ARCHETYPES: A Natural History of the Self by Anthony Stevens

ARCHETYPES: A Natural History of the Self

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A British psychiatrist synthesizes Jung and ethology and more--sometimes astutely, sometimes murkily. At a Greek center for unwanted babies, Stevens observed that unique bonds formed between infants and particular nurses through a mutual self-selection process: the nurse needn't have done most of the changing, the feeding--the major nurturing. It was more like falling in love; and the nurses, unschooled in Western analytic thinking, unabashedly described the mutual ""special feelings"" that arose. Such evidence, Stevens believed, gave the lie to behaviorist or other reductionist theories of how mother-child bonds are formed. It was more like imprinting, and very much confirmed John Bowlby's ideas on the need for attachment. But, for Stevens, ethology and Bowlby fell short of the mark; he wanted a more ail-embracing principle to govern the ""organic and psychic processes of life."" Enter Jung, Stevens has elected Jung's concept of archetypes that ""control and mediate the common behavioral characteristics and typical experiences of all human beings."" The archetypes, part of the collective unconscious, provide the basis the individual uses in ""actualizing the self"" in life. As the book unfolds, Stevens views the family and society in the light of such archetypes as mother and father--bringing in relevant myth, case histories from his practice, and quotes from Jung himself. Certainly, neuroses involving the absent parent, or the punishing parent, form the common stock of psychiatric problems; and failures to thrive, or to mature beyond adolescent narcissism, may very well benefit from Jungian interpretation and dream analysis. But to raise theory to the level of revealed truth; to attempt no less than a synthesis of Jung with Lorenz, Tinbergen, Bowlby, and evolutionary theory; to make archetypes a part of our genetic heritage that has evolved with the nervous system--this, in sum, is grandiose. Like Jung, Stevens writes with occasional flashes of brilliance and insight--but he requires a reader tolerant, also, of much Jungian effluvia.

Pub Date: July 20th, 1982
Publisher: Morrow