Narrative and time in relation to the archetypes and the collective unconscious

Throughout this chapter, I will continue to examine the question of time but increasingly in relationship to the nature of an archetype and continuing to consider the complexity of views in the current Jungian world that swirl around the question of what an archetype ‘is’.

These range from 1) those that portray the archetype as simply a cognitive construct or phenomenological possibility that channels thought, thereby granting the archetype enormous epistemological, therapeutic, and even literary power and potential but little or no ontological status, to 2) those that see an archetype and the ever-shifting web of connections among it and other archetypes in the Collective Unconscious—that matrix within which the archetypes have arisen, presently operate, and perpetually transform—as an integral aspect of the Ground of Being and even possibly as that Ground of Being Itself.

The latter position makes of the archetype something that is not only psychologically foundational but also ontologically foundational so that psyche in its most matured and integrated forms, which Jung called ‘individuation,’ corresponds to, or at least is organically woven in some substantial way, into the Ground of Being Itself. By this vfeir, psychology and psychotherapy are not a psychodynamic inquiry and medical techne but a psychospiritual devotion and ethical project. We will take up the topic of psyche and ontology and its educational implications in Chapter 8.

As for Jung himself, he’s all over the map on what an archetype is, although, as he aged, he grew ever closer to the latter, more spiritual view (Charet, 1993), especially in his alchemical studies, the crowning volumes of his life’s work (Edinger, 1985; Jung, 1970c, 1969a,b, c).

One hears in this debate an echo of an issue that has defined the divide in Western philosophy since its Greek origins.

Plato and Aristotle: the double concerto of Western philosophy

To illustrate this division that runs like a fault-line throughout the history of Western philosophy, let’s look at two very different answers Jung provided regarding the question of whether or not an archetype has ‘ontological status’. This is the question about whether or not the archetypes are really real or whether the word ‘archetype’ is simply a linguistic tool that we deploy to discover and discuss various matters that bear upon our lives in many substantial ways but that does not indicate the existence of something that really exists in another realm of being. Depending on what one is reading in The Collected Works, Jung affirms each of the poles and just about every cline in between. Since this issue is important in what follows, I will pursue it in a bit of depth here. Moreover, this has been an issue in general, and particularly regarding the idea of the archetype, since the beginning of Western philosophy until this day.

On one hand, Aristotle took the view that categorical statements and universal propositions are essentially just linguistic gestures, categories based on our observations of things in the world, but not indicators of abstract ontological or metaphysical ‘entities’ that actually ‘exist’ in-and-of-themselves (the esse-en-se: Kant’s [1781/1997] Ding-an-Sich, Sartre’s [1956] Etre-en-Soi) in a higher realm of being (Aristotle, 2000). They are words. This is why this view is called Wom-inalist’. These words are preconditions of thought and tools of analysis that have quite crucial ana-lytical/pragmatic and poetically unlimited uses, but they do not have ontological status.

On the other hand, the ‘Realist’ position, formulated by Plato, understood linguistic universals as reflections and expressions of a higher order of reality whose general categories do point to transcendent entities called ‘archetypes’, which, transcending our realm of reality, do have not only ontological but also metaphysical standing—that is, are not just linguistic operators but are really real in higher realms (the ‘AcaZ-ist’ position) and are to some considerable degree discoverable by inquiry, especially in the dialogical mode (1968).9

Between these two poles is probably where most Jungians land. In Jungian terms, that would be between: 1) the Nominalist, post-Jungian pole with its insistence upon the linguistic deconstruction of all archetypal reality-claims and value-statements, on one hand, and 2) the Realist, classically Jungian view, which insists upon the ontological status of the archetype as both pre-and trans-linguistic, a primordial and transcendental ‘fact’ and thus having an ‘ethical dimension’. I take a classical view but one that has been influenced by postmodern theory (Foucault, 1980, 1972) as well as multicultural theory (Banks and Banks, 2001: Nieto, 2000).

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