With Renaissance paintings of the Annunciation to Mary and the 1984 and 1991 Terminator movies as examples, this essay notes a common interest in the availability of help from a superhuman source. It argues that the yearning for access to a powerful hybridity, a cooperative mixing, a productive grotesque, is an archetype. However, with the support of some recent hypotheses in evolutionary anthropology and biology, the article refurbishes the term archetype for reuse, recognizing that it signals a painful cognitive failure. The cognitive perspective allows us to understand how our brains not only organize but also re-organize, as the world turns, not only our literary experience but also our ethical and political thinking. Artists and poets return to old stories and reconsider old images not because they are, as Northrop Frye considered them, successfully integrated clusters, but because they are not. By acknowledging their many threads and their recombinatory possibilities, we recognize them as affordances whose recurrence arises from their frustrating resistance to untangling. Artists continue to search for a more pleasing, a more satisfying, a more cooperative and thereby more life-sustaining hybridity between the human and the nonhuman, be that divine or machine. They return repeatedly to reuse archetypes not because they are satisfying but because they might yet be.
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Ellen Spolsky; Archetypes Embodied, Then and Now. Poetics Today 1 June 2017; 38 (2): 317–339. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/03335372-3869275
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