Conscious Archetype Retrieval? What the heck Is That?

Years ago, I caught myself drifting into a lucid hypnagogic state in bed. Whenever that happens I try to take advantage of it by wandering around in the dream world, trying to fly, seeking inspiration...that sort of thing. (Unfortunately it doesn’t happen very often).

From what I remember, as soon as I became aware that I was actually asleep, I sensed some other beings in the dreamspace with me. I’m not sure who they were; it’s been long enough that details are fuzzy and I unfortunately lost an archive I kept of my past significant dreams. (If I find it, I’ll update).

I asked the beings some sophomoric question like “what is the meaning of life?” They actually graced me with a reply, and that was “conscious archetype retrieval.” I woke up, wrote it down, and went back to sleep.

It felt important. Over the years I’ve received other interesting dream phrases, symbols, instructions, etc. and I’m always curious to see if there’s any correspondence to things in the waking world, or if they’re just garbled nonsense. It’s hit or miss.

Back to conscious archetype retrieval. Generically defined, an archetype is an original pattern, model, or template. Retrieval simply means to bring something back from somewhere else--perhaps the past, memory, or another domain. Conscious means that you are aware. 

Dovetailing nicely with the theme and name of this blog, Ambiguity, “conscious archetype retrieval” can be taken two ways.

The first can be set up as [(conscious archetype) retrieval] meaning that a “conscious archetype” is what is being retrieved. The second can be set up as [conscious (archetype retrieval)], which means that you’re retrieving an archetype consciously. I’ll discuss each in turn.

[(Conscious Archetype) Retrieval]

If you Google “conscious archetype,” you will get a bunch of results that have to do with Jungian psychology, which you may or may not find useful or interesting. I want to look at it in a bit of a new way. So aside from the classic Jungian idea, what would a “conscious archetype” be? I’m not here to give answers. I’m here to ask questions. What is a conscious original pattern? Why would it be retrieved, and by whom?

[Conscious (archetype retrieval)]

As it turns out, “archetype retrieval,” without “conscious” before it, is a Google-able phrase used across many domains, including software programming, psychology, communications, and art (though it would hardly be limited to only these).

The first and most common Google result you’ll get for “archetype retrieval” leads to software programming for electronic health records, parallel computing, and other applications. As I’m not a programmer, I don’t have much to say about that except that it’s an interesting coincidence that I dreamed about this phrase long before the Internet existed in its current form, and long before I knew any programmers well enough to discuss their work. I have yet to receive the necessary “explanation like I’m five” regarding this term as it appears to be very specialized.

Other results have to do with Jungian New Age healing modalities, as you might expect. As far as Jungian archetypes go, I do find them of limited use as an artist and fiction writer.

Why limited? Because they were developed about 100 years ago and they haven’t changed much. Also, there’s this idea that they’re universal and everyone has access to the same subconscious templates of important characters. (Think Gandalf, Dumbledore, and Obi-Wan, for example). 

Those are all great and I don’t think they should be gotten rid of, but people are very different. Cultures are very different. Non-Western traditions have other archetypes. Subcultures have their own archetypes. Families, dyads, and individuals have private archetypes. Think private jokes and catch-phrases and nicknames, things of that nature. They may riff on the more well-known ones, or not. The point is that archetypes can vary considerably from person to person, and at the end of the day, wisdom is all about knowing yourself. Can pre-existing archetypes help or hinder that process? Or both?

So, because I suspect Jungian archetypes have been as overplayed as “Wonderwall” in a 90s suburban high school (I like the song, but still!), I don’t want to use them in my art unless I can do so in a new and different way.

Which brings me to archetype retrieval in media theory.

If you go to the internet and type in conscious archetype retrieval without quotes, you’re going to be tantalized, or confused, by references to cultural critic Marshall McLuhan’s work with Wilfred Watson, a Canadian poet, From Cliché to Archetype (1970), a copy of which I managed to track down. Here’s a quote from the book relevant to the discussion of “conscious archetype retrieval:”

“We can think of electricity in the modern world as a form of retrieval which brings back the dour realism of [playwright Henrik] Ibsen in a comic overexaggeration in a comic life...if you turn up the lights to high intensity, it converts into comic archetype, or archetype which is "camp"...” (p. 9)

I think I get it. The play director is using intent (consciousness) to retrieve an archetype that most people in the culture would understand (in this case, bright lights that make everything look garish) to cast a realist play in an absurdist light (oh look, a pun!). Therefore, an instance of conscious archetype retrieval in the context of an art form.

That reminds me of Retrofuturism in collage, which is the combining of vintage images like “Leave it to Beaver-”type families sitting around the dinner table, or old cars, with images of space and technology. Or images that evoke ancient myths in new ways. I’ve got quite a few pieces like that. So I’ve kind of been doing conscious archetype retrieval in my art all along without realizing it. I’ll explore Retrofuturism further in a future post.

Yeah... McLuhan and Watson’s book is, like, really 70s! Totally associational, trippy, heady and at times incomprehensible. But I think I see the point they’re trying to make, in their meta, mind-expanding way, is that ideas retrieved from collective knowledge, unconsciously and without understanding their roots and implications (no critical thinking), are deadening. To culture, to creativity, to personhood.

So I get how the phrase “conscious archetype retrieval,” retrieved from my own unconscious, could actually be the “meaning of life” (to use another cliche).

How it seems to tie in with programming and “archetype retrieval” in psychology and literature is that they’re all about making meaning.  

As is art.

And this method, conscious archetype retrieval, is one I will continue to explore in the making of mine. I want to keep my art growing in new directions, so recently I’ve been incorporating text into my work more often, whether it’s my own writing, blackout poetry, or asemic artwork or weird things that come to me in dreams. I’d love to see a world where more people came up with their own archetypes. And I’d love to see a world where cliches more were retrieved and recycled into new and fascinating ideas.

I’m not finished with the book, so you might see me pondering on it a bit more on the blog. Of course, I will not be offended if you’re only here for the art! 

Next up: Surrealism, Symbolism, & Mythopoesis