype leads to psychosis.

The heart of the book is in the first essay, but the rest is useful in fleshing out descriptions and giving examples. The collective Anima archetype, for instance, can be found among movie stars and in the general pop culture. Devils and tricksters often represent the Shadow archetype. Tolkien’s Gandalf is a good instance of the Wise Old Man. It’s not so easy to identify a particular individual’s Anima complex or Shadow complex.

A few things bothered me about the book. For one, Jung indicates that the “Primitive mentality differs from the civilized chiefly in that the conscious mind is far less developed in scope … The Primitive cannot assert that he thinks; it is rather that something thinks in him” (pg. 153). This is a dubious kind of distinction between civilized and uncivilized states of mind that seems to have gone out of fashion over the decades. Also, I couldn’t tell from this book what methodology Jung used to determine the significance of dream symbols. Does every dream about climbing a tree represent the psyche climbing the “World Tree” toward higher states of consciousness? Do snakes always represent the unconscious? Is every old woman in a dream an example of the Mother archetype? Etc.

 

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