Archetypal imagination : glimpses of the gods in life and art

by Noel Cobb

Book, 1992



Call number



Call number



Hudson, NY : Lindisfarne Press, c1992.

Physical description

287 p.; 23 cm

Local notes

Examines the symbols which commonly appear in dreams and discusses how the interpretation of dreams can enrich life

User reviews

LibraryThing member Poquette
Andrei Rublev (1966), a sweeping epic of Medieval Russia by Andrei Tarkovsky — pronounced "the best art house film of all time" by the Guardian — was nevertheless suppressed by the Soviets as "too experimental, too frightening, too violent, and too politically complicated to be released." It is an imaginal biography of icon painter Andrei Rublev in "a Russia suffering under the invasion of Mongol hordes; a Russia subjected to barbaric atrocities; an occupied, oppressed Russia." In it we see the imagination struck dumb, unable to say anything; no voice with which to tell of the unspeakable horror.

Noel Cobb, a British psychiatrist, compares this to contemporary psychotherapy: "the psyche has lost its tongue, it cannot give voice to the imagination." Cobb was evidently not pleased with the state of psychiatric practice in the nineties when this book first appeared.

I see the true heart of psychotherapy as a 'making' akin to the work of poetry, as a psychopoiesis, or what Keats called a 'soulmaking.' I see psychotherapy as a work which should model itself on the crafts and should take its analogies from the arts rather than from medicine, physics or technology.

In short, Cobb's book is a work "on the imagination, by the imagination, for the imagination." It is also a book about archetypal psychology, through an exploration of artists and their work, which cultivate the imagination and are somehow a key to deeper self-understanding. Archetypal psychology is concerned with images that take on an inner importance.

To archetypal psychology the primary metaphor is myth. The myths themselves are metaphors — never as divine figures, but allowing individuals and events to be recognized against their mythical background. Unlike institutional religion, which approaches God with ritual, prayer, sacrifice, worship and creed, in archetypal psychology gods are imagined. This is the key. They are formulated ambiguously as metaphors of experience. As James Hillman has said, "They are cosmic perspectives in which the soul participates."

On the one hand Archetypal Imagination provides us with a deeper understanding of a variety of important artists and their work. All this is in the context of describing the aims and values of archetypal psychology in contrast with traditional psychiatric practice, which Cobb says has gotten bogged down in diagnosis at the expense of real human understanding. It has become dogmatic and literalist like the monotheistic religions it has decried and attempted to supplant in modern society.

"Psychology is painfully lacking in any sense of the poetry of life and death, of origins and endings. With its single-minded problem-solving compulsion it has only scorn for the imagination."

Not surprisingly, then, archetypal psychology favors a polytheistic, mythical, imaginal approach to the care and feeing of the human soul.

Through the course of the book, the niche archetypal psychology fills in the psychological arena is placed squarely in contradistinction to traditional clinical psychiatry. But there is much more to Cobb's book, which explores all this in the context of some very interesting artistic output.

The Russian film Andrei Rublev merely sets the table. Be prepared to be awed by the work of Edvard Munch, whose iconic painting The Scream pales in comparison to the body of Munch's work. Thanks to the wonders of Google, the reader can pull up images of the various works as Cobb discusses them. The genius of Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca and German composer Robert Schumann is also revealed in surprising ways, all of this in an archetypal and mythological context. The abstract ideas Cobb discusses are demonstrated and made concrete through his thorough knowledge of these artists and a few others in passing, including poets Rumi and Rainer Maria Rilke. The poetry of Rumi, ancient as it is, is surprisingly relevant to Cobb's modern reverence for the imagination.

For anyone interested not only in psychology but also in film, painting, poetry and music, this is an excellent book. Here we have living proof of the important role the arts can play in our lives that goes way beyond the narrow definition of entertainment.
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