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Communication. - The Life and Thoughts of Zach — LiveJournal

Oct. 29th, 2005

06:29 pm - Communication.

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A comment I left in soulsong's journal that she seemed to like.

To my mind, meaning in art is a conversation. The reader and their larger culture, and the author's larger culture bring symbol systems to the book that the author may or may not have been aware of but that nonetheless are triggered by the words in the book.

Part of the enjoyment of life for me is exploring the web of symbols woven by our collection of communicating consciousnesses. Just as I love to talk about a work of art with my friends, I love to read what academics have to say about it as well. I don't have to agree with all or any of them, I just like to hear the ways in which they are similar or different from me and to share the insights we haven't managed to put into words yet.

In many ways I think others can have a lot more interesting things to say about a work of art than the artist themselves. The artist has hopefully said it their best In The Art. The artist throws the stone in the water, I like to watch the ripples.


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Date:October 30th, 2005 08:57 am (UTC)
(The comment you link to is unfortunately trapped within a friends-only post, and since we have no mutual 'friends', no-one who reads your LJ will be able to see mine :)

There was a time when I looked at tarot and dismissed it as superstitious nonsense because you'd always see things relevant to your situation and pick those out of the million other things not relevant. And then I realised that actually this was the point, that tarot is a mechanism by which the mind can recognise the helpful wisdom it needs from a selection of dozens and dozens of possibilities, and that this is a powerful route to self-understanding when compared to churning the same issues over and over in one's head and never quite escaping their gravitational pull.

I see the same thing applying to art. It's a broadwave wisdom repository, not just a transmission of a particular narrowband message from artist to audience.

But I guess it'll be a while before I stop being offended by writing about art that claims to understand the one true message of the artist.
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Date:October 30th, 2005 09:16 am (UTC)
Yes! Have I written to you my theory about spirituality as collective dreaming?

Le Guin suggests in an essay about The Lathe of Heaven that the way dreaming works is that during REM sleep our brain starts firing away at random. Random concepts encoded in our brain get activated and become thoughts. Recent experiences are probably more likely to be triggered. Triggered pathways might lead to nearby concepts being triggered. But there is no story (yet). If you wake someone up during REM they'll report confused disjoint imagery with no narrative. Later on during the quiet part of sleep the brain takes all that random data and does what it does best, it finds patterns and synthesizes the whole into a coherrent graspable recallable story, a dream. That's why you get better dreams when you get quality sleep. Anyway, I've never confirmed any of this "science", it's the third hand observations of a sci fi author writing an essay in the early 80s. But it sounds good to me and I like perpetuating the idea.

Dream analysis is useful because it allows us to explore the structure of our internal concept web. Why do these two things appear side by side in my dream? Why does my brain tell this kind of narrative about these two things appearing side by side? What real life experiences led me to associate these concepts? Our internal symbol system would be largely inscrutable to us if it weren't for the nightly "experimental evidence" provided by dreams.

So...what I REALLY like is to take the idea a step further and apply it to the entire domain of spiritual language and practice and the role of religion in culture. Throw in a dash of cognitive anthropology (the study of how culture mediates group cognition so that problems that no one brain can solve (e.g. playing a game of baseball or navigating a large ship across the ocean) can be solved by a group of brains and bodies using shared symbol systems and language and artifacts made by and wisdom taught by experts and tactit skills learned by experience).

I think of spiritual/religious symbol systems and practices (and art) as the collective story telling that we do in order to interpret the "random" REM-like data of real life. We're desperate to "chunk" all that data into something we can talk about and we engage in that process constantly. And we gain indirect insight into the nature of our collective experience of the world by interpretting the resulting stories/art, just as we gain insight by interpretting dreams.

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Date:October 30th, 2005 03:15 pm (UTC)
Additionally, when we have concepts for something but no language or grammar to explain them with, we're relatively powerless to work with them precisely and externally.

Add in words, add in a grammar, add in diagrams and charts, turn to creative language and generate new metaphor; and things we couldn't talk about before become available to our tools, inquiry, and communication.

A lot of the pagan toolsets are providing a language for psyche and emotional introspection. Give people the words, and they will manipulate their responses, thoughts, and plans with more agility and grace.
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