Sunday, August 1, 2010

When a Symbol Is More Than a Symbol

When a person uses an object often enough, the object becomes a symbol, possibly even a theme.

This vision of an object runs contrary to the famed argument that a cigar is sometimes merely a cigar, although had the cigar been mentioned only once or twice, the issue might not have arisen.

When a cigar is not merely a cigar, it is variously an object of great pleasure to the smoker but it may also be an annoyance to a bystander who is confronted with the second-hand smoke.  A cigar is also a sign of entitled male social standing and, likewise an accouterment of rebellious femininity.

An object is a thing, a concept, even a person.  A thing becomes an object when the viewer retreats from its fine-tuned specificity by calling it a thing instead of, say, a particular brand or type or shape of a cigar.  A maduro corona cigar refers to a darker wrapper of a cigar at least five inches long, more likely six. That thing, as in, you can't smoke that thing in here, is a negative objectification of a cigar.  A concept, similarly shorn of some or all its identity, morphs into that thing.  If you and I are discussing the inherent pleasures of an after-dinner cigar on the patio, you might be thinking an H. Uppman maduro Churchill while I might be visualizing and tasting a double claro panatella.  A person becomes an object when he or she is not seen any longer as an individual but as an embodiment of some quality such as sexuality, honor, courage, determination, pity, etc.

The metamorphosis from mere object to symbol or theme begins at the larval stage of specificity; one person, concept, or thing moves away from a unique and dimensional profile to become an exemplar of a thing.  This illustrates the duality within each of us:  We want our individuals at the same time wanting our things.  We want the person we bond with romantically to become a simultaneous series of objects or things with whom we can dial a particular concept as the mood strikes us, and of course if that person has a sexy reading voice, hearing that person reading Socrates can morph into sexual attraction, thus a symbolic twofer.

Stories of all genera and nature stress the awareness of the potential for conflict as reflected by the manner in which a cigar remains a cigar or becomes a representative symbol for a concept which one or more of the characters must call out, High Noon style for a shootout.


Storm Dweller said...

Symbols are unfortunately unavoidable. I wonder what part of our psyche must take ordinary circumstances or objects and attach another meaning to them.I like ideas over symbols. Ideas are more flexible.

Querulous Squirrel said...

One of the ways I've always found it interesting in making symbols more symbolic is to use verbs for other nouns that are applicable to the symbol, if that makes any sense. I've noticed good writers doing that.