Obvious and Hidden Symbols

symbolsCarl Jung longed for his work to be understood by the general public, not only by specialists in his field.  There have been others, like Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, who have also made great efforts to translate their often esoteric research and observations to laymen, children, and the generally curious. Most naturalists or armchair aficionados rely on books and papers written in this way, for this audience, and we non-scientists owe much to them.  In Carl G. Jung´s Man and His Symbols we discover meanings of symbols in our waking life (the medieval, natural, religious, in advertising, literature, political propaganda, sculpture and art, or in myths) and in our subconscious life (dreams, compulsions, desires, emotions).  Much of this “profusely illustrated” book (how could a work on symbols not be so?) is simply Jung´s interpretation of his clients´ dreams, but the work in general may well be boiled down to his effort to describe the acquisition of psychological maturity, a highly individual endeavor, and how it may be obtained in a modern society that moves toward conformity at every turn.  His clients come to him with dreams, he interprets them as subconscious expression through symbols, the only way the subconscious can express anything. These symbols are recurring and they learned throughout our lives through literature, for universesnakeexample. To me, dream interpretation gets boring quickly, mostly because the books and articles I´ve read on the subject either neglect subjectivity entirely (similar to the silliness of zodiac symbols) or are too self-deprecating by explaining that dreams are only products of individuals, thereby just fun to speculate about.  But there are symbols that carry meaning that we all understand, and there are individuals who´s dreams are particular to him or her, but decipherable through symbolic means (Jung includes a James Thurber cartoon in which a “henpecked” man sees his home and his wife as the same thing).


                    Cartoon by James Thurber.

Often in modern life we behave in ways that conflict with our individual nature, and I think there is something to be said for the subconscious compensation for this imbalance. Jung has written much about this, and I include his expertise in the other works on the subject that I have read and will read.  If I, for some political motivation, choose to fly a    Don´t Tread on Me flag, with its squirming serpent amongst disjointed words and letters, I want to know what it means, both to my own mind and to humanity in general.  This is not only a peculiar interest, but a social responsibility.




Traffaut: Interview with Hitchcock

vertigoDavid Rakoff wrote that, “[nothing] assails the writer’s credibility more than the pleasant childhood”.  This could be extended to movie-makers, and it is tempting to dig for a troubled past in the artist, particularly an artist who likes to put an audience at unease, like Alfred Hitchcock.

To François Traffaut’s, the prospect of an interview with Hitchcock must have piqued again his interest in the relationship between childhood experiences and artistic expression. Traffaut had a troubled childhood, as beautifully shown in his Les quatre cents coups (The 400 Blows), and he begins this engaging interview with Hitchcock with a question about a story, sensationalized as it turns out, of his father locking him up as a very young boy in a police station.

The rest of the interview, held in 1962 while The Birds was in post-production, ends up being an education in the value and definition of drama and suspense, through the engaging voice of Hitchcock, and of his history of cinema, with some surprising insight into his movies, Vertigo in particular.

For the entire audio collection, click here.