Only Symbols or Silence

I “The anthropologist Paul Radin points out that … ‘it must be explicitly recognized that in temperament and in capacity for logical and symbolical thought, there is no difference between civilized and primitive man,’ and as to ‘progress,’ that none in ethnology will ever be achieved ‘until scholars rid themselves, once and for all, of the curious notion that everything possesses an evolutionary history; until they realize that certain ideas and certain concepts are as ultimate for man’ as his physical constitution. ‘The distinction of peoples in a state of nature from civilized peoples can no longer be maintained.’”

“The Bugbear of Literacy”

II “We have no other language whatsoever except the symbolic in which to speak of ultimate reality: the only alternative is silence.”

“The Christian and Oriental, or True, Philosophy of Art”

III “’Revelation’ itself implies a veiling rather than a disclosure: a symbol is a ‘mystery.’ ‘Half reveal and half conceal’ fitly describes the parabolic style of the scriptures and of all conceptual images of being in itself, which cannot disclose itself to our physical senses.”

“The Christian and Oriental, or True, Philosophy of Art”

IV “The references of the symbolic forms are as precise as those of mathematics. The adequacy of the symbols being intrinsic, and not a matter of convention, the symbols correctly employed transmit from generation to generation a knowledge of cosmic analogies: as above, so below.”

“Is Art a Superstition, or a Way of Life?”

V “The symbol must be naturally adequate, and cannot be chosen at random; one locates or infers … the unseen in the seen, the unheard in the heard; but these forms are only means by which to approach the formless and must be discarded before we can become it.”

“The Hindu Tradition

Theology and Autology”

 

All quotes found in The Essential Ananda K. Coomaraswamy.

margin-of-silence-1942

Kay Sage, “Margin of Silence”

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15 Responses to Only Symbols or Silence

  1. “Is Art a Superstition, or a Way of Life?”

    May our artistic talents across the many diverse Signs we are given continue to be our way of life dear Monica.. And May we continue to see the Signs.. Follow them, and Lead others to their meaning..

    Love and Peace to you my friend
    Sue ❤

  2. An interesting and tantalisingly brief post, as ever. Its very important to remember that signs are not at all identical to symbols whatsoever. C. G. Jung felt it necessary to emphasise this difference. Whereas a sign just points to something (a green light is a sign that we can go, for example) a symbol has far more resonance. We are familiar with the symbol, but it has layers of other meanings for us to explore that are at first hidden. A rich symbol such as the Christian Cross for example is near-exhaustible in its meaning over many generations. Thanks for posting, Monika

    • Dear Kevin,
      I agree that this is a very important distinction. In another book about symbols that I have read, written by Rene Alleau, he said that “to penetrate the world of symbols is to try to perceive harmonic vibrations and, in a way, to divine a music of the universe.” This is so much more than signs can deliver, yet the two are frequently confused.
      Thank you for your comment
      Monika

  3. Dewin Nefol says:

    Hey Monika,

    Left to linger a while with your post in view and a coffee in hand, I sat to consider my whirling thoughts and didn’t quite know how to start commenting, or if indeed I had words to comment. There is infinite dimension to the content of this post and to pluck at only one string from the musical universe would defeat the purpose of this parabolic post.

    However…one prevailing thought, a small bubble to rise as a memory from the past. An Art Tutor, a lecturer from university days stopped being an artist altogether when he came to realise the act of mark making was a convention in itself: a convention his symbolic language (refinement?) could not embrace. I recall he also made mention of experiencing the infinite each time he were presented with a blank canvas. Betwixt the two extremes he felt at once paralysed as an artist unable to express without convention, but equally limitless and unbounded within. Quite a dilemma.

    Thanking you for an absorbing read. Hoping all is well.

    Namaste 🙂

    DN

    • Hi Dewin,
      It is not easy to find words to reply to your richly-layered comment. The blank canvas may bring a thunderous experience; how can we give limits to the boundless?

      Thank you so much for reading

      Monika

      • Dewin Nefol says:

        Hey Monika,

        My pleasure. Thank you for posting and replying.

        Indeed, how can we limit the boundless to symbolic form at all? I imagine a scenario where mind transfers information intuitively. without human impediment. What shape or form might either Art or the symbolic take then I wonder?

        Blank canvas. Hmm. I think of Jerry Wennstrom’s The Inspired Heart. Worth a read….another artful alchemist.

        Namaste 🙂

        DN

  4. herongrace says:

    Hello Monika! Surely the code of symbols must be stored in our D.N.A. 1 of our earliest primal languages to ensure that we all have a common language which we all understand.
    Yes, the 1st wash on the blank canvas from which we are able to construct our messages.

    • Hello 🙂 I agree that the code is stored in the deepest layers of our psyche; it is a pity, though, that this sacred knowledge is so often buried under piles of garbage. I quite like the idea of the need of archaeological excavations to remind ourselves that we all speak the same language of the soul.

  5. Metaphysic atmosphere

  6. ptero9 says:

    Hi Monika,
    Reading this post reminds me that there will always exist a tension, and even a paradox between the unseen world, the undefined world; the Underworld, and the eternal necessity of expression. We never get it quite right, but seem forever compelled to release into the dayworld: images, fragments of a whole, always bigger than we, always changing according to our perceptual location, always awaiting yet one more revision.
    Thank you!
    Deb

  7. “We have no other language whatsoever except the symbolic in which to speak of ultimate reality: the only alternative is silence.” – this is quite a true statement, if I ever did see one so complete in its entirety. I’m left wondering if one can be silently symbolic, or if ‘silence,’ in and of itself, is symbolic.

    “’Revelation’ itself implies a veiling rather than a disclosure: a symbol is a ‘mystery.’ ‘Half reveal and half conceal’ fitly describes the parabolic style of the scriptures and of all conceptual images of being in itself, which cannot disclose itself to our physical senses.” Fantastic! How accurate while simultaneously eluding full elucidation.

    These are ponderable quotes…

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