ARCHETYPAL ARTICULATION VS. POETIC DISCOURSE

January 16, 2014

Carl Jung’s Theory on Collective Unconsciousness and formation of archetypes, ‘natural attitudes’ (in phenomenology) or in layman’s term, ‘notion’ of things concrete or abstract, living or non-living, presents itself as a ‘nativist’ theory. He says Collective Unconsciousness is a theoretical pool of memories or reservoir of experiences that we are born with as species but we are not directly conscious of it.

However, I think by mention of ‘experiences’ his theory then leans on its ‘cognitivist’ side. Because even if we are born with what I will call (in Chomsky’s mold) as AAD or ‘archetype acquisition device’ there is still a need for meaningful human experiences for one’s consciousness to flow into the sphere of Collective Unconsciousness.

Cross-cultural analysis of myths, epics and legends will reveal evidences of these archetypes. But I think the great Carl Jung should have read an unusual archetype in Oryol, a cunning and deceptive nymph from the Ibalong epic fragment. She knew how to project naïveté only to lure unsuspecting macho guys like Handyong. And the latter would end up in a compromise partnership with her in fighting unattractive and devilish monsters (and crocodiles) in Bicolandia.

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It appears that these common notions articulate themselves not only in ancient oral traditions but also in other artistic pursuits and preoccupations. They are so much into our lives that they even influence our judgment and some of our decisions. However, I should say that Jung’s theory is also structuralist in orientation. It tends to linearize human notions oblivious of cultural boundaries. But this is not to say that his attempt is failing, but rather perhaps it needs some culturally determined extensions. For example in Bicol, we have the archetype and embodiment of machismo in the persona of Kulakog, a mythical creature with a huge penis. Archetypal formation then is really a culturally bounded phenomenon.

In the poem “Not My Best Side (Uccello: S. George and the Dragon, the National Gallery)” by English poetess U. A. Fanthorpe, we see the seeping in of three main archetypes; the Monster or Dragon, the Maiden and the Hero or the Knight, into an artistic pursuit other than literature, in this case, the visual arts. However the archetypal articulation by Italian painter Paolo Uccelo in his St. George and the Dragon is interrogated by Fanthorpe’s poetic discourse resulting to a deconstruction.

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by Paolo Uccello

The poem is divided into three parts according to voice. The first part has the monster or the Dragon talking to the reader. The second part has the Maiden talking to the reader. And the last part has the hero or the Knight talking to the Dragon.

The approach of the poet is neither narration, imagism nor lyricism but rather expository, or in Filipino, ‘tulang patanghal’. In this case, the line-cascade and poetic utterance is pre-determined according to the persona and are conveniently subdivided into three parts. The main merits of the poem are in its consistency in voice, tone, language and form in effecting a deconstruction. Throughout the text the voice, tone and language of the poem will interrogate the archetypal articulation of the painting by being the poetic discourse themselves unaided by imagistic/metaphorical manipulations and acrobatics but supported by phenomenological methodology.

What if we remove all our ‘natural attitudes’ on archetypal figures and re-examine the roots of this notion in order to come back to the essence of things. After much introspection, how can we apply them to current human preoccupations?

As a product of the interrogative pattern of the poetic discourse we come to know a monster that has the attitude of an image model. It says: “The artist didn’t give me a chance to pose well properly.” It is also concerned, like a movie-star or politician, with bad publicity. It says: “But afterwards, I was sorry for the bad publicity.” It also comments and interrogates the human archetype of a prim and proper, well-groomed hero when it says: “Why, I said to myself, should my conqueror/ Be so ostentatiously beardless..?” It also reacts on the artist’s perspective: “Why should my victim be so/ Unattractive as to be inedible”. Here the monster ceases to be the manifestation of human primal fear, but the poet fills it up with very human actuations and impressions.

In the second part, we are confronted with a highly hormonal and calculating maiden concerned both with pleasure and financial security. She is very much a delineation from our notion of a damsel in distress. She says of the Dragon: “He was/ So nicely physical, with his claws/ And lovely green skin, and that sexy tail, / And the way he looked at me, / He made me feel he was all ready to/ Eat me.”

In deconstruction, previously established definitions take on a different meaning, and ‘To eat me’ has come to articulate female prerogative. It also humanizes the maiden, expressing her repressed preferences (personal unconsciousness): form follows function, effect and performance is superior to propriety. And of course the future has to be secured first and indulgence in provisional pleasure should be momentary: “what could I do? / The dragon got himself beaten by the boy, / And a girl’s got to think of her future.” Yet she comments on the insecurity of those who live by the books, follow the rules and hide behind the armor of the system. She says of the Knight: “So when this boy turned up, wearing machinery, / On a really dangerous horse, to be honest/ I didn’t much fancy him. I mean, / What was he like underneath the hardware? / He might have acne, blackheads or even/ Bad breath for all I could tell, but the dragon–/ Well, you could see all his equipment/ At a
glance.”

In the third part, we hear the Knight (St. George) and we gather some things about knighthood and the hero job: “I have diplomas in Dragon/ Management and Virgin Reclamation.” Being a knight was partly legalese and determined by familial and financial origins. It was part of the political system and therefore a machinery of political discourse or repressive state apparatus. And of course it was often used in warfare and political subjugation: “My spear is custom-built,/ And my prototype armour/ Still on the secret list. You can’t/ Do better than me at the moment. / I’m qualified and equipped to the/ Eyebrow. So why be difficult?”

More importantly, it was also a trade: “Don’t you realize that, by being choosy, / You are endangering job prospects/ In the spear- and horse-building industries?” The Knight is the coercive structural force and the Dragon, the liberal rogue. The former is the brute and the latter, the lover. Together they form the thesis and anti-thesis, and in war there is no synthesis but profit.

(This article also appears at Global Press.Org)

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