Monday, 9 February 2015

Beyond the "Fringe Archaeology" — part eighteen: active imagination

"A world of disorderly notions, picked out
of his books, crowded into his imagination"
Plate I of Gustave Doré's illustrations to
Miguel de Cervantes' Don Quixote.
Although best known as a Jungian therapy, active imagination has its earliest expression within the Islamic religion. Students of Jung will easily find parallels between the two traditions, especially within the relationship between the unconscious and conscious minds.

In reports of archaeological discoveries, identification or interpretation can be a grey area. This is especially true with press reports which most commonly say "Experts say it is..." without giving us the slightest clue as to whether any reason was given for the interpretation.

Jung knew that both deliberate imagination and the dream state could unlock some details of the unconscious thus bringing them into consciousness. I have seen the same with mythological imagery from my late wife's poetry, especially within obsessive verse, "dark" (about her first husband) or with rigidly complex structured verse such as the sestina (this example originating with a dream).

It seems to me that Jung's technique could be experimentally reversed to determine the anatomy of archaeological interpretation. Jung might have a patient draw a mandala based on one of the patient's dreams and then Jung would interpret the unconscious imagery. So with my special application, the archaeological object would take the place of the mandala and the archaeologist would assume Jung's role. A number of archaeological objects should be chosen for the experiment: a fairly complex archaeologic site; an artifact that exhibits design solely within its form and another which exhibits design mainly within its applied application (especially if this content is believed to be iconic in some way).

The subjects should be picked according to certain categories which might include archaeologists who specialize in the period and culture of the object and those who do not, and even people without any archaeological background or strong interest. Each subject would look at the object for the same period of time and then write a statement about it. they should be told to try to make this statement poetical or imaginative rather than dry and descriptive. This instruction could potentially unlock part of their unconscious.

Each response would then be compared with the subject's personality type (established through a Myers-Briggs test) and the results would then be analysed by specialists in the archaeological object, a Jungian therapist and a statistician. All attempted interpretations, and analyses of the results should be individual and private rather than collaborative, and then finally, the collective results can be analysed for content in the following categories:

I have no strong opinions about what might be discovered in such an experiment, but I think it would help us to understand the anatomy (and extent and reliability) of archaeological interpretation across different levels of expertise and the psychological types of the observers. At the very least, it will show the dominant personality types involved in archaeology. If anyone does conduct such an experiment, do let me know about it!

No comments:

Post a Comment