The idea that our cultural world is primarily a symbolic one is not necessarily a new one. But the idea that products are the key modern symbols is not new either but somewhat rarer than the first idea. But the idea that laws of symbolism create the large movements of popular culture is a little log cabin in frontier territory. Hopefully, this book will open up the trail for others in the next few years and this frontier will be open for settlement.
Symbolism is one of the most powerful yet least understood concepts. The challenge is to provide a modern understanding of it without trivializing it's ancient heritage. Reverence is close to a lost concept today but if anything deserves reverence it is the concept of symbolism. It is something old and valuable, possessed of vast subtle, hidden secrets which can't be packaged and made into another consumer product to sit on supermarket shelves. While symbolism may in fact be the key behind the greatest products of popular culture, symbolism itself should never be viewed as a product.
So, this book charges ahead with these ideas into unexplored territory. In the process it ventures through a number of disciplines most likely trespassing on land claimed by others. But always with the attitude that it is easier to ask for forgiveness than for permission. Ultimately, it never attempts to take "land" from others but rather moves on farther into the wilderness. It has the spirit of exploration, of the perennial tourist, who sees places not as destinations but rather small, brief way-stations along the way. The construction and protection of boundaries, of putting a fence around one's worldview and posting a "No Trespassing" sign, has little interest here.
A young man in his mid-thirties placed the following quote at the beginning of one of his books. It expresses well the attitude which runs through this book:
"Therefore theory, which gives facts their value and significance, is often very useful, even if it is partially false, because it throws light on phenomena which no one has observed, it forces an examination from many angles, of facts which no one has hitherto studied, and provides the impulse for more extensive and more productive researches...Hence it is a moral duty for the man of science to expose himself to the risk of committing error, and to submit to criticism in order that science may continue to progress. A writer...has launched a vigorous attack on the author, saying that this is a scientific ideal which is very limited and very paltry...But those who are endowed with a mind serious and impersonal enough not to believe that everything they write is the expression of absolute and eternal truth will approve of this theory, which puts the aims of science well above the miserable vanity and paltry amour propre of the scientist."
The quote is from Les Lois psychologiques du symbolisme by Ferrero. It is the front quote from Carl Jung's 1912 book Symbols of Transformation. With this book, Jung broke away from Freud and in fact started on a life of investigation which involved "trespassing" through a number of disciplines. It is good to know there have been other "trespassers" even if the intellectual world is increasingly filled with "landlords" and "property owners."
In the end, this book is a call to these other "trespassers" to set out on a number of new directions across neat disciplinary boundary lines. The time is now, the synchronicity all around us. It is time to charge ahead on wild horses, breaking through fences and gates rather than riding a slow, old horse along boundary lines.
In our electronic age of hypertext, books become less linear and more non-linear. The book of the future will involve pieces rather than reasoned arguments containing numbered chapters with beginnings and endings. The reader will begin in the book wherever he wants to and end whenever he wants to. References may lead the reader outside of the book perhaps never to return to it again, or, perhaps to return days, months or even years later. Sent off and away like an electronic surfer arriving and departing from a particular web site. Disciplines will no longer be packaged inside covers of particular books but rather brought together in an eclectic mixture like forced attendees at a cocktail party with multiple hosts.
The following investigation of symbolism is a part of this emerging genre of book. In this sense it tries to show as much as tell and its message in its overall context as much as the individual content. There are numbered chapters and even a particular logic that attempts to lay some foundation for the reader.
But more than this. The book is really a number of self-contained pieces putting on the facade that they are marching across the field (battlefield? playing field?) in the same band and towards the same common destination. Sometimes the author has felt like an elementary school teacher running around the playground after recess and trying to round up and herd all her wildly running students back into the schoolhouse. They have not been too obedient, though but maybe this is the way it should be.
These pieces are similar to hypertext on the internet in that often lead away from themselves rather than forward from themselves in a linear manner. In fact the creation of this book seemed more similar to "surfing" the net than the act of writing a book. Something in one part of the book (at one "site"?) would spark an idea in another part of the book and a jump to the other part of the book would be made to complete the idea. Ideas are like this. They are really forms of hypertext that spark associations and connections away from the idea rather than towards and around the idea.
The whole process involved more than a smattering of what Carl Jung termed "meaningful coincidences" or synchronicity. The popular conception of this concept centers around those brief, unexplained irrational and non-linear occurrences in life where the outer world suddenly mirrors the inner state. Where there is no outwardly apparent cause for an observed effect. It is usually confined to fringe groups like psychics with the right "radar" to detect its quick comings and goings. But might the creation of a film, a song, a successful product, a book be the product of a particular string of chance events, or, synchronicity? In fact, might synchronicity itself be more of a symbol for the emerging, electric non-linear time of the modern world? In this sense, perhaps I was not consciously using this method to write this book as much as offering a conduit for it to be written at a particular point in time.
Each book is symbolic to a great extent consisting of content and context, text and subtext. And the entire genre of books as products is in a radical state of change. But by change I don't mean what everyone else does when then say books are becoming electric. Rather it is us who are becoming electric in writing them.
In the end, this book is about that disappearing technique of speculation and the production of questions in an age of shallow answers. Questions are like half-opened doors. Behind these doors, one can discern long, dimly lit, enchanting hallways filled with other doors. During a time when the world is filled with instant answers to smaller and smaller questions, the answer really is in creating different questions. This seems the best course to navigate towards that small elusive island of light in a growing sea of darkness.