SYMBOLIC: ADVENTURES IN TEXT
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December 20, 2004
108: The Tongue of One
I've been working on a short story this last week or so, building something from a single frame of art. The basic premise was to write something based on an illustration, approaching the typical illustrator/writer relationship from the opposite direction. While the illustrator usually come to the work post-creation and leverage their eyes on the work, I started from the other side: looking at the illustration first. We (the artist and I) didn't talk about the piece; he just sent me the link to it and let it stand or fall on its own merits. And, moreso with art than with the written word (where it is easier to spell out your symbolism and meanings), what I bring to this piece is colored by my symbolism, by the context of my illuminated world. Though, not surprisingly, there are some tropes that we both agree on and it's interesting to realize how little was needed on the part of the artist to push me into a specific head space, how few brush strokes were required to symbolize the requisite time and space.
Is language then a more compulsively exacting tool than art? What did we gain by adopting language and forgoing communication through pictures? Admittedly it would only take a few sentences to "sketch" the same frame of art. [Though as I write that previous sentence and waffle between using "few sentences" and "few paragraphs," I realize the difference is a matter of the writer relying on the symbolic weight of his words -- how much does the audience bring to the party?] But, if the artist and I didn't speak the same language, we would still be able to communicate through his picture while my words would simply be a string of letters on the page. Have we evolved by adopting language?
Language becomes more specialized, more "colloquial," with each passing generation. Our parents argue they don't understand us, and even us decrepit nearly 40-somethings can barely understand the generation nipping at our heels. As each generation adapts language to its own needs, is this an "evolution" of communication or a compartmentalization of discourse? We speak in coded phraseology -- "hip" tongues -- that isolate our groups from the remainder of society. We do it to be special, to be "in." These are the ritual phrases of future secret societies. As each social microcosm adapts more and more obtuse terminology, they shrink, becoming more and more exclusive. The curse of Babel has not yet been realized, but it is coming. Some day we will all have the tongue of one and we will be reduced to using the picture menu at McDonald's in order to survive.
Posted by Teppo at 07:58 AM
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December 08, 2004
107: Re con text
I've been using the phrase "the recontextualization of symbolism" a bit the last few weeks and maybe I ought to explain myself before I fall into some linguistic oubliette of my own making. "Recontextualization" is a word that I've lifted from Phil Easter's Stone Glass Steel project. As SGS, Easter builds dark ambient and noise tracks from the split and shattered remains of the musical work of others. This is sampling gone to an extreme end where everything is sourced from something else, mashed, mangled and molded until it forms something new. Easter's efforts are to bring a new "context" to the music, the revelation of a new facet of the old and stale. Easter's work isn't about playing sample-spotting, but rather about loosening our own self-created strangleholds on our brains. The past gives birth to the future by the machinations of the present.
In a textual world, in a religiously-charged world, we reinvent and recontextualize symbolism all the time. In fact, man's largest recontextualization project was the Catholic Church and its invention of Jesus. I read an interesting observation recently in Francis Wheen's How Mumbo-Jumbo Conquered the World (it's a serious book with a big yellow duck on the cover) that opined that fear causes a reduction. If we are afraid, our first attempt is to leave the immediate area. If this fear exists on a cultural level (and we can't, obviously, all emmigrate), then the reaction is to turn back to a "simpler" time, a time when the world was less complex and more reliably black and white. Wheen was speaking of Iran and Britian at the end of the 1970s, but I think the statement applies just as readily today in the United States.
But you can't turn back the clock. Nations and political bodies around the world have been trying for decades to remake their world in a more idealized vision -- a vision warped by their belief that we can forget cultural evolution (or that we even want to). There is a concerted effort to bury one's head in the sand and ignore the mutability of symbolism, to mis-believe that nothing every changes. Everything we touch is altered by our perception -- by our presence, by our contact, by our interred history which is dug free again by connection with external stimulii -- and this extends to our "symbols."
All things evolve. Everything becomes new. And we aren't liberating ourselves from anything if we ignore the forward movement of our conscious and unconscious tools of communication.
Posted by Teppo at 11:05 PM
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