Sunday, September 21, 2008

David Foster Wallace

After reading my essay on the image "Invisible" my philosophy professor sent me a commencement speech David Foster Wallace gave at Kenyon College in 2005. (He also died just recently). It follows the same line of thought in my essay, but offers a slightly different perspective as well. I highly recommend it. You can read it here.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Meaning and Symbolism of "Invisible" or The Value of Trust and Optimism



This essay analyzes the meaning and symbolism of the image “Invisible”. The scene appears to be in a neighborhood just outside of a gated complex. We see a general store in the foreground with various goods for sale. We also see, opposite from the store, a makeshift bed with a food tray, a flower cart, and a sign with the word ‘invisible’ next to it. These things, along with the unorganized appearance of this area, can indicate that this might be a resting place for a homeless person.


Starting back at the store we see things that would draw a person in. There are signs welcoming visitors and the colors are vivid and warm also inviting the viewer’s eye to this area. The area behind the gates is also warm and inviting, but the gates are closed. People on the outside are restricted from entering this inviting place, it is only reserved for those behind the gates.


Looking closer we notice a very stark contrast between the warm, inviting, clean feel of the area behind the gates and the area in the foreground, especially around the makeshift bed. This is a contrast between the living conditions of those inside and outside of the gates.


As mentioned in previous essays, the concept of sequestration is when a person is closed off from a reality. This can be a voluntary process, in the case of the various forms of entertainment such as television and shopping malls. It can also be an involuntary process and in this case sequestration comes from an external source such as institutions that restrict a person’s individuality and creativity. In both cases, sequestration is when an individual is closed off from the essential in life and is instead confined to mundane distractions or is forced into an existence or way of thinking that goes against their true nature.


This image deals with a form of voluntary sequestration that stems from an attitude a person chooses to subscribe to consciously. Yet, at the same time this consciously chosen attitude can be a result of structures in society that most would be unaware of, thus also making this form of sequestration somewhat involuntary.

Looking around in contemporary society it’s easy to find a stark contrast between the neighborhoods people live in. At times, it even seems to be Marxian, where there are neighborhoods only reserved for the haves and the other neighborhoods are for the have-nots. Gated communities are examples of where the haves reside and the neighborhoods outside of those gates are reserved for the have-nots. In reality, it isn’t this black and white. It is a reality, however, that these structures separate us from others in society and through it there is a greater chance of becoming ignorant of the plight and situation of others. Ignorance can lead to a fearful and irrational way of thinking.


The plight of this ‘invisible’ man in the scene can often be misunderstood by most in society. Usually, most see the homeless as lazy and unwilling to work or find work. Their plight is of their own doing or some kind of negligence on their part. This way of thinking can lead to an exclusive belief that they deserve the situation they are in and in turn they are seen as less-than and are considered outcasts. Another way of putting it is that they made their bed and now must sleep in it. However, this is just an ignorant generalization of all those who live on the streets.


Certainly, there are those whose plight is of their own doing and there may be those don’t want to work, but there are others whose plight is a result of external circumstances beyond their control. These people might have been some of the hardest working people and now want to find work, but they were driven into their plight and are still currently in their situation through external circumstances.


This also goes beyond the homeless and their situation. This misunderstanding of an individual and their situation that stems from ignorance and irrational generalizations extends to everyone in every group in society. In psychology there is a term known as the fundamental attribution error. This is when we attribute an individual’s action based on their character, part of who they are, when in reality their behavior might be influenced by social or environmental circumstances beyond their control. Studies have show that the fundamental attribution error is made more often in cultures that focus more on the individual, individualistic societies, rather than those that focus on the group, collectivist societies.


These generalizations and irrational thoughts lead to a form of sequestration. When taking an exclusive attitude that others are less-than we close ourselves off to them because we deem them as unworthy of our attention or even acknowledgment. We want nothing to do with those who are not like us and they become invisible to us.

Another negative effect of these generalizations and unfounded thoughts is that it can lead a person to subscribe to an irrational distrusting attitude. This irrational distrusting attitude is another form of sequestration. Usually, a person that takes on this attitude closes oneself off from others out of fear. This can be attached to a fear of exploitation or simply a fear of being rejected, or harmed in some way, by those who trust is given to. In the case of exploitation, one might be hesitant to give their trust to someone they don’t know out of an unfounded fear that by giving their trust, they will be taken advantage of. This attitude can consume a person to the degree that they are hesitant to giving their trust to anyone at all based on irrational and unfounded thoughts. At a young age we are often taught to be distrusting of strangers, but this way of thinking can be carried into the life of a mature human being who is capable of distinguishing between reasonable, legitimate requests and opportunities and those that are questionable and might lead to a form of exploitation itself. Studies have shown that those who have a distrusting attitude of others are just as likely to be conned as those who have a trusting attitude. Those with a trusting attitude are still just as likely to pick up on when someone is trying the exploit them. This trust, of course, is not a na├»ve one that doesn’t question or weigh the legitimacy and consequences of a request or opportunity. This trust is also about giving someone the benefit of the doubt and trusting them until the other person has proven that they cannot be trusted. This can be seen as the highest form of trust, it is optimistic.


Some might question the need or benefit for taking this standpoint. A person that chooses not to take this standpoint is certainly within their right to do so, but as a consequence they miss out on opportunities and a more enriched life that can follow. The pessimistic attitude of constant distrust sequesters oneself from experiencing fulfilling and lasting relationships with other people.


Hesitation in giving trust to another person can also come from a fear of rejection or harm in some way. It is true that when opening up oneself to another person there is risk involved. However, in order to live life fully and experience everything it has to offer, taking risk is a necessity. Otherwise a person’s life would be confined to a mundane and lifeless routine. If you do what you’ve always done, then you’ll get what you’ve always gotten.


When there is a negative consequence after trust is given one can become even more hesitant in giving their trust again. However, it would be a mistake to use one instance of negative consequence to generalize all other possible consequences of trusting others. Again, this is a pessimistic view that sequesters oneself from the opportunities of a more enriched life. The pessimist would conclude that the risk of trusting is too great because of the suffering or loss that they might have to endure. Often in contemporary society we are taught that suffering is a bad thing and should be avoided at all costs. To avoid suffering at all costs would be to avoid living at all costs. Suffering is just as much a part of life as pleasure. Certainly, pain and suffering are not desirable, but it is through suffering that we grow as individuals. Suffering produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces a strong will and hope. And it is in this strength and hope that we are able to live more fully and completely.


The optimist sees that the abundant rewards of opening oneself to others brings about an experience of an enriched and fulfilling life that far outweighs any risk, pain, and suffering one might have to endure. The optimist looks for the good in every person and the best in every situation and it is through this attitude that an individual is free.


Going back to the image one notices that the standpoint of the viewer is not within the walls or behind the gates of the exclusive community, but is right in the middle of where things are taking place. There is a very open feel to the store. Goods are laid out all along the sidewalk and there are welcome signs in the shop window. This points to the inviting and open attitude of a person who is not fearful or overly cautious about opening their lives to others and even going so far as to share what they have.


The pessimist is sequestered by choosing to close themselves off from the opportunities that come from opening up to others. Whether it be because of the risk and work involved or because of the suffering and pain that one had to endure in the past, they become a prisoner to fear. In this fear one cannot truly live a full and enriched life and be able to experience all life has to offer. It is through this fear that one is likely to gather together a list of regrets and dream about how things might have been. It is the optimist that is not bound by fear, but embraces life with a fiery passion and lives without regret because it is from this standpoint that life is lived completely and to the fullest.


-Jason Godbey

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Exodus


Another essay that's part of the Sequestration Series. This one was written to stand alone from the others in the series, so that's why there aren't any references to the other images.

Meaning and Symbolism of Exodus


This image is part of a series dealing with the concept of sequestration that can be found in contemporary society. Exodus symbolizes an escape from these forms of sequestration. Sequestration in this sense signifies a withdrawal into a false reality that is simply given. There are many aspects in contemporary society that can distract a person from the things that are essential to that individual’s character and wholeness. This can be a voluntary withdraw or it can be involuntary as a result of situations and circumstance beyond the individual’s control. In the case of voluntary sequestration, this comes in the various forms of entertainment advertised to the public such as in television and shopping malls. Through engaging excessively in forms of voluntary sequestration an individual can easily lose sight as to what is important and essential to the individual and thus fail to engage and experience life to the fullest. As a result their sense of self is also neglected. Involuntary sequestration can be the result of oppression and can manifest a fear of exploitation. It can also come about as a result of structures in society and certain institutions that focus on strict rules that can teach away a person’s authentic self and creativity. These institutions usually focus on teaching people what to think instead of teaching individuals how to think for themselves. It can even come in the form of certain situations people are driven into, through their own doing or external circumstances.


Looking at the image we see a building that looks very run down. The tombstones, dead grass, and the objects strewn about the courtyard give a sense of disorder. This disorder and signs of death symbolize the restricted and lifeless existence that exists within sequestration. The building and courtyard surrounding it represent sequestration itself while the area beyond the building and courtyard seem to represent something more redeeming, a life outside sequestration. There are bars and boards nailed across the windows and doors and towards the top of the building we see an open window and ladder leading down into the courtyard. Because the boards are nailed from the outside rather than the inside this indicates that the type of sequestration symbolized here is most likely involuntary. The ladder and open window both represent the exodus from sequestration while the red bicycle near the exit represents a vehicle or catalyst of freedom. The area beyond the courtyard and building has very rich colors. The blue sky, green trees and plants represent the experience of freedom outside of sequestration. There are two signs near the exit, one near the ground with the word “Eden” written on it and one above the exit with the word “Caeli”, which is translated as “heaven” in Latin. This goes further to indicate what this reality from sequestration is like. It is a paradise, symbolized as “Eden” or the Garden of Eden, or heaven.


A life outside of sequestration, whether voluntary or involuntary, an individual is free from any outside influence and is able to define who they truly are and achieve wholeness. Within this reality an individual knows themselves through and through. This individual is never content with where he or she is because this individual knows there is always more to see, achieve, and know and thus reaches even further towards, and beyond, the highest standards. The path outside of sequestration is one that is often less traveled because it is a difficult and laborious path, but the possibilities and opportunities that follow are infinite and its rewards are boundless.

-Jason Godbey


Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Value of Failure and Imagination

J.K. Rowling gave a very thought provoking commencement address to Harvard graduates earlier this month on the value of failure and imagination . It's entitled "The Fringe Benefits of Failure and the Importance of Imagination".

You can read it here.

An mp3 of the speech can be downloaded here.

-Jason

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Do It To A Finish

Something worth checking out: an inspiring and motivating chapter in Orison Swett Marden's book "Pushing to the Front" called "Do it to a Finish".

You can read it here.

It goes from pages 183 to 195. Even if you may not need a bit of inspiration and motivation at the moment it's still worth reading.

Jason

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Rebirth

Rebirth Essay


This essay analyzes the symbolism and meaning of the image “Rebirth”. The overall concept of this image deals with the idea of death of one’s self, of way of being, which leads to a renewed sense of self, or rebirth.

There are many objects in the room that have symbolic meaning. Starting from the right side of the image there are some objects in front of a mural. The mural is part of a painting by Pieter Brueghel the Elder call “Triumph of Death”. This can indicate a theme of death that is represented in some way in this area of the image. Looking at the objects in this area the viewer notices cages, a dead plant, and objects that are representative of institutions, such as schools (the podium, chalkboards, and books). These objects also reference another image, “The Cage”, which symbolizes the restricting, lifeless effects that strict institutions, and forms of sequestration can have on a person. Blindly accepting goals given from outside without question and without searching one’s soul to set goals according to the authentic self of the individual can squelch a person’s individuality and creative potential, thus making them dead to the world.

Moving to the left in the image, there are some steps, plants, a ladder, paint buckets, a mirror, and another mural that has a corner that is unfinished. This area of the image seems to contrast the right side of the image, perhaps indicating this side of the image represents life itself. The mural is part of a painting by Jan Brueghel, Pieter’s son, called “Paradise” which can point to a paradise that might be found in this area of the room. The paint buckets and painter’s case on the stool are tools of creation. Being creative can be part of self-expression, which points to the individuality of a person that is projected through the creative process. In this process of complete and honest expression, a person no longer deals with the strict, rigid, structures associated with restrictive institutions or forms of sequestration where the authentic self is neglected. The mirror in the image represents the constant growth of a person’s individuality that is refined and expressed again in a new way through one’s own self-reflection of who an individual is and who they want to be. Weaknesses and strengths, affections and aversions, failures and achievements are all analyzed and projected into something that is new and useful. This growth that is ongoing and never-ending of a whole individual is represented in the “Paradise” mural that is unfinished. The steps and the ladder in the image can represent the plateaus and even the obstacles themselves that must be overcome in order to achieve wholeness.

There are certain forms of thinking and ways of acting that may be inconsistent with who a person truly is. There may be a pull from someone outside or a draw from the mass in society that would rather shape a person against who they truly are. A person might have even become too content with where they are and no longer partake in that growth and productive nature of their authentic self. These are the obstacles and plateaus that a person might have to overcome on the path towards liberation.

In the center of the image the light shines on an object. This object is a compass rose, which symbolizes direction. A sense of direction is needed in order for a person’s purpose and destiny to be realized. Purpose is defined and destiny emerges with this sense of direction, which brings with it a deeper world of more possibilities and opportunities.

The far left of the image is where the eye is drawn. The most obvious objects in this corner are the telescopes, globes, maps, and books, which can point to some kind of exploration or start of a journey. These objects represent the opportunities that can exist with an unshakable belief in one’s authentic self. The richness and depth of all that an individual can achieve is more expansive and vast than the world that is represented on the maps.

On the right side of the window there is a red kite on the wall. The kite is symbolic of the cycle a person goes through in refining their individuality. Just as a kite rises and falls with the wind, the same can be said of a person when active in the ongoing process of searching for identity and purpose. There a constant tearing down and building up of the authentic self. This type of existence might seem laborious and difficult, but it is within this existence that a rich, higher reality can be experienced, and it leads to the realization of an individual’s contribution towards humanity.

Looking closely the viewer can see a dove on the windowsill. This dove looks out into the world of infinite possibilities. Traditionally, doves are a symbol of peace, thus indicating a peace of mind that one can take while exploring those infinite possibilities. Taking into account the image as a whole, this sense of peace seems to be a well-earned inner peace. The difficult path of transcending a restrictive existence where a person’s individuality and identity is neglected leads to a rebirth. This new existence that is rich, luminous and full of life, contrasts the restrictive and mundane existence of sequestration, fear, and obscure identity. Within this existence lies a higher reality that has a resolute foundation of a known purpose and destiny, which in itself is a path of freedom.

-Jason Godbey.