I wrote about “The Symbolic Complex” a few years ago in a post entitled, “Walker Percy and the Symbolic Complex.” In no way did this post adequately capture the depth of Percy’s thought, rather it was a hasty and casual attempt to better understand his most potent idea for life-making. The main quotation that I used (from Percy’s Loss of the Creature) was, “Impossible to see: the thing as it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer’s eye (47).”
The Receiver is in Control
In essays and books by communication theorist and executive consultant Lee Thayer, the idea that the receiver of any communication message is always in control of what that message means is spoken about to great lengths. It is not necessarily “the sightseer’s eye,” but rather the sightseer’s way of interpreting what is said or seen or felt or touched or tasted–the sightseer’s mind–that needs to be taken into account. What something means to a person will depend on the ways in which that mind makes meaning. Minds will make the kinds of meaning that they are equipped to make and nothing more, nothing less. In this way, it is important to be mindful of how one is interpreting something and if that way of interpreting is the best possible way of minding that thing.
Percy is right when he says that the raw thing-in-itself is impossible to see and in knowing this did Percy, perhaps come closer to being able to truly “see” the things of the world as they ought to be seen? Was he able to re-appropriate them to useful ends? If the receiver controls how things are interpreted given that receiver’s unique ability to comprehend and make meaning, then everything is at stake when we contemplate the symbolic complex in light of who we are speaking to and how clearly we are able to communicate.
The world or the things in the world are not meaningful in and of themselves. We make them meaningful as Saint-Exupery reminded us and many echoed before and after him. What Percy is calling for is for us to seek to recover the world, to rescue it from how we habitually interpret it and, in doing so, to come to live in a new world. Practicing new ways of interpreting the familiar is an exercise most worthy of our time. It takes mindful practice and persistence to develop such a way, but what are the consequences? Would they, perhaps, be able to give us a little more control over our own thought and our own destiny? Is it the creators of the world (the purposeful interpreters) that are the ones who are able to interpret the things of the world in new and startling ways? I certainly hope so.
I want to thank everyone for the comments throughout the last three years, for reading, and, hopefully, for growing in meaningful ways. The Eyeslit-Crypt fell by the wayside as my life in Beijing unfolded–Wordpress is blocked here, but I’m on my way back to America soon, so things will pick back up. In what new ways, I’m not sure. I hope the results will be satisfying to both old and new readers.
I feel like this blog became a neglected child and now going back and reviewing the content I produced in 2009-2010, I have to take a breath and carefully think through the future of this site, for the past has bee fantastic: educational, engaging, helpful to others.
The essays and analyses have seemed useful to many readers and for your readership, I am grateful–thank you, again.
I hope to pick up where I left off, to gain new readers and to engage through comments and purposeful discussions. Thank you again for all your support.
In his book “Leaders and Leadership: Searching for Wisdom in all the Right Places,” Lee Thayer writes, “Relationships are necessary. You can’t be anyone without first auditioning in front of others. But the influence goes both ways. Other people want you to be who they want you to be. If that is consistent with what you intend to be, then consider yourself the most fortunate person on earth and move on.”
If this is so, then problems most definitely arise when two people are at odds with who they want the other to be in their eyes. In these cases, how do we navigate each other away from the problem? If I want you to acquiesce to my way of seeing things and you want me to acquiesce to your way of seeing things, then we will have a problem. Is the solution simply a matter of one person acquiescing to the other? Or, is this a mis-diagnosis of the problem? Will the fundamental difference (the, perhaps, stubbornness) go away or increase in the changing of oneself?
Relationships between couples seem to be a good example. If one of us wants to go north and the other south and both have compelling reasons for wanting to go their respective ways, then how do we as a couple solve this problem without ending the relationship? How do we compromise? And, say one goes north with the other, getting his/her way, but then becomes adverse to the decision thus blaming the other for proliferating a mood of negativity, it would seem that both lose this game. How could the two resolve this problem? Again, is there something more fundamental that the two are not seeing?
If the couple intends to be together, yet suffers such problems of who the other is (diverging views of each other) then would that mean that they ought to redefine the relationship and their purposes for being together? Other than either redefining each other or acquiescing to one or the other (deferring), what other possible solutions are at hand?
Do relationships fail on the basis of bad performances? Are the most fortunate relationships those who are sharing purposeful performances?
Ambrose Bierce defines “Idleness” as “A model farm where the devil experiments with seeds of new sins and promotes the growth of staple vices”. How does the devil experiment with the creation of “new sins” while we are immersed in the pleasures of our “free time?” Another way to come at the question would be: To what worthy ends do we pursue idleness? The problem with “idleness” is that the more time you spend being idle, the better you become at it and the more you crave it. Hence, it is the perfect breeding ground for the perpetuation of “staple vices.” It is a distraction from work that ought to be done. Oddly, it seems to be this idleness that we crave. To push oneself to the edge of one’s limits through hard labor and suffering is not looked upon as being a good thing. We want the results without the effort. Imagine that you want to learn a foreign language, but before committing to an afternoon of serious study, you decide to watch television. It is a decision like this that promotes the growth of staple vices. Once the seed of a habit is planted, it will grow, it will creep up on you from the inside and overtake you. Can you see the connection between idleness and habits? How about idleness and mediocrity?
The first thing that struck me about Beijing at night was the signs against the black sky. One after another, red signs passed by the car window as a winter haze hovered around us. It was cold, bitingly cold, a cold that Tokyo knows not the likes of. The congested traffic comforts and annoys me. I am American, so am used to traffic jams, honking horns, being “cut-off” as well as having to drive on a daily basis. Returning to this way of living as opposed to Nippon will once again take some getting used to, but is by no means impossible. Outside my window is a Detroit-esque mixture of urban high rise apartments and absolute rubble. Horses pull carts filled with food, which the vendors will sell, while an old woman stares out from her balcony. “Where should I put my cigarette butt?” “This is China, you can put it anywhere.” A dog limps by and another tries to bite me outside of a supermarket – a “Merry Mart.” Everyone’s eyes are glued to me and fingers are pointed, as well. “Don’t worry, they are not looking at you.” Yet, I know they are looking at me. Meanwhile, in the apartment, a pleasant heat fills the rooms, music floats in from outside and, earlier in the morning, a light snow dripped to the ground. Beijing. Here we go.
Here is a fifteen minute video that I shot on Vimeo. Recently, I have been using Vimeo as an educational platform and a way to share my thoughts. This video opens up an aphorism by E.M. Cioran and brings in some other thinkers, as well. Is it perfect? No, but it was the best I could do at the time. I hope you can pull something useful out of it. Please ask questions.