The Second Most Important Archetype in your Life

by Venkat on March 1, 2012

In Tempo,  I distinguished between two broad classes of archetypes: generic ones that have names and explicit descriptions, which apply loosely to many people, and specific ones that apply to just one person, and may be only implicitly recognized based on characteristic behaviors.

The more intimately and personally you know somebody, the more you need a specific and implicit archetype. This means that your self-archetype is the one that has to be the most specific. At least if you agree that self-awareness is generally a good thing to seek.

This does not mean that a specific archetype needs to be detailed. It can still be an impressionistic thumbnail sketch that is no more than a characteristic shrug or turn of phrase. It merely needs to be one-of-a-kind; sui generis. 

Your self-archetype is arguably the most important archetype in your life. It can be either specific or general, and a thumbnail or very detailed. But most often it is specific and detailed.  It is sometimes useful to compute with a very generic, thumbnail self-archetype, to break out of toxic self-absorption.

What do you think is the second most important archetype? Hint: it is not necessarily the one that maps to your significant other.

The Muse

Classically, the muse is simply an inspirational divine figure, especially one associated with one of the fine arts.  The idea was later extended to women who inspired male artists (women seem to be more inspired by themselves than by men). This was not so much an overload of the idea as a kind of flattery, with the human-female muse being put on a Greek-goddess pedestal of sorts, via a flight of male romantic fancy.

A muse in this sense is a dual. You need to understand the muse in order to completely understand the artist (and vice versa). The muse and artist complete each other.

If you take this general idea of duality and archetypes that “complete” other archetypes, you get a more general notion of muse: any archetype that is the dual of your self-archetype and helps complete you. And you don’t have to be an artist or think in terms of artistic behaviors.

Any muse induces you to behave in certain ways, and seek resolution of the tension represented by the duality in some way. Muses control you to some extent, and for this reason there is always a seed of antagonism involved.

As with all archetypes, there are generic and specific muses. Here are some generic ones.

Varieties of Muses

  1. Object Muse: This is the classic kind. The induced behavior is simply seeking out and attempting to get closer to the muse. Resolution lies in being joined with the object in some way.
  2. Nemesis Muse: This is the sworn enemy of the Harry Potter/Voldemort variety. The induced behavior is seeking decisive existential conflict. One of them must win absolutely. Resolution lies in a stable detente or an absolute win by one.
  3. Evil Twin Muse: This is the Batman/Joker relationship. Each represents the dark side of the other in some sense. They don’t seek to destroy each other, but each keeps the other existentially unstable. The induced behavior is simply an overtone of doubt and instability that modulates all your other behaviors. There is no resolution. This is the first one I thought of, long back.
  4. Innocent Muse: The model here is the parent/child relationship (the child as the muse of the parent). The induced behavior is protectiveness and shielding, keeping the muse blissfully ignorant. Resolution lies in the innocent losing innocence and rejecting the protection.
  5. Solvent Muse: The model here is the religious-person/God relationship. The behavior is seeking to be subsumed by, a larger entity. Families, communities, corporations or simply larger-than-life personalities around whom the lives of others revolve, can serve as solvent muses. Resolution lies in either death of the individual, or betrayal by the Solvent. When the Solvent is not a human being, we often relate to personifications or icons of some sort.
  6. Idol Muse: This is your basic hero/heroine, a model figure you seek to emulate, but who is so far ahead of you that cannot be envious. An idol muse is not an object muse. You seek to become-like an idol muse. The induced behavior is emulation, and resolution lies in disillusionment, surpassing or failure.
  7. The Other Muse: This is The Other of social justice or postmodern theorizing. Somebody whose path to self-actualization is in direct conflict with yours. If you try to self-actualize, they will be oppressed, and vice-versa. Resolution lies in breaking out of the zero-sum pattern or the death of one or the other.

There may be others, but I’ll stop at seven varieties. Specific muses of course, can exist outside any such taxonomy. Somebody might just come to define you/complete you, and induce a pattern of behavior that seeks resolution, without mapping to any general archetype.

There is probably a more general model underlying this laundry list of varieties. For example, the idea of a yin-yang dynamic seems to be present in each case. It is most obvious in the case of evil twins, but is present in the other cases as well.

Muses are sometimes people close to us in everyday life, like a significant other (most often an Object Muse, at least in the beginning), but surprisingly often, they are distant strangers about whom we know very little.  Sometimes a single glance from a stranger in a subway might make them your muse for the rest of your life, even if you never meet them again.

This is a bit of a preview to my talk on Saturday, at Refactor Camp.

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