Tag Archives: walker percy

On The Sightseer’s Mind: The Symbolic Complex Revisited

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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.

Appropriation

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.

Make Meaning

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.

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10 (+) Articles for Improving Your Mental Hygiene (Vol. 1.0)

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A list of ten articles dealing with topics such as: leading, following, awareness, mindfulness, constructive living, esoteric thought, greatness, media ecology, critical thinking, and existence.

1. Lee Thayer: There is Only One Way to Achieve Greatness
2. Mindfulness: Finding Our Own Paths: Entering Awareness
3. RAWilson: Robert Anton Wilson: Thoughts
4. Lee Thayer: Excerpt from “The Elusive Laws of Communication”
5. Lance Strate: The Creative Power of Media Ecology
6. Copyblogger: How Good are your Critical Thinking Skills?
7. Constructive Living: Constructive Living Basics
8. Walker Percy: Walker Percy WikiQuote
9. Dr. Zoltan: Dr. Zoltan’s Ideas on Creative Career
10. Mindfulness: The Leader is a Virtuoso Question Asker

What articles or blogs do you recommend for improving mental hygiene? I look forward to learning from you.

EDIT:

11. Dr. Corey Anton: Freedom, Thought, World

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Walker Percy and the Symbolic Complex


What is the symbolic complex and how does the symbolic complex transform for us the image of that person (how do we transform others through the symbolic)? Semiotician and Novelist Walker Percy, in his essay “The Loss of the Creature,” writes “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).” What I think he means is that, the “symbolic complex” comprises and veils those ways that things are symbolically represented and/or conveyed either by others or ourselves in communication with others. The thing becomes the thing as it is spoken about and interpreted, ceasing to be the thing-in-itself.

Celebrity Symbolism

Let’s attempt an example. I visited New York City one year during spring and happened to be in a shoe store when I saw the musician Dave Grohl (Nirvana/Foo Fighters). I had liked both of his projects when I was a teenager and suddenly became overcome with a giddiness that I cannot explain. That is, the man perusing sneakers did not blend in like the host of other “normal” people that we encounter in our daily life, but stuck out for me and was instantly appropriated by my symbolic image of him through the music that I had listened to years before. In that moment, there was no struggle even in trying to recover the everydayness of him as a biological human creature (as an “everyday person”); my mind had already covered his image over in a symbolic web of imagination instantly.

Everyday Symbolism

However, even said “normal” others are symbolically apprehended. Walking through the streets of a metropolitan American city it is easy to see many different kinds of people. There is not enough time to talk with them all and get to know them, we can only see them pass, observe interactions and physical features and move on. Perhaps we strike up a casual conversation with the barista while waiting for our drink or we address the other by talking about the weather, but for the most part, we do not interact with others. In viewing the sartorial, the physical, I think that we symbolically codify certain others in terms of how they choose to represent themselves via uniform, dress or posture. Students in Japan are almost always symbolically uniformed from kindergarten until senior high school. The uniform provides a symbolic representation of the other in terms of status and association. I don’t see you simply as X, but as X who works at a certain company via your symbolic representation of that company as it blends with my interpretation of your image of self.

The Planners

Or, maybe there were times when you were offered a job that you didn’t think was suitable for your aspirations. That is, the other person, symbolically appropriating who he or she saw you to be and imagined that you could be tried to build you into a new kind of character by trying to convince you of your worth in a certain kind of position. How much of your self has been created by others and how many others come through your self? How do we blur others by judging them based on their country of origin? How do we use our country or origin to our own advantage when interacting with others?

While this is not an explication of Percy’s “Loss of the Creature,” but more an exploration around it, I would like to end with another passage from the same work (“The Loss of the Creature”) regarding a person being something one must struggle for.

“As Mournier said, the person is not something one can study and provide for; he is something one struggles for. But unless he also struggles for himself, unless he knows that there is a struggle, he is going to be just what the planners think he is (63).”

Thank you for reading.