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Registered User
(8/8/06 9:27 am)
archetype by definintion, so hard to define, properly so,
Hello everyone
I notice the use of the word 'archetype' often on the lists, and just thought I might say a few words about what it is, and ,perhaps too, what it isnt quite. And see what y ou think too. I know many people use the word in many different ways.

As I study archtype over these many years, I think archetype is not a stereotype. An archetype is not a character in a tale nor a small set of characters, such as the maiden, mother, crone triad. Those representations, though insightful and seemingly belonging to a larger archetypal force or idea, are only three of endless views INTO the archetype.

I've come to try to explain it to myself and others this way: Imagine a tree with thousands of branches and billions of leaves.

An archetype has thousands of pathways ....leitmotifs, themes, etc., that carry it. These could be said to be the limbs

An archetype has billions of characteristics that appear to be introjected into and are carried by characters/images, ideas in stories, in art, in scupture, in dance... These EACH act as tiny lenses INTO the source-heart of the archetype. These could be said to be the leaves of the tree.

Archetype itself is far more difficult to define. It is mysterious and mystical and 'other.' Ancient Greeks posited that 'archetypos' was/were an enormous universal unbidden idea or ideal or force or source that could not be grasped by a single thought, word, idea or pronouncement or poem or story, et al.

An small and incomplete example if archetypal inquiry would be the Creation story(ies) in Genesis; One might say therein is an/ the archtype of Creation. But it can also be argued that the stories contained therein are the leaves and branches of something else, something greater.... such as being on the tree of "The One," the archetype that I would call "the Source without source." All the Genesis stories when looked INTO as though they are lenses, can be considered as tellingl something, offering an image of, an idea or feeling about the nature, abilities, et al, of The One.

However, all the stories, can never exemplify The One; many many many more stories would be needed. (This being one reason that it seems inherent in some authors/tellers/ oral tradition people... that stories be turned, evolved and evoked with new sights and insights over time... so as 'to add new leaves, another bract of branch," is how I would put it. The One, to be apprehended as much as a human can grasp, would fan out just like a great tree... with ongoing new pathways and points of new leaves, buds, flowers, fruit, thicker heavier arms carrying the vital nutrients, etc.)

I use this tree as metaphor in my most recent work, Dangerous Old Woman, and also to teach my psychoanalytic grad students. But, what IS archetype, we all wonder. Using the metaphor of the tree, is it the trunk or the root stock or the layer of cambria inside that carries precious water... what IS The Source.

As best I know to tell it, archtype is undefinably, but a palpably felt enormous LIVING idea that thrills and often changes us when we are near it or its representations. The closest word or idea I have found thus far in life (in my 7th decade now) is that it would be equivalent to the mysterious Life Force of the tree. That archetype is alive and hidden and yet without it, all dies, seems a mystery of great proportion to me. Jung proposed the idea of the rhyzome. I would agree, except that archetype is more than the vital energy contained in the kernal underground; it is more akin to what occurred when Yaweh spoke a single word and seed came rushing in spirals from the breath of God out into a world that was and was not yet. The speaking of a Source without source is more close to describing the root of archetype

I hope this helps

with kindest regards,

Nin Harris
Registered User
(8/14/06 8:44 pm)
Re: archetype by definintion, so hard to define, properly so
Good post. I've noticed the confusion between archetypes and stereotypes even amongst academics.

Unregistered User
(8/14/06 9:18 pm)
Re: archetype by definintion, so hard to define, properly so
Or, to sum it up more simply:
An archetype is a necessary character, a stereotype is an unnecessary portrayal--

An archetype can expand on his role in the story by becoming an individual character, while a stereotype is prevented from becoming an invidual character BY his role in the story.

("Leaves and Genesis"...oh, margaret. :rolleyes )

Registered User
(8/15/06 4:49 am)
Re: archetype by definintion, so hard to define, properly so
Got to put in two pence worth here.

Don't mean this in any absolute sense - it's just how I think of archetypes, so anyone can take it or leave it.

Like stereotypes, archetypes are imaginary, simplified forms which stand for some psychological state of being. It's these psychological states which are infinitely complex and so we need these sort of cross-sections or idealisations just to get a handle on them. They're the frictionless slopes and spheres of the mind.

The only difference, for me, between archetypes and stereotypes is in the way they are used. A stereotype is a simplification when simplification is easy. An archetype is a simplification which achieves something that can't be achieved by the complex reality. Usually it's to do with clarity. It's the difference between a face drawn as a circle because you haven't bothered to look carefully at a real face, and a face drawn as a circle because you want to achieve something a realistic face can't.

Fairy tales use nothing but simplifications of psychology - and the reason why most of us here are interested in them is because they do it with enormous power. They're archetypes. But when a retelling dresses such simplifications up in the literary fashions of the time, giving them fancy names and idiosyncracies (I'm thinking mainly of some of the cabinet des fees) it tends (especially after the fashions have passed) to undermine their archetypal power.

A frictionless sphere functions to demonstrate certain physical relationships. A frictionless sphere with a funny name and a peruke doesn't.

A large part of the reason why a lot of people are turned off by fairy tales is because they see the peruke and not the sphere. Simplifications, for one reason or another, not used effectively and becoming idle stereotypes. (Disney the obvious 20th cent culprit.)

I suppose a practical implication of this is that story tellers need to take care with archetypes. The more you dress them up, the more you root them to the mores of whatever time/place in which they are set. For me, that makes it important for retellings to be fresh, and to subvert. And whenever a fairy tale emerges as a kind of analysis of the real, the contemporary and the complex, then archetypes are working full out as they should. When a retelling attempts nothing more than a lick of paint over the old, then I'm afraid it's the lick of paint that wins and the archetypes get lost. Disney again.

So, in short: a witch in a gingerbread house; a princess who never smiles; a girl in a tower; a prince lost in a wood; a fisherman who spares a talking fish... These are all simple, almost geometric forms. Whether they're archetypes or stereotypes depends entirely on how they're used.

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