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Reification – Are things always as they seem?

State Theater, Congress Avenue

State Theater, Congress Avenue by Dave Wilson via Flickr

Reification is a sociological, philosophical and literary concept concerning language and symbolization.¹

For Marxist, Weberian and postmodern sociologists, reification also involves social power. It occurs whenever ideas, concepts or theories are falsely assumed to accurately represent some entity or thing.

While many folks get heated up over political debates, and rightly so, few go a little deeper to question the political entities that we have constructed and continue to construct on a daily basis. Yes, we sometimes question what “democracy” means. But how often do we deconstruct the very notion of the “state”?

When you think about it, it is valid to ask: What is “Canada”? or What is “The United States of America”? For postmodern theorists, these are abstract ideas with potentially different meanings for each person. So the notion of the “state” is a human construction with many, interpreted meanings that do not point to an absolute existence of the thing in itself.

Another example of reification is often given in discussions about religious rules and regulations. These not only have legal but moral and emotional power over individuals. “Forgive me Father… it’s been 10 weeks since my last confession…” For non-Catholic reification theorists, the idea that a man can stand in place of God and that Catholics must regularly check in to a small booth and confess to a man/God is totally silly. It’s just a set of man-made rules that, although fictitious, have real power over the lives of men and women. Catholics are conditioned into believing the rules are part of a sacred tradition. A magisterial teaching authority. So the man-made thing becomes real to the extent that it is believed in.

From the perspective of believing Catholics, however, confession is far from silly. It’s a way to confirm that God has heard and forgives sins. Confession is a “sacrament.” It’s not a mere social construction legitimized in writ and replicated through conditioning because Catholics believe the teaching authority is holy. So, for them, the rules are functional truths from God.

Funnily enough, some folks talk about their country’s laws in a similar manner. Fundamentalist Americans, for instance, who speak of manifest destiny, often link the holy with their nation’s activity. And this is not only in the Bible Belt. Some “New Age” Americans speak the same way. The French social theorist Roland Barthes points out the close emotional and symbolic connection between the ideas of the “American Spirit” and “The Holy” in his 1957 book Mythologies

Critics of the idea of reification would argue that different countries are distinguished by laws, citizenship, culture, the landscape and geographic boundaries. However, reification theorists could reply that laws are often applied differently to the rich and powerful than to the poor and powerless. Statistics support this. The rich spend less time in jail for the same offences. So do the laws truly exist?

It may be difficult to appreciate the notion that landscape and geographic boundaries are not absolute, indisputable markers. But when we deconstruct the idea of physicality, as quantum physics does, even ideas like “the land” and geographic “boundaries” become less clear cut.

Democriet (laughing) & Herakliet (crying) by C...

Democriet (laughing) & Herakliet (crying) by Cornelis van Haarlem, which Lievens copied at 12. (The copy is lost) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In philosophy the ancient Greek Heraclitus alluded to the idea of reification when he wrote that we cannot step into the same river twice. What is a river if we can’t pin it down?

The 20th-21st century philosopher Willard Quine touches on the idea of reification by saying that empiricism contains “two dogmas.” The first dogma involves the distinction made between intellectual constructs and facts. This is related to the second dogma of “reductionism.” Reductionism is the belief that naming and meaning are the same.³ Likewise in rhetoric, it is commonly debated whether reification is applied appropriately.4

In the literary world, reification may occur whenever a metaphor is employed; although in literature a metaphor is accepted and encouraged; it is also evaluated for its effectiveness.5

To sum, reified ideas may be simple or complex. They may involve legal entities like “corporation” or “state.” But the question remains as to whether the thing written and talked about truly exists as described.

¹ Wikipedia lists several meanings for this term. Of particular interest is the meaning within Gestalt psychology, which I haven’t really emphasized here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reification

² Barthes focuses on America here, but I think individuals and groups in any country can get high and mighty about the alleged superiority of their nation.

³ Quine’s language may be difficult for laypersons. Understanding what he says depends on some knowledge of Kant’s particular language games (although Kant probably wouldn’t have seen it that way). Here’s the original Quine quote:

Modern empiricism has been conditioned in large part by two dogmas. One is a belief in some fundamental cleavage between truths which are analytic, or grounded in meanings independently of matters of fact and truths which are synthetic, or grounded in fact. The other dogma is reductionism: the belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience. Both dogmas, I shall argue, are ill founded. One effect of abandoning them is, as we shall see, a blurring of the supposed boundary between speculative metaphysics and natural science. Another effect is a shift toward pragmatism.

Source: http://www.ditext.com/quine/quine.html

4 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reification_(fallacy)

5 See examples.

Related » Sociology, Unconscious

 

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Narcissus and Goldmund – A Study of Psychological Types

Hesse And His Typewriter by Qtea

Hesse And His Typewriter by Qtea via Flickr

Narcissus and Goldmund is a novel by Hermann Hesse set in Medieval Germany. It’s about a Christian monk, Goldmund, who one day wanders in the fields a bit too far while gathering herbs and encounters a gypsy woman who asks him to make love.

At this point Goldmund realizes he has an eye for the ladies and was never meant to be a monk. He departs from monastic life, saying goodbye to his close friend and teacher Narcissus, to discover truth through lived experience. In his travels he has several romantic affairs, trains to be a master carver and encounters the horror of the Black Death.

Narcissus represents a stereotypical – or in the Jungian sense archetypal – clergyman bound by rules and regulations whereas Goldmund is a free-thinking, creative seeker.

At the end of the novel the two characters, although estranged throughout most of the narrative, meet up and are reconciled. They reflect on their different paths, the spiritual artist and the theological thinker, and discuss philosophy and science in a way that has been criticized as “too modern” for a historical novel.

English: Carl Gustav Jung, full-length portrai...

Carl Gustav Jung, full-length portrait, standing in front of building in Burghölzi, Zurich (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I personally didn’t mind this, probably because I read the book as a teenager. Had I read it today, I might have found the lack of historical accuracy a detriment. But as a youth, I wasn’t overly concerned with historicity.

Hesse was a friend of the depth psychiatrist C. G. Jung, the former once saying that they belonged within a secret circle of mystics.¹ Hesse has always been a psychological, philosophical and spiritual author, so to try to make him into something like Umberto Eco² is misguided. It’s like comparing Drake to Frank Sinatra, saying one should have been more like the other.

On the Web:

To this GradstudentCCC adds:

Hajo Smit’s summary contains an error about the ending. He says:

“Goldmund was so deeply disappointed that he gave up his trip and returned to the monastery, pretending that he had an accident.”

This isn’t the case at all. In the end of the book Goldmund *did* have an accident, in which he broke his ribs. He didn’t return to the monastery until much later (even after staying in a hospital for a while). He was very ill from the accident and returned to the monastery in time to die.

¹ (a) See footnote 2, p. 288 in my doctoral thesis (search “Hesse”): http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/obj/s4/f2/dsk3/ftp04/nq21958.pdf

(b) At that time I was just embarking on the inner life – hardly realizing it at first – and thinkers and novelists like Jung and Hesse provided some kind of road map, however imperfect, to help make sense of my experience.

² I talk a little bit about Eco at earthpages.ca < https://earthpages.wordpress.com/?s=Umberto+Eco+ > but the best place to get a feel for him is from one of his more knowledgeable admirers >> https://stuffjeffreads.wordpress.com/?s=Eco 


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The Muses – Then and Now

Hesiod and the Muse

Hesiod and the Muse (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Those of you who have been following this blog might remember that I’m now updating the very oldest entries. This means I’m finally giving attention to entries that

  • no longer interested me too much
  • I didn’t know a lot about nor feel qualified to update
  • I knew a fair amount about but didn’t have the time, energy or desire to spell out all the complications
  • didn’t seem too important to the overall purpose of this blog

Before making it my policy to update the oldest entries, I sometimes skipped over those “difficult” topics and just updated the fun, personally interesting stuff.

I’m not sure where the Muses sat in all this. I suppose I had a moderate interest but was still educating myself in ancient Greek and Roman lore so didn’t feel qualified to say too much about them. I’m still no expert by any stretch of the imagination, but I’m going to follow my plan and keep updating the very oldest, ignored entries here. And today it’s the Muses.

So here’s my skimpy entry from September 20, 2007:

Muses – In Greek myth these are nine patron goddesses of the arts, daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne (memory) and worshipped in the area of Mt. Helicon. Ancient bards and artists believed their inspiration came from them.

Related Posts » Boethius, Sappho

A representation from the 1500s of the Muses d...

A representation from the 1500s of the Muses dancing. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To begin my update, I should note that the Muses were not only inspirational to artists. They also spurred on scientists and writers to achieve beyond the ordinary. Also, the actual number of the Muses has been contested since ancient times. Some believed there were three, others nine.

In the first century BCE, Diodorus Siculus quotes Hesiod:

Writers similarly disagree also concerning the number of the Muses; for some say that there are three, and others that there are nine, but the number nine has prevailed since it rests upon the authority of the most distinguished men, such as Homer and Hesiod and others like them.¹

Moreover, the origin of the Muses is open to debate. Again from Wiki:

According to Hesiod‘s Theogony (seventh century BC), they were daughters of Zeus, the second generation king of the gods, and the offspring of Mnemosyne, goddess of memory. For Alcman and Mimnermus, they were even more primordial, springing from the early deities, Uranus and Gaia. Gaia is Mother Earth, an early mother goddess who was worshipped at Delphi from prehistoric times…

Sometimes the Muses are referred to as water nymphs, associated with the springs of Helicon and with Pieris. It was said that the winged horse Pegasus touched his hooves to the ground on Helicon, causing four sacred springs to burst forth, from which the muses were born.¹
.
Muse playing the lyre. The rock on which she i...

Muse playing the lyre. The rock on which she is seated bears the inscription ΗΛΙΚΟΝ / Hēlikon. Attic white-ground lekythos, 440–430 BC. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like most things in life, the Muses are not a clear-cut phenomenon. To add to the challenge of revising this entry, my thinking about the muses needed updating. And for that I had to double check some data about ancient Greek spiritual beliefs.

You see, until recently, when people told me they were inspired by their “muse” or (as one person once claimed) they were my muse,  I would usually have an inner reservation.

Let me explain.

As a believing Christian, I find that attending Catholic Mass and receiving the Eucharist does wonders for not only my creativity but also for endurance while creating. You might think that all the holiness and formality of attending Mass would squelch my electric guitar playing or ability to create edgy EDM music on my PC. But for me it’s the opposite. I am inspired by the Eucharist. It’s like a kind of overriding, elevating power and light that frees up my creativity.

So maybe you can better understand the apparent conflict – or maybe I should say ambiguity – that I used to have with my personal experience of Christ, on the one hand, and the idea of the Muses on the other hand.

Christianity generally teaches that the Muses are pagan ideas. And although some Christian leaders might diplomatically dance around it, the general implication is that this kind of non-Christian inspiration is lower or inferior to that of the Holy Spirit.²

But is this fair? Does not the Church also teach that Jesus as God exists through all time?

Hmm. Now things get complicated.

How do we discern non-Christian influences that might ultimately come from God vs. those that do not come from God? Further, how do we discern those Christian influences that come from God vs. those that do not come from God? Here I’m thinking of the various medieval horrors institutionally legitimized and carried out in the name of Christ.

c. 1640-1645

Clio, Euterpe et Thalie c. 1640-1645 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Get the point?

Many religions tend to carve up reality into tidy conceptual and behavioral categories and encourage believers to adhere to those structures.

Even though many of the structures do change over time and place, most religious authorities take great pains trying to convince us (and maybe sometimes themselves) that their religion just happens get it totally right in the 21st century.

They rarely take a long historical view and accordingly modify obligations for adherents. Or if they do happen to take a long historical view, it’s often like a patchwork quilt or, perhaps, ancient mosaic made by religious hands. Everything fits according to the ongoing religious story. Anomalous pieces that don’t fit are either left out or re-cut and re-tinted to fit with the longstanding religious narrative.

Another metaphor would be an elaborate building made out of sticks without glue. Remove any stick within the structure and the whole thing falls down. So orthodox theologians tend to leave the existing sticks where they are, only adding new ones that maintain the overall balance. In short, the entire structure keeps standing according to previously set limitations.

It may seem like I’ve strayed a long way from the original topic. But not really. The question remains: Where does inspiration come from?

Helicon or Minerva's Visit to the Muses

Helicon or Minerva’s Visit to the Muses (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

With regard to the ancient Greeks, it would not be fair to suppose that their view of the Muses was just as restrictive as some modern religious ideas about inspiration.

The Greeks also held beliefs about familiar spirits, ancestor spirits, nature spirits and household spirits—which not only protected but also could have inspired.³

So the Muses were not the only type of supernatural inspiration for ancient Greeks. And whether or not some ancient Greeks had access to the same kind of experience that I associate with the Holy Spirit, who can say?

In modern usage, the idea of the muse generally refers to artistic inspiration. But the idea has also entered into politics and sports. Wikipedia notes that the words museum, music, musing, and amuse all owe a debt to the ancient Greeks and their Latin translators.4

² See this link  (Google Books)
4 op. cit. Muse


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Odin The Unknowable

English: The Norse god Odin on his horse Sleip...

The Norse god Odin on his horse Sleipnir, featured on the Tjängvide image stone in Vallhalla. It also can depict a killed warrior on his way to Vallhalla greeted by Valkyries with horn goblet in their hands. Français : Le dieu Odin représenté sur la pierre de Tjängvide. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Odin (also called Woden by Anglo-Saxon pagans) is the supreme Norse God who, according to most accounts, anticipates the German Wotan.

As head of the Nordic pantheon called the Aesir, Odin has many faces. He is the wise giver of laws, the author of mystical poetry, a fierce, even frenzied war god and the protector of heroes. He is also a shaman, magician and shapeshifter.

Like the Greek Zeus, Odin is an unfaithful husband. His wife Frigga tolerates his numerous affairs with goddesses and human women.

An 1886 depiction of the indigenous Norse God ...

An 1886 depiction of the indigenous Norse God Odin by Georg von Rosen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Odin is popularized in the Tarot deck as the god who hangs himself from the World Tree (Ydgrassil) for nine days and nights to gain the esoteric wisdom of the runes—that is, the secret of immortality. This has been compared to Christ hanging on the cross but, some think, spuriously so.

The ambient music artist Giles Reaves released a track called “Odin (The Unknowable)” in his 1986 album Wunjo.

Since this entry initially appeared, Wikipedia has blossomed. So I add the following. I could rewrite in my own words. But that seems a waste of time when it’s already clear:

Odin is a prominently mentioned god throughout the recorded history of the Germanic peoples, from the Roman occupation of regions of Germania through the tribal expansions of the Migration Period and the Viking Age. In the modern period, Odin continued to be acknowledged in the rural folklore of Germanic Europe. References to Odin appear in place names throughout regions historically inhabited by the ancient Germanic peoples, and the day of the week Wednesday bears his name in many Germanic languages, including English.¹

R. Ellis Davidson’s Gods and Myths of Northern Europe seems to give more individualized treatment to Odin, Woden and Wotan than what we see at Wikipedia. I’m not sure if this or the Wikipedia view is more accurate. Probably an issue open to debate as the actual beliefs about this figure likely differed among peoples in that time (something Davidson mentions) and also, differed from recorded accounts (from which we have to do detective work to try to figure out what really happened).

Related » Achilles, Balder, Fenris, Freya, Hero, Thor

¹ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Odin


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Odo – Change is the name of the game

Image credit – Wikipedia

Odo is a character in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine played by actor René Auberjonois. He belongs to a race called “changlings.” Basically a shapeshifter, he can assume practically any form he likes.

This idea is similar to the changlings and shapeshifters found in mythologies and folklore pretty much around the world. The idea is also found in literature. Sometimes one changes shape against their will or by surprise, as in Franz Kafka‘s Metamorphosis, other times the change comes through choice or perhaps divine intervention.¹

¹ A good list here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shapeshifting#Fiction


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Odysseus and The Odyssey

The Siren by Edward Armitage via Wikipedia

The Odyssey is an epic poem traditionally ascribed to the Greek poet Homer. As a sequel to The Illiad, also ascribed to Homer, The Odyssey relates the story of Odysseus (Ulysses), an archetypal hero.

During his return to Greece after the Trojan wars, Odysseus overcomes many daunting and life-threatening challenges. Gods and goddesses, especially Athena, provide otherworldly assistance while Odysseus takes on scary and bewitching creatures like the Cyclops and the Sirens

Upon returning home, Odysseus find a pack of suitors lounging around his estate. They had presumed him dead and were trying to win over his wife Penelope’s hand in marriage.

Odysseus outwits the suitors and ends up killing each and every one with the help of his son Telemachus.

Depth psychologists and mythographers say this tale provides a classic example of the hero‘s journey, often read in myth and folklore.

A scene featuring the siren Parthenope, the my...

A scene featuring the siren Parthenope, the mythological founder of Naples. “Center of Naples, Italy”. Chadab Napoli. 2007-06-24 . . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Generally speaking, the hero cycle involves a trip to the underworld. The hero must overcome an array of harmful beings as well as gain the maturity to discern unfamiliar, strange helpers.

At the very bottom of the underworld, the hero discovers (or wins through battle with a monster) some secret key to wisdom or immortality. Upon returning to the mundane world (as opposed to the underworld), he or she has gained new insights that are shared for the greater good of society.

In the poem the Greek pantheon is depicted as residing at Mount Olympus, home of the gods.

¹ The image (orange and black) shows Odysseus strapped to the mast of his ship as he sails by the dangerous bird-women, the Sirens. Odysseus had instructed his crew to bind him tightly to the mast so he would not be enticed by the Sirens’ irresistible song. If a sailor gets too close to the sirens, there’s no return and death is assured.

Related » Hermes, Hesiod


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The Old Testament – Timeless wisdom or old, outdated operating system?

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps...

11th century Hebrew Bible with targum, perhaps from Tunisia, found in Iraq: part of the Schøyen Collection. (Photo: Wikipedia)

The Old Testament is a Christian name for the books of the Hebrew Bible. This is a problematic term because Jewish people could easily find it disrespectful of their holy scripture.

The designation comes from a Christian perspective with the unabashed implication that the New Testament fulfils the Old Testament, rendering the latter imperfect and somewhat lacking. This way of viewing the so-called Old Testament is found within Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant and Fundamentalist forms of Christianity.

In Christianity, the relationship between the Old and New Testaments seems confusing. I had one professor who argued that Christianity’s biggest mistake was to try to incorporate the Old Testament into the new religion. They should have just started afresh, he felt. I think this perspective lacks appreciation of the Jesus story. The “new” religion gains a certain depth and continuity by including the Old Testament. However, problems do arise, which theologians and preachers try to resolve in various ways.

The most notable difference between the Old and New Testaments is God’s apparent encouragement of violence and animal sacrifice in the OT but not in the NT. Sometimes, that is. The OT God doesn’t approve of all sacrifices, as we see with Cain and Abel. And sometimes he punishes doers of violence, if that particular violence is not in keeping with his Holy Agenda.¹

Also, the NT says we should live by the spirit of the law and not the letter of the law.² Living by the letter of the law “kills” it. The OT, by way of contrast, lays out strict and fairly detailed laws as to how the righteous should behave. This difference in rules and regulations also applies to what and when we eat. Somehow the Catholic Church forgot this, and started making new rules of regulations about eating. But many modern Catholics see this as unimportant.

As for adultery and sexual lust, Jesus of the NT raises the bar here. You can’t even think about it without being sinner; whereas in the OT actually doing it is the sin.²

A representation of Saint John the Evangelist in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral on Fifth Avenue on July 31, 2010 in New York City.

Some Christians make no apology for calling the Old Testament the Old Testament. For them, it’s just another instance of unwarranted political correctness to pretend that all religions are of equal value. The New Testament, again for them, is better. So why, they argue, water things down by pretending otherwise? But again, their Holy Bibles contain the Old Testament. So there’s a lot of room for debate here.

¹ Both the OT and NT, however, are sexist and often simplistic—especially in the NT with regard to nutritional needs.

² These are just some of the differences that came to mind while revising this entry; this is not an exhaustive list. The NT also emphasizes forgiveness while the OT prescribes the famous, “an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” kind of reactive punishment for wrongdoings. Follow this link for more perspectives.

Related » Adam, Bible, Book of Isaiah, Book of Job, Burning Bush, Daniel, Dead Sea Scrolls, Divination, Elohim, Eve, God, the Father, Heaven, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist, Jonah, Just War, Kabbala, Koran, Lilith, Lot, Lot’s Wife, Miracles, Moses, Pollution, Torah, Yahweh