Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Fleshed-Out Symbolism

Perhaps there's a reality that isn't symbolic, but we, as symbolic creatures, can never experience that reality. ...Even if we could experience it, we couldn't actually talk about it. ...Anything we talk about is, by definition, symbolic, because anything we talk about is something we have translated into symbols.
Patrick Dunn in "Magic, Power, Language, Symbol"

Consider the Matrix, brains in vats, the Gedaechtnis Institute (Nick Sagan's Idlewild), or Socrates' cavern. We don't see what is there: our eyes translate shapes and light into electric impulses that our brains translates into images. Any act of translation is imperfect, whether from one language to another or one medium to another.

I occasionally practice a method of inspirational writing by looking at other people's work. That work is always non-literary, because it forces me to come up with my own concepts to describe the piece (or prohibits me from using the original artist's concepts). I see things in the art, feel emotions that may or may not have been intended by the artist because they are all colored by my personal life, experiences, strengths, and fallacies. As much as people may claim "a picture is worth a thousand words," I find I must disagree, especially in this context. Every piece of art is priceless when considered in respect to a different medium, because every attempt at translation is imperfect, even when that act of translation is fully internalized.

I am not colorblind, but I cannot see all colors perfectly. I may not have the color-scheme matching capabilities of many of my female acquaintances, I can see most colors well enough to differentiate between them, with one predominant exception: navy-blue and black. If a piece of art was to use primarily these two colors to attempt to stir emotion or action in its audience, I would be virtually blind to it. (And I would offer my condolences to those few people I know who are colorblind, because for once we'd be in the same boat.)

My eyes also seem to have a problem with shapes sometimes. Once in a while, I'll look at a picture or a photograph that shows objects that contain multiple colors, like people, clothing, buildings, and such, and my eyes will refuse to recognize the objects as a whole. Instead they will see only the blocks of colors and interpret them as individual shapes, much as a reader might see letters instead of words.

For all of these things, anything seen, felt, heard, tasted, or thought of is interpreted differently within ourselves and in our efforts to communicate that with others. Even if all art was reality, the bits on the screen, the visions in the vats, the shadows on the wall, even if all that was the true nature of reality, and nothing was lost in translation from light, shapes, and chemical and electric impulses fed into our brains (at which point we would be experiencing reality), the point at which we try to invert the translation process to share it with others, the message would become garbled. No act of translation is perfect.