symbolic

fetish

The three primary models of fetishism -- anthropological, Marxian, Freudian--all define the fetish as an object endowed with a special force or independent life. Marx called this transference, Freud called it overvaluation. In this sense the fetish is not a representation. It does not refer to something outside itself. 

Read More

imaginary / symbolic

In the sense given to these terms by Jacques Lacan, the three essential orders of the psycho-analytic field are the Imaginary, the Symbolic, and the Real. The concept of the "imaginary" can be grasped through initially through Lacan's theme of the " mirror stage." Lacan proposed that the ego of the infant -- as a result of its biological prematurity -- is constituted on the basis of the image of the counterpart (specular ego). Following from this primordial experience, the Imaginary defines the basically narcissistic relations of the subject to his ego, the intersubjective relations of a counterpart -- an other who is me, a type of apprehension characterized by resemblance and homeomorphism -- a sort of coalescence of the signifier and signified. (from Laplanche and Pontalis) While Lacan's use of the term "Imaginary" is highly idiosyncratic, he insists that all imaginary behavior and relationships are fundamentally deceptive, and that the intersubjective realm of the symbolic must be separated out from the Imaginary in analytic treatment. 

Read More

language

In a very generic sense, language is a mode of communication based on symbolic reference (the way words refer to things) and involving combinatorial rules that comprise a system for representing synthetic logical relationships among these symbols. (from Terence Deacon The Symbolic Species)

Read More

ornament

"Ornament shapes, straightens and stabilizes the bare arid field on which it is inscribed. Not only does it exist in and of itself, but it also shapes its own environment -- to which it imparts form." (Henri Focillon, The Life of Forms in Art, p. 66) For Heinrich Wölfflin, ornament is an epression of an excessive force of form. It is "the blossoming of a force that has nothing more to achieve." (p.181) Antoine Picon echoes this association of ornament with potency. "like orderand proportion, ornament expressed the fundamental regularity of the universe, and, above all, its fecundity. Ornament, in general, gave evidence to the creativity and the beauty of the cosmic order, just as the fruits and flowers that if often imitated were the products and finery of nature." ("Architecture, Science, Technology and the Virtual Realm" in Architecture and the Sciences, p. 298.)

Read More

orrery

orrery

An Orrery is a clocklike object which models the movements of the solar system. The orrery is often referred to as the paradigmatic embodiment of the Newtonian "clockwork"universe. Note that the orrery, like Newtonian time, could conceivably rotate in either direction. What was the origin of "clockwise" motion? Should we see it as one of those bifurcations that could equally have gone either way? Newton believed that from time to time the Creator had to interfere in the course of material processes in order to secure the normal progress against disturbances. Leibniz mocked this idea by asking him whether God had produced an imperfect mechanism

Read More

phallus

phallus

Herm at Getty MuseumIn classical antiquity, the phallus is the figurative representation of the male organ. It is the figure of hierarchy rather than reciprocity. For the classical Athenians, sex was not a private quest for mutual pleasure. It was rather a declaration of one's public status. Defined as the penetration of one body by the body (specifically by the phallos) of another, sex was conceived as an action performed by one person upon another. The elite corps of adult male citizens held to an aggressively phallic norm of sexual conduct, which lead to an ethic of sexual domination in their relations with males and females alike. (David M. Halperin, in Before Sexuality.) According to Michel Foucault, "The Greeks did not see love for one's own sex and love for the other sex as opposites, as two exclusive choices, two radically different types of behavior...Rather, they saw two ways of enjoying one's pleasure...They believed that the same desire attached to anything that was desirable -- boy or girl." (The Use of Pleasure, pp. 187 ff.) It is the persistence of this phallic model in psychoanalysis that feminists have come to resist (see below). It was the contribution of Christianity's radical ascetics to "strip the body of its ancient, civic associations...by means of an increased emphasis on its intrinsic sexuality...joined together in a somber democracy of sexual shame", and to "see the female body as the condensed essence of all human bondage and all human vulnerability. " (Peter Brown, "Bodies and Minds ," in Before Sexuality.) 

Read More

railway

"If there had been no railway to conquer distances, my child would never have left his native town and I should need no telephone to hear his voice; if travelling accross the ocean by ship had not been introduced, my Friend would not have embarked on his sea-voyage and I should not need a cable to relieve my anxiety about him." (S. Freud, Civilization and its Discontents, p.35) Freud's family moved several times when he was a small child. As a result, he had a phobia of traveling by train which never altogether left him. 

Read More

simulation

"Simulation of any system implies a mapping from observable aspects of the system to corresponding symbolic elements of the simulation." (H. H. Pattee, "Simulations, Realizations, and Theories of Life", in Artificial Life) For Pattee, realizations are functional replacements. They are judged primarily by how well they function as implementations of design specifications. (Thus a building would be the implementation of a blueprint) 

Read More

Titanic

Through radio communications, the sinking of the Titanic was rapidly known throughout the world. Ironically enough, the only ship within rescue distance had turned off its radio, and although seamen aboard the Californian saw flares, they were unable to convince their captain to go investigate. The Titanic symbolized both the strong, confident sense of the future and the concern that things were rushing much too fast.

Read More

tree

tree

The image of the tree, of branching phylogenies, has come to underly all our thinking about organisms and evolution. It is a "canonical icon" whose influence can be described as an " unconscious hegemony."The hierarchical structure expresses the pattern of branching speciation, of successive, unending, natural wedging through natural selection which forms the "tree of life." The tree combines the "ladder" of evolution, from lower to higher lifeform -- and with man at the top -- with the "cone" of increasing diversity. (Steven Jay Gould in Hidden Histories of Science) As Gould points out, the latter is factually incorrect. The Cambrian explosion was the moment of greatest diversity. The former is, of course, an anthropocentric bias. 

Read More