Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Marcel Proust & my book "Archetypes for Writers"

Marcel Proust & my book "Archetypes for Writers"
March 4, 2007
Like others who've read and reviewed Proust's opus here, I did not read it in one consistent long read. I read the first ten pages and put it down for a year. I then read up to page 100 and put it down again for six months. Thereafter, pregnant with my first child, I read through all the rest.

I found Proust immeasurably easy and pleasant to read. The long sentences are almost musical and facilitate rather than impede understanding of Proust's deep insights.

Further, despite Proust's own unhappiness, I have never been happier reading a book. Nor have I ever felt so "let into" a person's life as I did reading him.

But, as important as my joy in reading Proust was the fact that it was Proust's masterpiece -- and most especially the last volume (Past Recaptured, by the old title) and particularly Chapter 3 of that volume -- that confirmed much of what I already secretly and silently knew and had begun developing into a method for finding one's own already-existing characters inside oneself, which I had already started teaching and continued to teach for twenty years (first in my own business and then at the New School University in NYC) and finally developed into my book Archetypes for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious.

Proust's value for me was not in his exquisitely minute and drawn-out descriptions of drinking tea or misstepping on a cobblestone (which both triggered the reliving of lost moments for Proust). It is a misunderstanding of Proust to think that that is all he is about. (There was, in fact, an entire acting method developed out of this view (called "method acting").)

Rather, I found Proust's understanding of character valuable. He knew the power of juxtaposition -- which he called "mental gymnastics" and "the miracle of analogy."

I found his articulation of the "extra-temporal being" or "the man freed from the order of time" valuable -- that which I have called to my students: the "author self," the self that knows the whole story of all one's characters: the beginning, the middle, the end -- without having to wait for anything to happen -- a knowledge that almost presupposes the non-existence of time, in an Einsteinian sense -- and something which I have found is naturally developed through the use of the skill I called "arkhelogy" or "doing archetypes."

The habit or skill of "being in the moment" -- something that is a primary skill enumerated in my book -- is also something of what Proust reveals (he calls it a "minute freed from the order of time")

Proust practiced suspending moments in his mind in order to reclaim his past, but it is also a central skill possessed by all great novelists -- for, how do you experience the life of another if you do not grasp and suspend in your own mind the moments in which that person lives and breathes?

And this brings me to another concept that Proust knew and realized in his work (but did not express in the way I do), which was something I had learned from my years in the theater: analogy. Proust talked about analogy in the context of the juxtaposition of two moments. But analogy is also about making analogies between oneself and others (something which Proust called "substitutions"). In other words, finding how to "relate" to another, how to feel what the other feels. This, of course, is a human ability, but it is also a skill that can and should be encouraged and practiced. Proust achieved this level of understanding of his fellow humans to a high degree.

Finally, there is Proust's recognition that "in fashioning a work of art we are by no means free, that we do not choose how we shall make it but that it is pre-existent to us and therefore we are obliged, since it is both necessary and hidden, to do what we should have to do if it were a law of nature, that is to say to discover it." Similarly, one of the main premises in my book is that one's character's and their stories already exist and that one needs only to learn how to find them -- which is, of course, what all the rest of Proust's novel is about (and my exercises teach one to do).

I owe a great debt to Proust. Apart from my sense of love for his language, his words, his phrases, not to mention his insights into people and events, Proust was for me the major impetus behind the development of both the book "Archetypes for Writers" and the course out of which the book grew.

Your Tags: time, mindfulness, being in the moment, french novels, einstein, analogy

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Writing from your subconsciousn (Review of Archetypes for Writers)

Writing from your subconscious

Pan's LabyrinthOne of last year’s films, Pan’s Labyrinth, was acclaimed for its powerful story and richly beautiful as well as terrifying images.

Writer and director Guillermo del Toro once commented, “When you have the intuition that there is something which is there, but out of the reach of your physical world, art and religion are the only means to get to it.”

In an interview, del Toro spoke about humans having two levels of thought: “One is conscious and the other unconscious or subconscious… Our problem is that we divide things that may be instinctive and collective and we have compartmentalized our perception so strongly that we only get them in glimpses and I think this is where the idea of the Jungian archetype comes to work…

“I believe that there is a whole dimension that I wouldn’t call supernatural but ’supranatural,’ that I believe in.” [From San Francisco Bay Guardian interview.]

Another film writer, as well as actor, Steve Martin thinks “The conscious mind is the editor, and the subconscious mind is the writer. And the joy of writing, when you’re writing from your subconscious, is beautiful — it’s thrilling. When you’re editing, which is your conscious mind, it’s like torture. And I’ve just kind of decided that anytime it’s torture, I want to stop. I’ll just put it down and wait until it becomes not torture.” [NY Times, 8.8.99]

Archetypes for WritersIn her book Archetypes for Writers, Jennifer Van Bergen affirms that “Writing takes place in the subconscious. Some people view the subconscious as merely a dumping ground for stuff the conscious mind cannot or does not want to handle.

“Others consider that the subconscious only exists for people who have ‘problems.’ They think that if you are healthy, your subconscious will just fall into line with your conscious mind. Neither of these ideas is true.”

She adds, “The subconscious actually operates - in everyone - as an independent mind. It perceives, processes, and retains things that never enter the conscious mind at all.”

“We all have material in the subconscious. In fact,it is where nearly all our material is found, but that material cannot gather itself together, emerge, and become part of a work of art (or our life) unless the conscious mind allows it.”

Her book provides concrete information and exercises for, as she puts it, “doing archetypes” - not the “usual writing skills, but rather distinct, separate non-writing skills that, together, enable one to do ‘one’s own writing,’ and to access and develop one’s existing characters, and, ultimately, to write them in the context of their real lives (stories).”

Being creative and realizing our talents as an artist or any identity we want to be involves self-awareness and respecting who we really are, including our unconscious depths.

Brain/mind researcher Dr Jill Ammon-Wexler notes in her article Your Intuitive Intelligence that intuition is a “whole brain” function, and “draws upon both our higher mind, and our entire lifetime of experience stored in the subconscious mind. It’s probably our most powerful method of integrating our conscious and subconscious thought processes.”

Many writers and other artists attribute creative thinking and inspiration to the subconscious.

The book Sparks of Genius, among many other sources, talks about “those pre-logical glimmerings sensed amid the noise of formal thinking that intuitively synthesize an insight before it is translated into words, dance, music, math, pictures, whatever.” [Kirkus Reviews]

Jennifer Van Bergen’s book Archetypes for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious is available from The Writers Store and Amazon.

Also see her article Archetypes for Writers, and my post Dancing with our unconscious.

Posted in Writing, Nurturing talent | | 08.27.07 |

Friday, July 6, 2007

MidWest Book Review of Archetypes for Writers

Archetypes for Writers
Jennifer Van Bergen
Michael Wiese Productions
3940 Laurel Canyon Boulevard #1111, Studio City, CA 91604
1932907254, $22.95

Years of training in theatre and decades of teaching lends to the author's unique approach of how to utilize personal archetypes to fuel stories – and how to find such archetypes. Screenwriters and any library catering to them will find ARCHETYPES FOR WRITERS: USING THE POWER OF YOUR SUBCONSCIOUS packed with exercises and keys to utilizing them successfully, from understanding character facts and dialogue to underlying psychology. Examples of monologues, dialogues, and effective scripts throughout lend body and insight to an excellent survey essential for screenwriters who want to get the most from their efforts.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Moviescope Review of Archetypes for Writers

Using The Power Of Your
By Jennifer Van Bergen
Michael Wiese Productions
Paperback: 241 pages
List Price: £13.99
ISBN: 1-932907-25-4
You might think that this book is just
another retread of the Campbellian
ideas popularised by The Hero’s
Journey, but you’d be very much
mistaken. Van Bergen resurrects
the ancient skill of arkhelogy or
“doing archetypes”: Discovering an
imprint of a pattern of human
behaviour (=an archetype) in a person
we observe.
Arkhelogy is a global skill, with a
number of component skills, all of
which must be mastered. Doing this
will lead you to your deepest places
in your being and potentially stretch
your writing abilities. The skills are
Character Facts (impartially observing
facts about someone), Universal
Drives (discerning universal drives in
people), Discrepancies (noticing
differences in a person between
words and deeds), Analogues
(focussing on similarities between
two people or events), Being In The
Moment, Universes of Discourse
(identifying two different worlds
within a film, their laws and points
of contact), Emotional Access Work,
Ectyping (taking a particular thing
and generalizing it) and Isotyping
(looking for something similar to the
ectype but with a different origin).
Make no mistake, this is a difficult
book. Van Bergen invents a lot of
new words, and the New Age concepts
she uses are hard to understand
correctly. They do teach you
to observe in a new and profound
way, however. Still, to get the most
out of them, taking a course or
workshop with Van Bergen or
someone who’s mastered her
theory will probably be most effective.
Nevertheless, several of the
exercises here will be very valuable
to any writer. 
By Wout Thielemans

Friday, June 22, 2007

Talking about Freedom of Expression & the Need for Self-Expression


I will be on Steve Lendman News & Information Hour tomorrow from 1-2PM EST, accessible at (just go at about 1PM and click on "on air now"). I will be talking about my two books, which were written for two very different purposes and audiences.

* For those of you who are interested in civil liberties, the Bill of Rights, the US Constitution, the UN Charter of Human Rights, or anything related to the protection of sacred individual rights (which for me also includes the preservation of our planet and all living things), you might not see how these things connect to my Archetypes for Writers book, especially if you don't see yourself as a writer.

But I promise you, these things ARE connected.

* For those of you who are writers or wannabe writers and don't see the connection to human rights or civil liberties or global warming or war and peace, again, I promise you, they ARE connected -- and I will be talking about HOW they are connected and what bridges I hope to build in both camps.

This might seem arrogant to some. Who am I to build such bridges? Who am I to claim I have some special knowledge that connects these two huge fields? Many of you know me as a friend, a simple activist, a teacher, or a socially inept sometime writer.

Well, I am just those things: I am just one imperfect human being who has done extensive work in both fields and who wants to share my knowledge and insights with others who care: both human/civil rights/peace/justice activists and creative folks who try to reach people through the deep expression and universality of their creations.

Steve Lendman has been kind enough to offer me this wonderful opportunity to talk about these connections. Steve, a 75-year-old humanitarian, a man who came to writing articles and doing his radio show only in the recent past, a man who cares deeply about what's happening in the world today, has had many on the air recently whom you might recognize: British journalist John Pilgers, former CIA analyst Ray McGovern, former attorney Lynne Stewart, Sami Al-Arian's wife, court-watcher in the Dhafir case: Katherine Hughes, and many, many more.

There are no call-ins on this show yet, but if you EMAIL ME YOUR QUESTIONS IN ADVANCE OF THE SHOW, I promise to answer them on-air, if possible. (If you email me during the show and I receive the email during the show, I will TRY to answer your question, as well.)

All our voices matter. Please let me hear from you! (You may remain anonymous, too, if you prefer.)


Friday, May 11, 2007

Using Archetypes to Develop Complex Characters

I am posting a short article on using archetypes which quotes from my summary article. See all of Eby's excellent blogs listed at JVB

Using Archetypes to Develop Complex Characters
By Douglas Eby

Author and Jungian analyst Jean Shinoda Bolen, M.D. explains the idea of archetype as a "predisposition that contributes to our personality, helping define our strengths, difficulties, and meaning."

She says the common forms "are based on the gods and goddesses in Greek mythology. People are complex, there is a pantheon of these archetypes in each of us. They act from within us, and the more we know of them, the more conscious we can be about ourselves, the better." [She is author of Gods in Everyman; her quotes are from Myth & Story : page 2]

In her article Archetypes for Writers, Jennifer Van Bergen writes about exploring these "underlying pre-existent patterns, or archetypes, in people’s behaviors and actions. Eventually, you see not simply the behaviors themselves but an entire 'secret life' going on, and from that you begin to discern a whole 'invisible world' where these secret lives interact, interweave, and form into stories."

She says by "working at the archetype level.. your writing will never be the same."

Her book Archetypes for Writers: Using the Power of Your Subconscious, according to summary by the Writers Store, notes it provides a step-by-step method, using specific exercises and coupled with detailed, in-depth explanations of the meaning of each step, to enable writers to find the characters they already contain within themselves but do not know exist or know how to access or develop.

Archetypes, as the Wikipedia entry says, "have been present in mythology and literature for hundreds of years. The use of archetypes to analyze personality was advanced by Carl Jung early in the 20th century.

"The value in using archetypal characters in fiction derives from the fact that a large group of people are able to unconsciously recognize the archetype, and thus the motivations, behind the character's behavior."

Jung also developed ideas about exploring and using our personal shadow - "the negative side of the personality, the sum of all those unpleasant qualities we like to hide, together with the insufficiently developed functions and the contents of the personal unconscious."

He said the shadow "also displays a number of good qualities such as normal instincts, appropriate reactions, realistic insights, creative impulses, etc."

Many writers and other artists realize how valuable it can be to explore and make use of these concepts of archetypes and the shadow self.

For example, director Wes Craven: the image is from A Nightmare on Elm Street (1984), and Craven said in an interview that during the years while writing the fillm, he was reading "a lot of Eastern sort of esoteric knowledge. There's a Russian philosopher who wrote about levels of consciousness and equated consciousness with being awake - which I did throughout this picture.

"His theory was that consciousness is painful. To know really what's true, to know the truth in any given situation, is painful, often uncomfortable, and it's not pleasant. So most of us, most of the time, will go out what he called 'doors.'

"He listed sex, eating, sleeping, being out in a crowd; today you could add television and drugs. Those things ease the pain of consciousness."

Craven adds that the hero - an archetypal figure - is "the person that remains conscious, remains awake, up to the point where it's so painful you want to kill yourself. Most people, if they get near that level, turn around and go the other way; some people actually kill themselves, and some people break through to a sort of clarity where they're truly conscious. That became the framework for the film." [Quotes from the shadow self : page 3]

Response to Amazon Review

The following is a response I wrote today on Amazon to a review of my book (linked below). Because several people have raised the point covered in the first paragraph, that is a general response.

My response:

I think it's important to point out what I repeatedly state in my book: that the first several chapters are optional reading. These chapters provide necessary foundational information that, if not stated, would surely be wondered and/or asked about. But I encourage readers to skip ahead directly to the exercises, if they want, and come back to the first chapters to fill in on those principles later. Many of these premises will not be new to writers. They are nonetheless worth stating.

On the other hand, some writers may find these chapters confusing until they work through the exercises and sometimes they do not find them useful until they are onto advanced work.

I think it is also important to correct the assertions made by Cinema Crazy Terminal (CCT) about what I say in the book. He writes in his review that I say: "The writer knows the characters more than most people." This is not something I write in the book and it is untrue. While your characters already exist within you, they are in your subconscious. You may not "know" them at all and the process of discovering, developing, and writing them is complex and involved.

CCT also writes that "A writer's characters are combinations of the writer's personality, fears, desires, and inhibitions." This is a misunderstanding of the entire archetypes approach. If it were true, one would only need therapy to discover one's characters, and the archetypes approach would be unnecessary.

Most importantly, the book provides a skeleton of the process that takes place in discovering and developing your characters. It cannot replace a live class, seminar, or private in-person work, where the participant gets an opportunity to work through the process and make the discoveries which in principle might seem simple, but in practice is often a long journey.

Go to CCT's review here.