Forms, Archetypes, and Eternal Objects

Jungian archetypes and Whiteheadian eternal objects are both apparently rearticulations of the Platonic forms in a twentieth-century context, two inflections of the idea that there are intrinsic potentialities for meaning and relation inherent in the structure of process that manifest in all things. However, it does not seem to be the case that archetypes as described by Jung in his later years, along with associates like Marie-Louise von Franz and Aniela Jaffé, and refined by Stanislav Grof, James Hillman, Richard Tarnas, and others, correlate exactly with the fundamental qualities of experience that Whitehead refers to as eternal objects. Rather, archetypes seem to be a subset of the eternal objects at their most complex order of magnitude. As Whitehead defines the general scope of his concept, any potentiality that is not preconditioned by a particular temporal occasion is necessarily an eternal object, as it can only change in particular temporal manifestations, not in its eternal, a priori form intrinsic to cosmic structure. Archetypes, however, are apparently higher-order agglomerations of qualities than the simple qualities that Whitehead mentions such as colors, sounds, tastes, and smells. Archetypes are impulses for expression that orient our relation to the world in particular domains of discourse, complex webs of metaphor organizing the meaningful connections of elements in different realms of experience. In contrast, the most basic eternal objects that Whitehead discusses, the single sensory qualia, are not intrinsically metaphorical, though they are susceptible to metaphorization when they are subsumed into emergent archetypal fields of meaning. 


The archetypes appear to be one class of eternal object that are presupposed by, but not reducible to, additional, simpler eternal objects. Whereas the eternal objects constitute anything whatsoever that is pure potentiality unmanifest in time, the archetypes are more specifically personified agencies or modes of potential meaning, applicable across scale. The senex archetype, for instance, the Latin word for “old man” from which senator, senile, and senior are derived, is associated with old age, but also with slowness, distance, limit, conservatism, structure, focus, and rigor. All of these individual characteristics of the senex appear to be eternal objects that, when combined, synthesize to form the emergent archetype, which can itself be described as a more complex eternal object than the simple qualities delineated above. However, it should not be inferred from this distinction that more complex eternal objects have evolved from less complex ones, as eternal objects in general and their archetypal subset appear to be atemporal and, thus, given.
[This post is an excerpt from The Dynamics of Transformation: Tracing an Emerging World View.]

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