Friday, April 2, 2010

Post for April 5

Hello All,

Anthony Stevens (1998) explicates the relationship between symbols and archetypes when he writes "Symbols can thus be understood as metaphors for archetypal needs and intentions or expressions of basic archetypal patterns. Every individual, every family, every community, and every nation will produce symbols appropriate to its circumstances but, for all their apparent variety, they are based on similar structural configurations which are ultimately inherent in the human mind-brain" (p. 37).

Your assignment for today is to describe one of these symbols that plays a role in your life; choose a significant photograph, artwork, or item on a shelf in a room of your house. This image or item should be significant to you. Next, describe what this image/item symbolizes in general and then what it symbolizes to you.

I'll give you an example.
Here is a painting that hangs above the fireplace in my home: it is a nightscape with a full moon. According to Anthony Stevens, the moon is "our primordial clock" and "represents the consciousness that comes to us in dreams" (p. 136). However, this moon comes with a label that reads "this is not your moon," which implies some sort of exclusion.
This is meaningful to me in that it is one of my first oil paintings, and the line comes from a poem I wrote (called "Where the Jackalope Roam" and published in Pacific Review) in which I criticized our human tendency to try to possess and own things that should not (or cannot) be possessed. Thus, I have this painting on my wall to try to motivate me to be more actively creative in my life and to remind me to be humble, to not try to control life too much.
I am often lazy, and I often try to plan my life too much in advance, so I need all the help I can get with these reminders.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Spring: Post for April 2

Hello All,

There are two components to any symbol: the physical object and the abstract concept the object represents.

First and foremost, the symbol must be a physical, tangible, material thing that can be perceived by the senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell.

Freedom, therefore, cannot be a symbol. Love cannot be a symbol.

An eagle, on the other hand, can be a symbol (of freedom). A heart can be a symbol (of love).

Often, symbols are culture-specific. For example, for Americans, the Bald Eagle is a symbol of America and of freedom. For other cultures, however, the Bald Eagle is just a bird. Their symbol of freedom might be a horse (for nomadic cultures) or a dolphin (for seafaring cultures).

Archetypes differ from symbols in that archetypes transcend cultures; in other words, they are symbols that all cultures share. For example, a mother is a symbol of care, comfort, and life. These connotations are shared by all cultures.

If, as Stevens writes in Ariadne's Clue (1998), these "archetypal propensities [...] underlie all human thought and action" (p. 21), from where do these archetypes arise?

Many evolutionary biologists and psychologists believe this capacity for symbol formation is one of the hallmarks of humanity; thus, it was when we began to create symbols that we became more than ape. We became human. As such, the capacity for and pattern of symbol formation may be hard-wired into our brains, our genes, our very being.

Here is your assignment. I have three different photographs on the English 310 webpage ( One is a griffin from Apollo Temple in the city of Didim in Modern Turkey (what used to be Ancient Greece), one is of an elk sculpture that sits in front of the Walter Stiern Library, and one is of a graffiti train parked in Tehachapi. In each case, an artist went out of his or her way to create a symbol.

Your assignment is to choose one of these three symbols and post an explanation as to just what this thing represents. What does the griffin represent? What does the elk represent? What does the blue ghost represent?

Good luck!