Carl Jung, part 4: Do archetypes exist?

The fourth of my posts on Jung has just gone up at the Guardian’s Cif. A taster:

Archetypes can be thought of simply as structuring principles. For example, falling in love is archetypal for human beings. Everyone does it, at least once, and although the pattern is common, each time it feels new and inimitable.

Hence, Cleopatra was the lover of both Julius Caesar and Marc Antony, though Caesar fell in love with her when she appeared from the folds of a carpet, whereas what worked for Antony was her appearing resplendent in great state on a barge. “When an archetype is constellated, our whole body is engaged and its emotional arousal focuses and motivates us with a force that is very difficult to resist,” writes John Ryan Haule.

A related feature of archetypes is that, while they shape our perceptions and behaviour, we only become conscious of them indirectly, as they are manifest in particular instances. It is rather like Schopenhauer and Kant’s notion of the inaccessibility of the “thing-in-itself”, upon which Jung drew: you can’t experience archetypes directly but only when they are incarnated. This would explain why, for example, Buddhists tend not to have visions of Jesus, and Christians tend not to have visions of Siddhartha Gautama. Instead, religious believers relate to the archetype of the wise man via the images available to them in their culture (given, for the sake of argument, that wisdom is what Jesus or the Buddha represent).

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