Author: Mikhail Epstein

Date: 6.1.1995

The term "kenotype" is formed from the ancient Greek words kainos, meaning "new," and typos, meaning "form" or "imprint." "Kenotype," then, is literally a "new form," and in the system of culturological concepts it should stand beside "archetype," to which it offers a specific contrastive meaning.

Carl Jung used the term "archetype" to refer to the generalized patterns of images that form the world of human representations in recurrent motifs, passing through the history of all culture. Since archetypes are rooted in the collective unconscious, they may be conceived through the psychic activity of any individual, be it in the form of dreams, art works, the ancient monuments of religious activity, or the contemporary images of commercial advertising. Such archetypes as the "innocent babe," the "unheeded prophet," the "philosopher's stone," and many others which also have their source in the primitive darkness of the unconscious, are repeated in numerous works of cultural creation.

Along with the notion of the archetype, art and literary theorists often use the concept of "type" to represent concrete historical tendencies of any kind that are generalized in artistic works. In this sense the images of Chatsky, Onegin, Chichikov and Oblomov are called typical, insofar as they reflect some of the most characteristic traits of their respective epochs, nationality and specific social level. If archetypal refers to the lowest, prehistoric, atemporal layer of the "collective soul," then typical indicates the imprint of history, in its socially conditioned and concretely meaningful expressions.

However, the archetypal and the typical do not exhaust the contents of cultural forms and artistic images, considered as a set of utterly general categories. There remains the possiblity that universality may neither be given a priori, nor limited by history, but rather derived from the final significance of history, from the super-historical condition of the world, in which unfold patterns, formulas and models unknown to the prehistoric unconscious. In contrast to "archetype," these new forms of spiritual creativity, which pervade all cultures of the Modern Age and are especially prevalent in the twentieth century, can be called KENOTYPES.

A kenotype is a cognitive, creative structure, reflecting a new crystallization of some broadly human experience, occurring in concrete historical circumstances, but not reducible to them, and appearing as the first embodiment of a potential or future development. If, in the case of archetype, the general precedes the concrete, as a prees ablished form precedes materialization, and if in a type the two coexist, then in the case of kenotype, the general is a final perspective of the concrete, as it arises from history only to outgrow it, touching the borders of eternity. Everything that can come into being has its meta-image in the future, since it prophesies or gives a warning about something. This storehouse of meta-images is far richer than the strongbox of first images, where the ancient unconscious is contained. The openness of history is given to mankind as a birthplace for super-historical content, where the permanent can obtain its "surplus value," and where its image can not only be preserved, but even grow in time.

For example, the magic mountain in Thomas Mann's novel by the same name is an archetypal image, connected to ancient representations of the dwelling place of gods, including Olympus and Horselberg (the mountain where Tannhauser spent seven years in captivity to Venus). The tuberculosis sanatorium located on its summit, however, is a kenotypal image, in which Mann develops the crystallization of a historically new conceptual system, represented in his conjectures on "the coming of a new humanity tempered in the crucible of profound knowledge of sickness and death." Such images as "this delightful little German with his moist little infection," as Clavdia Chauchat calls Hans Castorp, or the lung X-ray that he requests of her rather than an ordinary photograph--these are not simply socially characteristic details, nor "formulas given from antiquity" (as Mann defined archetypes), instead they are kenotypal images, rendering a new cultural semantic which Castorp formulates as "the brilliant principle of disease."

In his essays on Nietzsche and Dostoevsky, Mann emphasizes the historical appearance of "disease" as a cultural phenomenon with a universal meaning, capable of organizing mankind's spiritual life in a new way. For instance, Mann writes of Nietzsche that "It was precisely his illness that became the source of those inspiring impulses, which proved so creative and at times so destructive for an entire epoch." In The Magic Mountain, Mann's artfully selected physiological details--the tubercular process as a sickening of the tissues supplying air to the organism, those finest and most "disembodied" of substances--provide continual recourse to an artistic metaphysics of the spirit. Mann's kenotypal depictions are born of a concrete cultural and historical situation: the creative achievement of those "afflicted seers," Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, in the atmosphere of refined disintegration known as fin de siecle or decadence in art and literature. The experience of the First World War expanded this situation into a great variety of meanings, not limited to the framework of a single epoch; the topic of lung disease acquired an eschatological aspect. The kenotypes of the sanitorium and the X-ray, for all their obvious universality, can in no way be projected onto the originary levels of the "collective unconscious," nor do they have analogues in ancient mythology.

Kenotypal formations may be found not only in the sphere of art and literature, but also among the events of contemporary technology and everyday life and culture, where their meaning extends beyond the bounds of a single instance and of contemporaneity itself. A subway system is kenotypal, composed of interconnected underground crypts and containing, not the quiet of the grave, but the bustle and movement of living people by the millions. The kenotypicality of any phenomenon reveals itself in the obvious volume of symbolic values, the abundance of metaphors and analogies that directly accompany it through the process of its social assimilation. For example, cancer is often interpreted as a sickness of the social organism, expressed in the degraded simplification and homogenization of its structures.

One and the same cultural phenomenon may manifest layers of both archetypal and kenotypal significance. So it is with a shoreline that divides the two elements, land and sea: this space is deeply archetypal, as numerous poetic and literary works attest. But the usage of this same physical space for rest and recuperation under the influence of all the natural elements present here--sun, water and sand--represents a different metaphysical significance: the beach, which is a kenotype originating in our era. Consider, "On the shore of desert waves he stood, full of great thoughts." Or "Longed for border of my soul! How often on your shores have I wandered, quiet as the fog, tormented by a secret notion." Pushkin's unfailing intuition informs these lines: the shore is a place for both the lawgiver and mutineer. Precisely on this boundary line begins a surge toward the boundless, the "great thought" and "secret notion" that stretch beyond the bounds of the accessible. On the shore may be seen the figure of a guardian, protecting the borders of the elements, or that of an infractor, plotting to transcend them; here they stand erect or wander along. On the beach, however, everything refers to the horizontal dimension; it is a place not for standing, but for lying, in surrender to an unfocussed peace of mind, a lazy repose. If the shore decisively divides the elements into "either. . . or," the beach brings everything together into "both this. . . and that." In the latter instance the borderline of being is transformed into the being and way of life of the borderline itself, the place of rest and contentment where all the elements are tame and loving, as they play around the human center. Could this be the future to which mankind is hurrying with the same haste as he hurries to the beach when summer comes, regaining in these densely populated spaces of the earth a long lost paradise? Could this be the ultimate task of a self-deified humanity: the transformation of all the earth into an endless beach, an outpouring of golden sand? The kenotype of the beach contains an ominous warning against the degradation of our dream of a return to paradise, a place of eternal bliss.

According to a widespread understanding of archetypes, everything new is but a phenomenological covering for those "primary essences," whose content remains unchanged over the ages. But actually, the essence may be as new as the phenomenon. Time not only varies mankind's originally conceived archetypes, it fulfills a more fundamental task as well: the creation of new types, both those that represent generalizations of their epoch, and those that acquire super-temporal significance. Kenotypicality is the potential for universalizing a new historical experience; it is a perspective that addresses not the beginning but the potential end of time, as a vast and growing source of meaning.

To designate these emerging dimensions of the culture of a new era we need a new, prospective terminology that will not hark back to prehistoric phases and forms of consciousness, but will look forward. In the meantime, such terms as "mythologeme," and "archetype" pervade our thinking about contemporary culture, distorting essential matters: the super-historical and universal orientation that is increasing in contemporary consciousness is not in the least an archaic, pre-personal model, and a retrospective terminology is inappropriate to describe it.

Introducing the concept of the kenotype does not contradict Jung's theory of the unconscious, which allows for the capacity to undergo drastic metamorphoses in anticipation of historical changes. According to Jung, the unconscious is able to create new conceptions; it is historically mobile and productive. In our day it is particularly important to distinguish its conservative, self-protective layers--those that relate to the sphere of archetypes--from its dynamic, creative layers, which are even now producing new kenotypes. The proposed term is intended to remedy not a flaw in Jungian theory, but a flaw in its conventional articulation.

In more detail you can read on the complex of ideas here presented in Mikhail Epstein, After the Future: The Paradoxes of Postmodernism and Contemporary Russian Culture, transl. and with Introduction by Anesa Miller-Pogacar, Amherst: Massachusetts University Press, 1995, pp. 48-49, 323-327.

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