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This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


A few weeks ago, I was discussing storytelling with my gifted nephew, and somehow or other I broached the question of archetypes. While my nephew, currently in high school, is a beginner to storytelling, he reflected a common modern prejudice when he said something to the effect that he wanted to "get beyond the archetypes."

Assuming that I've quoted him correctly, I suspect that he doesn't see archetypes as I do, as templates of experience around which human beings organize all symbolic activity. It's possible that for him, archetypes are indistinguishable from stereotypes. And since stereotypes are usually bad, often being used to support racism or sexism, then archetypes must be bad as well.

The two can be simply distinguished, though, with recourse to Philip Wheelwright's conception of two basic forms of human language, on which he expounded in his book THE BURNING FOUNTAIN. In my post THE NARROWING GYRE I noted that he meant to propose this paradigm "not as a dichotomy" but "on the model of variables approaching a limit." Here is his description of "steno-language:"

 …meanings that can be shared in exactly the same way by a very large number of persons—in general, by all persons using the same language or the same group of inter-translatable languages. Examples are so obvious that they may be mentioned without explanation. Common words like child, parent, dog, tree, sky, etc., are steno-symbols, and their accepted meanings are steno-meanings, because what each of the words indicates is a set of definable experiences (whether actual or only possible) which are, in certain recognizable respects, the same for all who use the word correctly. (Metaphor and Reality, p. 33.)

In contrast to the use of words to describe objects or events in a static fashion, there is also a more dynamic "poeto-language," which depends on the dynamic manner in which the objects or events inspire "something at once familiar and strange:"

Certain particulars have more of an archetypal content than others; that is to say, they are 'eminent instances' which stand forth in a characteristic amplitude as representatives of many others; they enclose in themselves a certain totality, arranged in a certain way, stirring in the soul something at once familiar and strange, and thus outwardly as well as inwardly they lay claim to a certain unity and generality.-- FOUNTAIN, p. 54.

It's my contention, then, that stereotypes are static representations in tune with Wheelwright's "steno-language," while true archetypes are dynamic representations in tune with his concept of "poeto-language."

Examples will be forthcoming in future installments.

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