June 15, 2004

Some archetypal reflections...

In youth my wings were strong and tireless,
But I did not know the mountains.
In age I knew the mountains
But my weary wings could not follow my vision.
Genius is wisdom and youth.

(Alexander Throckmorton)

Edgar Lee Masters
The Spoon River Anthology

From a very superficial point of view, archetypes work as blueprints, like a map of the bottom of the sea. There are underwater mountains and valleys, coral ridges, things that are unchanging or that change quite slowly. If you don't have the least notion of those peaks and valleys you can't see, you'll surely flounder, no matter how much you pray or how sure you are of the route. One of those archetypes (again, superficially put) is the Shadow, which sums up all the things about oneself one is unable to see because one is too damn sure about oneself. The image is this: consciousness is like a lighted candle; it illuminates just a part of the whole, so the rest (that is still part of the room) is cast into shadows one cannot see. (Please keep that notion in mind).
But the archetype I wanted to talk about in relation to Venezuela's present predicament is quite another one, and a very difficult one at that, mostly because it's a two-sided one: the puer-senex archetype.
While a lot of attention has been given to the Puer Aeternus and its negative traits (Marie Louise von Franz wrote a whole book about it), James Hillman introduced the idea that both archetypes are in fact a double fronted image that works, psychologically, as an axis that joins what is under with what is over. On one extreme is the Puer, the divine child, pure energy, pure creativity. Like a winged creature, it jumps from one project to another; like a Messiah, it can bear the sins of the world as his cross; like a warrior, he can courageously go into battle without calculations, strategies, even weapons. On the other extreme is the Senex, the Old wise man, clinging to valued traditions and symbols, full of knowledge, hoarding wisdom. It mistrusts and dislikes change, so, like Kronos or Saturn, he eats his own children (they say the revolution devours its own children too). Working together, the Puer acts like a dynamo, a motor, while the Senex, with its knowledge, indicates the way, prevents the energy from being misused, gives the Puer's energy a purpose.
The problem with these polar archetypes is that, when both sides aren't working together, there is a split, and the polarity becomes a polarization. In that polarization the negative or destructive aspects of each part of this archetype come to the forefront. Each side takes on itself the rightness and the light, so the other becomes the shadow, the monstrous oppressor or chaos that has to be overcome. Try to remember the sixties and the so called generational gap and you'll see what it means socially. Some forces are proposing a change, and some are opposing it. Creativity and the idea of purpose and design are unconnected, working separately, so where there could be a kind of order there ensue chaos and strife.
Before Chávez came to power, we all knew that Venezuela needed a change. A form of government had grown old, petrified, leaving most people outside its dynamics (think Caldera and Alfaro Ucero and you'll get what I mean). In that bleak panorama appeared the figure of Chávez. He spoke a different language, spoke his mind, seemed energetic, sincere. He had many of the more charming characteristics of the Puer (as a matter of fact, many older women felt he was like their own son, the younger felt him as the man they wanted), which can be equated to the winged figure of Eros. He embodied the new against the old, and so was welcome by the majority that felt the older regime was exhausted, dying (la moribunda constitución). I'm not saying that Chávez created the schism, but we have to recognize he took advantage of it, with all his qualities as a charmer, to impose a one-sided proceso which he is unable to explain clearly. He was then (and is still, for himself and many that still believe in him) the "new kid on the block", the Messiah. Taking advantage of the "polarization" produced by the split inside the archetype he cast over all those who oppose him his own shadow: they are "fascists", "coup-mongers" (forgetting he was a "coup-monger" himself about a decade ago). That is exactly what the Shadow archetype means: as he embodies all that is good, new and desirable, all the negative epithets go to the other side. The same thing works for the opposition in its blindness: there have been several moments in which the solution, pure Puer style, had to be immediate, automatic: "Chávez vete ya".
Going back to Chávez: he had then, and has now, a lot of the "negative" qualities of the Puer. Creative he is; nobody can doubt it: there's a new project, a new "mission", a new "commando" every other day. That none of those impulses result into anything worth mentioning is none of the Puer's or Chávez's business: he is there to be creative, to be adored (as a newborn child), not to show results (surely you've met people always full of projects and big ideas that come to nothing because they cannot stick to things long enough to make them work). Think, for an instant, why on hell did Chávez won the elections: he had an old cunning man on his side! Luis Miquilena gave him all his experience, directing his "creativity" towards the goal: power.
As I said before, when the schism in the archetype happens, the "destructive" aspect of each side comes to the forefront. See who is Chávez's most valued ally now: Fidel Castro, a perfect image of an old mean Senex who can devour a whole country so to keep power to himself, to prevent any change. The image is so obvious it's appalling we didn't notice that before. James Hillman says, in "Puer and Senex", that the negative qualities of both archetypes are the same: in short, things don't move. Energy without purpose spends itself in its own expression; purpose without energy is simply like a rock standing by itself.
Hillman also says that when both faces of the archetype work together there comes a movement that in the Renaissance was called "Festina lente", to make haste slowly (though for some it can also mean "to feast slowly", "let's go slow 'cause I'm in a hurry"). I think we, in the opposition, have learnt something about "Festina lente". There is energy, one supposes (or expects) unquenchable, in the swarm of young and old volunteers pushing silently for a Referendum. There is also, and I have to stress that, a sense of purpose and of urgency, that makes us go slow when we are really in a hurry... So, maybe taking the flower path, and by that I mean the flower-eating path, has been a kind of learning how to "make haste slowly"... I hope it works, and, moreover, I hope this text makes sense, 'cause I'm trying to be brief so as not to tire you, and feel I'm not saying all I want to say clearly.