On the Nature of the Archetype

On the Nature of the Archetype

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A Winter Landscape With A Horse Drawn Cart Going Over A Bridge, Peasants Transporting Pigs Over The River, And Children Sledging, by Andries Vermeulen

In his work, On the Nature of the Psyche, Carl Jung differentiates between the modus operandi of the archetype, and the archetype as such:

The archetypal representations (images and ideas) mediated to us by the unconscious should not be confused with the archetype as such. They are very varied struc­tures which all point back to one essentially “irrepresentable” basic form. The latter is characterized by certain formal ele­ments and by certain fundamental meanings, although these can be grasped only approximately. The archetype as such is a psychoid factor that belongs, as it were, to the invisible, ultra­violet end of the psychic spectrum (Jung 213).

Jung compares the the psyche to the electromagnetic spectrum in order to illustrate the difference between the archetype, in its role as mediator between consciousness and unconsciousness, of images and ideas, and the archetype as such, which is “irrepresentable.” This strikes me as an example of Jung’s fondness for Kantian philosophy. Kant distinguished between the empirical thing, and the thing-in-itself. Jung uses Kant’s framework to describe the way an archetype functions as mediator, and the way an archetype is in itself, which, of course, cannot be fully known. Later, he will compare the archetype as mediator to infrared light in the spectrum.

He says the archetype as such is like ultraviolet light, invisible, and is a “psychoid factor” (ibid.), by which he means non-psychic. In other words, the archetype as such is beyond the psyche, residing in the physiological organism as instinct. It is beyond the psyche because it is incapable of reaching consciousness. The archetype as such, as psychoid factor, creates a bridge uniting psyche and matter. This is what Jung means by the unus mundus.

Since psyche and matter are contained in one and the same world, and moreover are in continuous contact with one another and ultimately rest on irrepresentable, transcendental factors, it is not only possible but fairly probable, even, that psyche and mat­ter are two different aspects of one and the same thing (Jung 215).

By this, Jung is saying that 1) archetype as such (analogous to physiological instincts), and 2) the archetypes (as mediators of images and ideas that reach consciousness) have a common point of origin that is transcendental and irrepresentable. This common source is the unus mundus, the “one world.” It is also what I have called Animatter.

Jung summarizes and explains further:

Just as the “psychic infra-red,” the biological instinctual psyche, gradually passes over into the physiology of the organism and thus merges with its chemical and physical conditions, so the “psychic ultra-violet,” the archetype, describes a field which exhibits none of the peculiarities of the physiological and yet, in the last analysis, can no longer be regarded as psychic, although it manifests itself psychically. But physiological processes behave in the same way, without on that account being declared psychic. Although there is no form of existence that is not mediated to us psychically and only psychically, it would hardly do to say that everything is merely psychic. We must apply this argument logically to the archetypes as well. Since their essential being is unconscious to us, and still they are experienced as spontaneous agencies, there is probably no alter­native now but to describe their nature, in accordance with their chiefest effect, as “spirit,” in the sense which I attempted to make plain in my paper “The Phenomenology of the Spirit in Fairytales.” If so, the position of the archetype would be located beyond the psychic sphere, analogous to the position of physio­logical instinct, which is immediately rooted in the stuff of the organism and, with its psychoid nature, forms the bridge to matter in general. In archetypal conceptions and instinctual perceptions, spirit and matter confront one another on the psychic plane. Matter and spirit both appear in the psychic realm as distinctive qualities of conscious contents. The ultimate nature of both is transcendental, that is, irrepresentable, since the psyche and its contents are the only reality which is given to us without a medium (Jung 214-215, emphasis mine).

This is the foundation of Jung’s theory of synchronicity.

Jung, C. G. On the Nature of the Psyche. The Collected Works of C. G. Jung. (Vol. 8) (R. F. C. Hull, Trans.). Princeton: Princeton, 1954.

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