Monday, July 20, 2015

Update 40: Dumbo

A Thought

I watched Dumbo recently. You know, the movie about the baby elephant with big ears that (spoiler) learns how to fly? I actually watched it because we had a formal seminar on it at the school I used to attend. It really is amazing how much interesting food for thought there is in almost anything. All it takes is a little conversational digging to get it out.
"But, Mr. Crow, can it be right to deceive the young into
belief in fetishistic magic in order to boost their self-esteem?"
"I'll probably be fine."

The obvious idea or "message" in Dumbo is that what makes someone appear strange or ridiculous might be turned to some good use and, in fact, make one essential, if cultivated correctly. Now, this idea has merits and problems, but I we also brought up a secondary point about the "magic feather", namely that it is a classic Frommian psychological example of idol worship.

Remember toward the end of the movie, the mouse gives Dumbo one of the crows' feathers and implies that, now that he has the feather, he'll be able to fly? Well, you see, the psychoanalyst and author Eric Fromm defined idol worship as the projection of some innate human power onto an external object, followed by the worship of that power in the object. (The fact that Dumbo is an elephant and not a human is beside the point, he is as good as human for our purposes here... I mean it, stop laughing.)

So, when the mouse deceives Dumbo about the feather, he does it specifically to get Dumbo to project his own ability to fly onto the inanimate feather because Dumbo won't believe in his own capacity. The idea is that Dumbo will have an easier time believing some external thing has lent him that capacity. Then, once he has proven to himself that he is capable, he no longer needs the feather as a surrogate source of confidence.

It's interesting to reflect on this, because Dumbo is certainly not the only place we see this idea cropping up. The idea being that an effective way to overcome debilitating fear is to fool someone into thinking they have power because of some external thing, when they've had the power all along (The Lego Movie comes to mind). One can understand the theoretical strategic advantage in this method. But Fromm, at least, certainly didn't think idol worship was the behavior of a psychologically healthy individual. Plus, there's the lying and manipulating people to get them to do what you want.

Am I ruining a childhood classic by reading too much into it? I prefer to think I'm giving you something intellectually invigorating to do when you're watching movies with kids.

Progress Report

I've had at least two people express interest in reading the book and helping me out with it. Now I've just got to track down the application form for doing a "pursuit" at the continuing education organization I belong to and get it filled out and submitted before next month's meeting. Woo!

Monday, July 13, 2015

Update 39

Although I had planned to wait until part 1 of the book was more complete, I recently decided to ask a small group of friends and acquaintances to read things as they stand and help me whip it into shape. 

I'm fortunate enough to belong to a continuing education group. One of the main things this group does is help members with projects or areas of study they're interested in by finding other members willing to work with them toward specific goals. I think the goal I want to set is publication of the whole work, self-publication almost certainly. I've announced my intention, but still have to write the formal proposal.

But, publication is still a good while off. First I have to hand over what I've got and see whether it makes sense to someone outside my head. One thing I'm really looking forward to is advice about elaborating my arguments and providing examples. Outside perspective on the cohesiveness of it all is very important, as writing and thinking about something for too long can cause one to be both too critical and too lenient. An author becomes too critical because none of their writing seems fresh or worth saying, since they've been thinking it and saying it for so long. They become to lenient because, when they understand an argument or point very well, they may not bother to be thorough in the presentation of it, since a short hand explanation will remind them of what they know so well. Of course I think what I wrote makes sense, or else I wouldn't have written it, but I need some confirmation. I'm not the full extent of my intended audience, after all. 

I also hope this will push me to work harder on the book. My schedule isn't as open as it was when I started this project, and there's always something pressing that takes priority. But, I have to make the time if I ever want to see this get done. Publication may take a while, but it isn't just a fantasy. I have to seriously work toward it.

So I'm gonna. 

© 2015 John Hiner III

Monday, July 6, 2015

Update 38: My House Leaked on my Neighbor's House

I live in a condo on the top floor. It's a lovely place to live in several ways. The view from my balcony makes one feel as if one lived in a tree house. I never have to mow the lawn. I'm only vulnerable to assaults by ninjas or helicopters.

It isn't all gravy, however. As you know, one of the many conveniences of modern life is that, not only are we shielded from the elements in houses of various description, we don't even have to go out into the elements when we want to use them for something. Water, for instance. we just pump that stuff straight into the house, no going down to the river required. It's a great idea in theory and the practice follows suit most of them time.

Today, however, my hot water heater started leaking all down into my neighbors house, which upset him. After various investigations that took up quite a chunk of the day, we discovered the whole device has to be replaced.

Such is modern life. Still glad I don't have to carry jars to the river. 

Hopefully I'll have more for you next week.

© 2015 John Hiner III

Monday, June 29, 2015

Update 37


"This universe that Humanity is struggling with when we make art includes man himself. While the effect of making a piece of art is as we've outlined, namely the materialization of immaterial things, the possible motivations for doing so are quite varied. 

McCloud may be wrong that humans qua humans make art because they're bored, but individual human beings very well may. They may make it because they're bored, or because they're anxious, angry, lonely, or because of a genuine love of beauty or desire to know the truth. 

And YouTube commenters may be wrong that humans are miniature gods, but our basic motivations and desires are mysteries that connect us to the highest things in ways we might not see or understand."

© 2015 John Hiner III

Monday, June 22, 2015

Update 36

An Excerpt

"...So, humans live on the line between the material and the immaterial worlds. When we make art that has no practical purpose, we embody some immaterial idea or thing in a physical medium. This embodiment of the immaterial in the material is just what we do when we talk or write, because language conveys ideas (which are immaterial) by means of air waves or ink or LCD monitors (which are material).

Making this connection between language and art allows us to see something very important about human history, namely that it has been a huge conversation. Each generation has spoken to the next, and even distant generations have spoken to each other, by means of art of all kinds. 

Philosophical treatises, poetry, sculpture, painting, music, drama, legends, etc. have all embodied thoughts and ideas just as language itself does and anyone who finds these things, and can interpret them, can see something of the immaterial world in them. Their thoughts are then influenced by what they’ve seen and they produce their own art, and on and on and on."

© 2015 John Hiner III

Monday, June 15, 2015

Update 35

Hello people who read my blog.

I am dropping in briefly to say that, rather than writing about pop-culture this week, I am entirely enmeshed in it.

I am currently writing feverishly with my teammates over at Pixel Dynamo covering all the news coming out of the Electronic Entertainment Expo in LA.

Therefore, if you wish to read by me, besides this paltry update, then follow that link above. You should be able to find something I wrote in there.

See you all next week!

Monday, June 8, 2015

Thinking About The Lord of The Rings and Update 34

A thought

I was reading The Fellowship of the Ring to my daughter for bedtime and something occurred to me that I think might be profound because I felt dumb for not having seen it before. Some have complained about the "Scouring of the Shire" chapter near the end of The Lord of the Rings, calling it superfluous. But I think it's particularly important for the overall structure of the tale.

If you look at the first chapters of The Fellowship of the Ring, those having to do with Hobbiton and the preparations for Bilbo's birthday party, the scope of what's going on is tiny. In fact, it's pretty much small town gossip; An old gardener talking about his boss and the weird people who live across the river, etc. Then, as the story goes on, the scope widens more and more until finally we're dealing with ancient races banding together in a last attempt to vanquish an enormously powerful, twisted, primeval spirit bent on the domination of the world for millennia.

By the end, however, we've got Sam marrying Rosie and having hobbit babies. The subject matter of The Lord of the Rings starts small, gets bigger by degrees, and then shrinks again. The "Scouring of the Shire" is an important step in narrowing the scope again.

I felt dumb when this occurred to me because it's been right in front of me the whole time. Bilbo called his book, the account of these events, "There and Back Again."

An Excerpt

"A vacation snapshot is a fairly simple example, but the principle holds for all other kinds of non-practical art. Movies, novels, and music all evoke ideas and immaterial things by means of material things. Language itself is probably the most fundamental example of this at work. When we speak, we literally shape the air and use it to convey ideas.

Once we do this, once an idea (or more often a complex of ideas) is embodied in some work of art, that artifact takes on a sort of life of its own. It speaks to us in a metaphorical way by being and remaining what it is and recalling to our minds the ideas that were put into it in the first place. 

This is not only handy, but essential. Human beings must do this in order to think about things. We embody the immaterial so we can consider it long enough to figure it out, or at least make progress. Since language is an example of this embodiment, no one can avoid being an artist in this sense. It’s inseparable from thought because it’s inseparable from conversation.

Speaking of conversation, we’re ready to say what pop-culture is."

© 2015 John Hiner III