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Handful of diamonds, acres of rough
on August 6, 2011
I follow The Art of Manliness blog closely, and when it recently inaugurated a series on the "mature masculine archetypes" as described by Carl Jung and the authors of this book, I immediately ordered a copy. While I don't subscribe to much of it, I find Jungian ideas intriguing, especially the ideas of archetypes and temperaments and how the various kinds of both interact. The writer at The Art of Manliness pointed out that some of the ideas in this book are "New-Agey" and not for him, but he still benefited from reading it. Thus advised, I began reading my copy as soon as it arrived.
The central argument of this engaging and readable book is that men have been unjustly denigrated by a society suspicious of masculinity, and that society has therefore been increasingly drained of "the mature masculine," the qualities inherent in fully-developed men. This condition is partly the fault of overzealous feminists, but also partly the fault of men who have failed to mature and are trapped in "boy psychology" or "the immature masculine." In short, these perpetual boys have given men a bad name. But another problem is the lack of rites of passage whereby the immature masculine dies and is reborn as the mature, bringing a male from boyhood to manhood. Men need these rites of passage in order to mature, and the modern world has failed to deliver. I sympathize greatly with all of this.
The most interesting part of the book to me was that detailing the four archetypes that make up the masculine psyche. They are the four men of the title: the King, the archetype of wisdom and rulership; the Warrior, the archetype of aggression and vigor; the Magician, the archetype of knowledge and technical mastery; and the Lover, the archetype of all kinds of connectedness, romantic or otherwise. Each archetype exists in mature and immature forms, and each has "Shadow" forms that are negative aspects of the archetype.
For example, in boyhood a boy might be a Hero, possibly sliding into bullying or cowardice (the opposed "bipolar" Shadow forms), but after a rite of passage bringing him into the mature masculine, the man becomes a Warrior, whose Shadow forms are the sadist and masochist. The King exists first as the Divine Child, who can become a High Chair Tyrant or Weakling Prince, and even as a mature King must avoid the Tyrant and the Weakling. The Precocious Child, whose Shadow forms are the Trickster and the Dummy, matures into the Magician, who may become the Detached Manipulator or the Denying Innocent One. Finally, the Oedipal Child, who may drift between the Mama's Boy and the Dreamer, matures into the Lover, who must avoid becoming the Addicted Lover or the Impotent Lover.
Every man's psyche is composed of all four archetypes and the four relate to and interact with each other in different ways, strengthening and tempering each other to maintain a balance, a mature masculinity. A Warrior who lacks the Lover becomes a sadist, and when the Lover lacks the Warrior he is trampled into the Impotent Lover. This is the real meat of the book, the most fascinating stuff.
Like the writer who recommended the book, I benefited from reading King, Warrior, Magician, Lover, but the book has serious problems which kept me from enjoying it.
The book's "New-Agey" parts didn't bother me that much--they were easy enough to ignore in favor of the genuinely insightful parts, of which each chapter has at least two or three. The authors are at their best when discussing the dysfunction of the archetypes, whether the tyranny of the King, the weepy love-addiction of the Lover, or the manipulation of the Magician. They also describe each archetype well. Had they stuck to describing what each archetype is and what can go wrong with it, I'd have given the book four or five stars. It would also have been a much shorter book, because the vast majority of the book is made up of illustrative examples coming from the authors' experiences and from a wide swath of history, religion, and mythology. I don't have problems with the former, but the latter are almost always terrible.
One of the most important principles I learned in studying history and comparative religion was not to look only for similarities, but to look especially keenly for differences and what those differences indicate. Again, the "New-Agey" tone of the book didn't bother me, but in the authors' attempts to find support from every conceivable belief system--from Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Greek and Roman mythology, ancient mystery religions like Gnosticism, and even Zoroastrianism--they stretch too far and often do violence to the myths they invoke. In describing the King's "generative" function of fertility, they write that "[t]he Egyptian Amun-Ra had his harem in the sky, and Zeus's exploits are well-known" (59). Zeus is hardly a model King. He is an oaf in Homer and a bully in Ovid, and fits better the authors' conception of the Tyrant, yet here we see him invoked solely because his "exploits" as a provider of fertility (often to unwilling mortal women) fit their thesis at the moment. Elsewhere, writing of "the end of the Hero," they write that "in legend and myth, he 'dies,' is transformed into a god, and translated into Heaven. We recall the story of Jesus' resurrection and ascension, or or Oedipus's final disappearance in a flash of light at Colonus, or Elijah's ascent into the sky in a fiery chariot" (41). The authors miss the point of all three of these examples--Jesus's death, resurrection, and ascension proved him a god rather than made him one; Oedipus's mysterious death came not through his role as Hero but because he had reconciled himself to the will of the gods and stopped warring with fate; and Elijah must appear on this list for the superficial reason of his assumption into heaven, because as a prophet he was certainly not representative of the Hero/Warrior archetype.
Examples drawn from actual history are just as clumsy. Ho Chi Minh is recommended as an object of veneration for those struggling to "access" their King archetype, and Pharaoh Akhenaten, who almost destroyed his kingdom through coercive religious reforms, is held up as a "beautiful" example of the King. Most of their information on Patton comes from the movie (one of the film's sources is listed in the "Selected Reading" but never cited in the book) and suffers, like the mytho-religious examples, gross misinterpretation. Referring to the famous slapping incident, they write that "Patton, for all his virtues, evidently had an underlying fear of his own weakness and cowardice. . . . Though he does not know it, what he has seen is the face of his own hidden fear and weakness projected onto another. He has glimpsed the weakling within" (68). Anyone familiar with Patton or soldiering in general recognizes this as wrongheaded. Even those who have seen the movie should recognize that, since in the very scene the authors describe Patton points out that it is shameful to have a coward use the same hospital as men wounded in battle--Patton's rage has nothing to do with himself, but with the men under his command whom he feels have earned better than to share such company.
Elsewhere the authors' historical information is just plain wrong--or made up. This reaches its apex in the section on the Lover, in which they recapitulate the old stories about how "Christianity, Judaism, and Islam . . . have all persecuted the Lover," going on to say that "Christianity has taught more or less consistently that the world . . . is evil, that the Lord of this world is Satan, and that it is he who is the source of the sensuous pleasures (the foremost of which is sex) that Christians must avoid" (126). True, this belief has been a pillar of some Christian sects, but only heretical Christian sects--it is called Manichaeism, and was imported from the dualist Zoroastrianism which the authors warmly commend elsewhere. In another instance, they repeat a purely fabricated story about Nazi SS trainees being forced to raise and kill a puppy in order to complete their training. (The same myth has been propagated about US Marines.)
That last example glances against a problem that exists throughout the book, which is self-contradiction. The authors lament--and I lament with them--the lack of meaningful rites for men in the modern world. As an example of what we're missing, they invoke the film The Emerald Forest, in which a boy, in order to become a man, "is seemingly tortured by the older men in the tribe; and forced into the forest vines, he is being eaten alive by jungle ants. He writes in agony, his body mutilated in the jaws of the hungry ants. We fear the worst," but come daylight he is greeted as a man and "takes on a man's responsibilities and identity" (4-5). But later they decry "the kind of sadism displayed in boot camp in the name of supposedly necessary 'ritual humiliation' designed to deprive recruits of their individuality . . . Far too often, the drill sergeant's motives are the motives of the sadistic Warrior seeking to humiliate and violate the men put in his charge" (90). Again, this is so wrong-headed as to defy belief. How, for instance, do the authors know that drill sergeants are only acting out of sadism but the village elders of The Emerald Forest are not? Military training is one of the very last great masculine rites of passage in the modern world--with elders guiding their young counterparts through obstacles to become a fully-realized member of their society, greeting them as equals at the end of training--and how the authors fail to see that I cannot understand. Elsewhere, the authors laud the Magician's Gnostic access to specialized knowledge which, like psychotherapists, they know they cannot share in full with the initiated, and within the same chapter condemn the Shadow form of the Magician, who will not share his specialized knowledge with the initiated.
Finally, there is also the issue of psychobabble. Fortunately there is very little of it in this book, which helps it immensely. The book is nothing if not readable, and avoiding jargon goes far in that regard. But in a few instances it does creep in, especially when discussing how to "access" these archetypes (which, incidentally, they never say how to do--it seems to just happen). In one absurd instance, when discussing Lovers as people who devote themselves passionately to hobbies, they write that "[s]team train buffs have a sensuous, even erotic, affinity for these great, shining black 'phalluses'" (130). I knew one enormously dedicated and widely published train enthusiast during graduate school and can guarantee his interest did not derive from a locomotive's fleeting resemblance to the phallus.
I've gone on entirely too long, but I really needed to give examples. I could go on much further. The book contains some good information, as I wrote above, and when the authors discuss things within their depth--staying out of history and leaving mythology and religion alone--they produce fascinating stuff. But they undermine every good point they make with pages of bad, false, misinterpreted, or wrong-headed examples, chosen for reasons of superficial resemblance.
Recommended for the good parts, which constitute perhaps four pages of every chapter.