Tim Morton has recently been suggesting that just as humans anthropomorph (that’s a verb), so pencils pencilmorph. I love this idea, though I’m not sure about its implications, which I want to think through here.
Anthropomorphism #1 (traditional, & its extensions)
The traditional definition of anthropomorphism is something like “the attribution of human characteristics to nonhuman things.” It’s treating, or perceiving, a nonhuman thing as if it were a human. And it’s a good thing, if you’re Walt Disney; or a bad thing, if you’re doing science and your peer reviewers don’t want to acknowledge that the animals you’re studying also think, communicate linguistically, pass things on culturally, and so on.
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Best gift received: Carl Jung’s Red Book. Very beautiful, with nice overviews and interpretations by Sonu Shamdasani. If this doesn’t revive an interest in Jung, I don’t know what can (though, as I’ve argued, we’re overdue for a new, more integrated theory of imagination).
Stupidest film to show on an airplane that’s just spent two hours sitting on the runway, on a Christmas day when another plane has almost been bombed by an attempted terror attack, with news of it available on CNN on another channel on Jet Blue’s free television and video service: District 9. Not that the film itself doesn’t have its redeeming qualities — there were enough to keep me watching it instead of switching to CNN like the person next to me — but the waves of adrenaline and cortisol flowing through the plane don’t exactly make for a relaxing ride.
What did I make of the film itself? Its reptilian aliens look B-movie hilarious, but the filmmakers deserve credit for thinking they could get us to sympathize with them. They are clunky stand-ins for refugees and illegal aliens of all kinds, from the bantustans of pre-Apartheid South Africa (where the film was made) to the Gaza Strip, and therefore an echo of (the much better) Children of Men, and the rapid-fire montage of cable-news/reality-TV/surveillance-camera action aesthetics gets a little wearying. One of these days someone influential will articulate a natural/organic/holistic aesthetic for film viewing which, like the slow-food movement, will begin to cultivate a shift in audience tastes away from the Peckinpah/Tarantino/Woo/Lucas/Spielberg/Scorsese/Cameron trajectory and back, if not to an Antonioni/Tarkovsky/Angelopoulos slowness, at least to something less jarring than today’s norm.
As for me, I’m happy enough sitting in a large room facing only the shimmering blue screen of Derek Jarman’s Blue. With its immersive, poetic soundtrack, it’s the best antidote to all things Action.
This is a summary I provided to a grad student who was starting to get into this area. It’s very introductory and far from complete in its coverage, but since there’s so little out there on this topic, I thought it would be useful to post it. It’s also a bit biased towards literature that’s relevant to religion and religious experience (since this is what the student was working on). Comments are welcome.
The topic of the imagination had been out of fashion for a while in the humanities, especially as textual and semiotic approaches (structuralism, poststructuralism et al) came to dominate cultural theory in the 1970s and 1980s. Gradually it’s been coming back, but without any consensus on what it means or how it should be dealt with. The following are some of the threads of thinking that, to my mind, need to be drawn together in a coherent way in order to make contemporary sense of ‘the imagination’ or, as I prefer to call it, the imaginal. They are pieces of a much larger puzzle that is far from being solved.
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