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Representation – A subtle power for good or ill

Radar is a unique type of representation that helps in war and peace

Radar is a unique type of representation used in war and peace

In the literary and artistic sense, representation refers to depicting a psychological, social, natural, political or spiritual idea or condition through language, music, visual art, multimedia, CGI or dance.

In the sciences, abstract ideas like numbers and their interrelationships are represented through numerals and other symbols.¹

In psychology, Carl Jung argues that representation is essential to the healthy growth of the psyche. For him, the conscious ego is like a control center that, through representation, must express and manage the formidable powers of the archetypes of the collective unconscious. Jung believes it is potentially dangerous to not express unconscious attitudes, tendencies and desires in some socially acceptable way.

One of the classic examples of this danger in today’s news would be pedophile priests. These are mostly gay men, not too spiritually aware nor advanced, who have taken a vow of celibacy. They’ve also pledged themselves to God in an organization that says homosexuality is disordered. For Jung, this would be double trouble, involving

  • the harsh repression of physiological impulses for sex
  • a strange, twisted hypocrisy concerning one’s sexual orientation²

No wonder the US Church, alone, has paid out several billions of dollars in sex abuse lawsuits to victims over the past 65 years.

Postmodern thinkers question to what degree representation actually represents and to what degree it creates or colors something. For them, social power comes into play in describing and defining. Representation does not only denote something. It also connotes meanings. Compare the following two sentences:

He had a distinguished career with an Honorary Doctor of Letters from Oxford.

He read and wrote a lot of stuff that people at a British school for continued learning liked, so they added more letters to his name.

These may denote the same thing but they connote very different meanings. Thus we see the power of representation.

A wealthy couple having breakfast via Wikipedia

A wealthy couple having breakfast via Wikipedia

Sociologists like Pierre Bourdieu say that elites use certain terms, ways of speaking and manners to separate themselves from others, and to remind the “lower classes” of their apparent vulgarity and powerlessness. Choice of clothing has the same effect. And funnily enough, the lower classics often buy cheaper, less fine versions of that expensive “look” in a failed attempt to measure up to their apparently elite superiors. Bourdieu calls these non-economic assets that elites possess cultural capital. From head to toe, inside and out, elites have a lot while the lower classes have far less.³

In anthropology, philosophy and theology, the idea of representation has been broken down into

  • first-order sense data, where human beings create an internal representation of something seemingly “out there”4
  • second-order conceptualizations and images

Within Platonic philosophy and the scholastic theology of the Middle Ages, different questions are raised about the possibility of eternal, unchanging essences or ideas that are imperfectly represented in our everyday, impermanent world of change and decay.

With abstract art, some argue that the personality and personal message of the artist may be entirely absent in the representational message of an artwork. Others say this is impossible—that is, the artist, artwork and viewer always exist in some kind of relationship.

To sum, representation is a fascinating phenomenon. In junior high school I once wrote a paper differentiating mankind from animals on the basis of our ability to make tools. But when I hit university I was introduced to the power of language, symbols and signs. And many argue that this representational aspect of mankind is what makes us truly human. For better or for worse, we live in a largely symbolic universe with diverse meanings.5

¹ Most of us don’t think about it too much. But the concept of number as a discrete, definite unit is not as simple as it might seem. See https://www.philosophytalk.org/shows/what-are-numbers and https://welovephilosophy.com/2012/12/17/do-numbers-exist/

² I have no idea about the causes of hetero- and homosexuality. I am just reporting Jung’s view. Non-abusive instances of gay religious may involve a bewildering confusion or secret dual life concerning one’s sexual orientation. Concerning the first bulleted item, some Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit gives brothers, nuns and priests a supernatural gift of celibacy, lifting them to a higher level of operation and giving them power over their natural desires. In reality, though, I don’t think it’s always that clear cut.

³ This is not to say that the economically poor cannot be highly intelligent nor spiritually rich. But I think some religious people create a stereotype about this based on Luke 6:20. Just because someone is poor does not, imo, mean they always have a rich inner life and good ethics. And by the same token, just because someone is rich does not mean they are always cruel, superficial snobs. This is a silly, superficial view in itself, I think based on a particular interpretation of the New Testament.

I say seemingly “out there” because solipsism suggests we cannot prove the reality of anything beyond our own internal experience. I don’t agree with taking this view but thought I should mention it.

5 I say largely symbolic because some sociologists fall short by saying that we live in a mere symbolic universe. I’m not convinced that religious experience, before the interpretive stage, is symbolic. I believe the Holy Spirit can touch us directly. So part of our experience, provided we’re open to religious experience, can be direct and non-representational.

Related » Active Imagination, Archetypal Image, Roland Barthes, Rudolf Bultmann, Bruce Cockburn, Emile Durkheim, Emic-Etic, Icon, Object, Participation Mystique, Surrealism, Wittgenstein, Yoni


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Realism – What is real, anyhow?

English: Cover of the October 1920 issue of Po...

Cover of the October 1920 issue of Popular Science magazine, painted by American illustrator Norman Rockwell. It depicts an inventor working on a perpetual motion machine. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Realism is a term with several meanings. Here are three:

1- Creative work in arts and culture, known as “representations” that appear natural and accurate. The accuracy can be poetic or blunt, and may carry a political message.

Like most things, the definition of a realist artist is unclear. For instance, people still debate whether the American painter, Norman Rockwell, is a realist or not. Cristina Acosta says “To most non-artists, Norman Rockwell is perceived to be a Realist. He isn’t. And he is.”¹

2 – Realism is a philosophical view that external objects exist, even when not perceived by an observer. This is related to the question – “If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears it, does it make a sound?”

On this point I remember talking with a professor about the possibility of the world being a “field of stimuli” external to the observer. I was still pretty young and it was an abstract idea which, at the time, was fascinating to consider. Basically it means that the world as we perceive it isn’t always as we perceive it. But something is still there: The potential to be seen, heard, felt, smelt and tasted.

Little did I know that philosophers and physicists had been thinking along the same lines for many years. Well, actually, I did know. I was beginning to find out. But my discoveries were not only conceptual but also experiential. And it wasn’t always fun and games, to put it mildly. Looking back I can see that I was entering into a pivotal period of personal growth. And this leads, in a sense, to the third definition.

3 – In theology, realism is the belief that universal essences are more real than any individual temporal manifestation. An early version of this view is outlined in Plato‘s theory of eternal, unchanging Forms. After that, Medieval theologians adapted Plato’s theory to fit with Christian belief (Plato living well before the earthly Jesus).

¹ http://wwwcristinaacosta.blogspot.com/2008/02/norman-rockwell-how-real-is-realism.html.

Related » Akhenaton, Idealism, Nominalism, Surrealism


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Functionalism – Are we simply what we do?

In art and architecture functionalism refers to combining aesthetics and efficiency. With intellectual roots in the 18th and 19th centuries, in the 1920s and 30s the Bauhaus movement designed furniture for utility.

In architecture, the idea that function should determine form was exemplified by Le Corbusier’s definition of a house as “a machine for living in.”

Portret van Talcott Parsons (1902-1979)

Portret van Talcott Parsons (1902-1979) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In social anthropology and sociology, functionalism (and structural functionalism) envisions society as a self-regulating organism. Social institutions, customs, beliefs and even social deviance all contribute to societal functioning. This approach was especially prominent in the sociological work of Emile Durkheim and Talcott Parsons.

In the Philosophy of Mind functionalism presents a challenge to behaviorism. While strict behaviorism explains the mind by observing external causes and effects, functionalism tries to account for consciousness in terms of all inner and outer causes and effects. Philosophical functionalism considers the possibility, overlooked by behaviorism, of a multiplicity of inner causes and effects existing within the mind. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy simplifies it thus:

Functionalism is a theory about the nature of mental states. According to functionalism, mental states are identified by what they do rather than by what they are made of.¹

¹ http://www.iep.utm.edu/functism/

Related » William James


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Yoko Ono – An even darker horse than George?

Image via Pinterest

Yoko Ono (1933 – ) was born into an aristocratic Japanese family and is an artist, activist and musician. She is also the ex-wife of slain Beatle John Lennon.

In a film made before his death Lennon recounts being impressed with one of Ono’s abstract art exhibits. After climbing up a ladder to the top of the installation, he saw the simple printed word “yes.”

Ono is often present in later Beatles recording studio photos, appearing calm and contemplative, almost like she’s the Buddha of the Beatles. But not all the Beatles felt that way.

Unfairly blamed by the press as the main cause of the Beatles‘ breakup, Ono made several albums after Lennon’s untimely death.

Interestingly, Wikipedia tells us that

Julian [Lennon] was left out of his father’s will, and he battled Ono in court for years, settling in 1996 for an unspecified amount which the papers reported was “believed to” be in the area of £20 million, which Julian has denied.¹

Ono and Julian Lennon’s relationship, however, reportedly has improved. And Ono promoted Lennon’s 2010 photo exhibit at her website.

John Lennon apparently once said Ono is “the world’s most famous unknown artist: everybody knows her name, but nobody knows what she does.”² More recently, her art continues to be displayed in major galleries around the world.

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yoko_Ono#Relationship_with_Julian_Lennon

² http://www.theguardian.com/global/2012/jun/08/yoko-ono-retrospective-serpentine-conceptual


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Psyche – More than a bundle of chemicals

Psyche and Amor, also known as Psyche Receiving Cupid’s First Kiss (1798), by François Gérard – Wikipedia

Psyche (Greek: soul or spirit) is the personification of the soul in Graeco-Latin myth.

The early Roman writer Apuleius looks at psychological transformation and the love between Cupid and Psyche in The Golden Ass, one of the earliest surviving Latin texts.

Apuleius is interesting because he is familiar not only with ancient Greek, Roman but also Egyptian religions, especially the once popular mystery cult of the goddess Isis.

In the ancient world, psychology and metaphysics, alike, use the term psyche to refer to the soul or the total person. In the Middle Ages it was translated into the Latin, anima.

The notion that psyche refers to more than a bundle of chemicals carries through in psychology right up to Sigmund Freud and especially to Carl Jung. Each of these 20th century thinkers use German translations (Seele) of the term psyche within their respective models of the self.


Russia, Saint Petersburg, State Hermitage Museum, Winter Palace, Cupid and Psyche

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Romanticism

Percy Bysshe Shelley imbibed his radical philo...

Percy Bysshe Shelley imbibed his radical philosophy from William Godwin’s Political Justice. (Amelia Curran, 1819) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Romanticism is the term given to a late 18th and early 19th century movement in art, literature and music where emphasis turned away from preexisting rules of expression to a freer, more naturalistic exploration of human emotion and individuality.

Romanticism is not to be confused with mushy, gushy art; that is, the sentiments of lovers. While this certainly can be a part of Romanticism, the emotions expressed are also dark and stirring, as we find with the music of the German composer, Richard Wagner.

Related » Animus, Byron (George Gordon Noel), Keats (John), Shelley (Percy Bysshe)

Love opera? Check out VILLA DIODATI on Wednesday Feb 24 at 3:10pm for just $5! #WFA2016

Writ in Water

How to Preserve a Heart: The Almost Unbelievable Romance of Mary and Percy Shelley

“As we approached Florence …”

Elisabeth Kley at Canada