Passing Thought

I'm wondering how we first recognize a symbol in fiction... Like, at what specific point, as a reader, do you say, "Ah, that black veil is not just a simple black veil; it seems the author wants us to associate it with difficulties in communication, or secret sin, or death, etc.?" And why?--is it something about how the object presents itself relative to the "unsymbolic" setting?

I suspect that understanding the mechanics of this pattern may teach me something about how we recognize "synchronicity" or revelation (or whatever) in real life. Here's a picture of a book that I own called "Symbolism," which I just looked at strangely, as if seeing it for the first time:

When I saw it, I was in my wife's bathroom, thinking about using my computer. So if I were "reading" my life at that point, would this be an interesting moment to underline? To think more about? Would it help, for example, to know who gave me the book? Or why it's there and not on a shelf? Or that the portrait on the cover is Venus Verticordia, by Dante Rossetti? Is it significant that the book-cover doesn't show the woman's breasts, but the original painting did? Is it significant that I have looked incuriously at the book since it's been there a dozen times before seeing it this time, from the bathroom twenty feet away? Could this somehow be a key scene in the novel of my life? Or not?

In other words, is there some revelation in the fact of that book? Would I have noticed it if there weren't? Am I "over-reading," and if so, what is the danger in that?

So, new topic: what is this thing we think we know so well--symbolism--and how does it work?

Update/Correction: the book jacket does show the woman's breast (only one of them), including the nipple. Is it significant that I missed that on first glance?


fenhopper said...

this is how i see the world. that every "is it symbolic that..." should be answered yes. then we have to find the tenor of the vehicle.

it's kinda like constantly doing therapy.


Insignificant Wrangler said...

I think the fenhopper said it well.

I would interject this: in my opening lecture, I point my students toward a metaphysical consideration of language. Essentially, the book is not necessarily a fact--it is a simultaneous infinity of possibilities. Your consciousness pulls a few possible books from the infinity. These books become the outline of a fact, a few possible vehicles. Then, and only then, can Fen's therapy begin.

Your book, your experience of the book, will undoubtedly mean as much as you want it to mean. I don't say that snarkily--you called the book into being. The book becomes as you see it.

Hermeneutics are just a big Rorschach test.

Casey said...

I agree, Wrangler -- but doesn't that beg the question... why did I "call it into being?"