Vive la difference --
drivelathon part two
24 Dec 1996 18:23:41
08:03 Cambrai Hotel; Paris -- France :: 17 DEC 96
The variety of life modes constantly amazes me. Yet the differences
between cultures can be found primarily in form rather than content. Essentially
we are all the same; we share similar needs, partake in equivalent activities,
seek comparable pleasures. The differences between us arise not in what
we do, but how. And how we do results in remarkable variety.
I'm not sure how to characterise the contrast between London
and Paris. Differences appear immediately but the strongest may be how
the people congregate. After several weeks spent in the living room culture
of England, where four cozy walls of brick welcome every pub or restaurant
patron, it refreshes me to be back in a sidewalk culture. Here in Paris
the restaurants and cafés bulge from the building fronts, each
like a glass chrysalis. Even on drab, dreary days such as today one senses
themselves in the outdoors when still inside, warm and dry.
Perhaps this difference reflects more the variety of why
than how. Paris is a city for watching and being watched, for being
a part of the bustle even while warmly protected from the elements inside
your chrysalis. Londoners seem to prefer the more intimate space. The
English pub, as I have so often heard, is an extension of the English
20:29 Chambre 36, Cambrai Hotel; Paris -- France ::
18 DEC 96
I am trying to decide whether it would be possible to recognise
this room as Parisien were I transported into it from some distant location.
It is a small, oddly shaped room with five wall planes and perhaps one
square corner. Actually, the floor space would make it a generously sized
single room were it not for the roof line slicing through perhaps a quarter
of its potential volume. The forty-five degree angle of the ceiling might
mean a wintry climate with plenty of snow were it not for the window square
in the middle of it. Three light fixtures brazenly toss tungsten light
into the room from the ceiling and above both basin at one end of the
room and the bed at the other.
From the bed, few of the room's details give anything away either.
A hot-water radiator places the plumbing probably early 20th century and
the location likely outside the tropics. The bed is standard third-rate
hotel issue, though the cylindrical pillow rolled into the bottom sheet
at the top of the bed is unique in my experience--ruling out any of the
countries where I've stayed in hotels, er, cheap hotels. That still leaves
most of the planet. While there's no toilet, bath or shower the standard
western basin with hot and cold taps says little, although the too-small
guage drainage plumbing wouldn't pass inspection in North America. The
creaky and worn wooden wardrobe beside the bed, with its multiple coatings
of white paint, gives away no secrets either, nor the rickety table and
chair I've placed beneath the window.
Imitation grass-cloth wall-paper--peach coloured--covers the
angled roof, small bit of ceiling and the five walls except for a rectangle
of tile behind the basin. At the head of the bed, and along the side,
two sheets of darkly stained and lacquered plywood (1/2 inch thick) have
been attached to the walls with phillips-head screws. Perhaps it's a stylistic
choice, or is it to protect the wall from whatever's going on in the bed?
Indoor/outdoor grey carpet covers the wooden floor except for the square
of tile under the basin. On that square, a an unlined plastic garbage
Inspecting the light-bulb in the fixture over the bed yields
"Sylvania * 40 W * 220-230 V * Made in Belgium". Aha, Europe
at least, if not Belgium. A siren blaring by outside corroborates this
hypothesis, though the city traffic until now gave no clues, except to
rule out SE Asia due to lack of constant honking of horns. On the table
there's an ashtray with writing I can't make out before leaving the bed.
It says, "EVA -- jus de fruits". Aha, Francais: Belgium perhaps
or maybe France.
Standing at the window, looking at the building across the street,
I count six stories down to the sidewalk but the roof angle cuts off any
view of the street below. What can be sees seems to be 19th century architecture
and, had I not been to Brussels just last month, I might've believed Belgians
had built it. But, for reasons I cannot articulate, something about it
seems French. Another survey of the room from the new perspective reveals
no new details except the "Reglement de l'Hotel" which, of course,
tells me I'm in Paris, France.
After years of travel, I'm beginning to realize that in addition
to discovering the apparent variety of how different cultures do
things it's also fasinating to uncover the underlying congruences of what
cultures do. We talk of the great cultural divides that separate our nations
and their peoples. But if you can wake up in a room and not immediately
recognize where you are, how different can we be? Unlabelled sections
of street plans for Brussels, London and Paris probably show few if any
discernable differences. This hotel room could be in alot of places, most
of them outside Europe. Observing the radiator knocks more places off
the potentials list than any other feature in the room but it expresses
climatic necessity rather than cultural proclivity.
20:59 Chambre 36, Cambrai Hotel; Paris -- France ::
19 DEC 97
So how different can two cultures with so many commanalities
be? Alot. But we'll get to that later...maybe. First I want to talk about
a book I've been reading lately.
I commented in a previous journal entry <!http://www.synaptic.bc.ca/ejournal/bonfire.htm>
about the manner in which pertinent books find their way into my possesion
at appropriate moments. For example, some topic in the back of my mind,
not even conscioius, while browsing a bookstore causes a title will jump
off the shelf, grab that topic and wave it before my eyes shouting, READ
ME! That's how I found Michel Foucault,
simply because three words in the title, A
Foucault Primer: Discourse, Power, and the Subject, happened to
click with some things I'd been working on...three words principally related
to my thoughts on the popular feminist theory of Naomi Wolf, Susan Faludi
and the not-so-populist thinking of bell hooks.
On the other hand, I sought out my current selection, Man
and his Symbols. Or rather, I sought out a representative work
of the author, Carl Jung....
12:34 Eurostar 9027; Paris-->London :: 22 DEC 96
For the last couple years, events, experiences and my responses
to them seem to beckon toward non-rational ways of understanding. (Non-rational
should not be confused here with irrational, the pejorative counterpart
For example, earlier this fall I got into a long debate concerning
the relative effectiveness of metaphorical language vs rational exposition
within political activism. The debate began when one member of the forum
forwarded the idea of a "double V" campaign, which would have
us all drawing vampire's fangs on political leaders. The campaign arose
in response to a report on Aboriginal Australian health showing that while
a non-Aboriginal Australian male could expect to live 72 years his Aboriginal
counterpart would not make it to his 53rd birthday. Because Australian
governmnet policy appears to be dismantling what few health resources
exist for Aboriginal Australians, it's not difficult to imagine why the
image of 'blood-sucking politicians' might appeal to many. Certainly,
such demonisations are often called upon in emotive calls to arms and
are plainly used to bolster support. Remember George Bush's characterisations
of Saddam Hussein?
On the other hand, quite a few members of the forum took exception
to what seemed an implicit note of sarcasm. The debate began over whether
the merits of sarcasm but evolved to a camparison of metaphor vs. reason.
What is the best way to combat ignorance, with facts and reason such as
were made available in a lengthy and scholarly report or with emotively
meaningful metaphors captured in an image or two? Some argued that reason
had a long history of failure for brokering significant change, that one
more academic study followed by another government commission would simply
result in more ineffective--even counterproductive--government policy.
I and others argued that our opponents would argue our positions were
so devoid of substance that we'd resorted to nothing more than name-calling--demonising
an opponent preaches to the converted, bolsters the opponent and confuses
the undecided; we argued also if fact and good were indeed on our side
and evil ignorance characteristic of theirs, which is the implicit claim
of demonisation, then fact and reason should win the argument, and if
the opposition's positions contained some reasonable arguments then our
side might have something to gain through reasonable discussion. In any
case, slinging mud at one another only served to deepen the divide and
discourage thoughtful discussion. By choosing to attack on moralistic
grounds, we were resolving ourselves to altercation rather than reconciliation.
It took a while to resolve the debate. In the end we agreed,
of course, to apply reason and metaphor together. Not all facts make sense
within the context of all other facts and so it is important to keep our
minds open to the potential value in opponent's understanding. Though
not strictly speaking rational, not all metaphor is characteristically
irrational. Sometimes the most reasonable arguments are most powerfully
rendered through metaphor. Rather than fangs on the smiling faces of politicians
I suggested superimposing a graph from the report depicting the disparity
in life expectancy onto the same smiling visage. In that way, the inescapable
rational fact of Aboriginal suffering is visually merged in the mind of
the viewer with the policies of an elected government representative policies
that continue to ignore disparity. There can be no charge of sarcasm because
moralistic judgement is not overtly represented in the content--the viewer
is left to their own conclusions.
I don't usually require so much convincing to recognize the
faults of reason, but in this instance I was being an idiot about the
one-sided significance of it. I'm more accustomed to arguing the potential
of more intuitive forms of knowledge and representation. Potential
is an important distinction. I've got a whole lot to learn about practice.
More recently than the previous example, the figure of Carl
Jung keeps popping into my life. Respondents to my website talk of parallels
between some of its pages and Jungian thought. I am visiting a friend
in London who studies drama therapy which is significantly influenced
by Jung's psychology. Jung is a familiar figure to me and I know of his
work, but not much about it. Man and his Symbols represents the
sole volume among his voluminous writings conceived for the non-specialist.
That is, it's an easy read.
It was something of a surprise to discover thinking so similar
to mine in the works of Foucault,
more of a surprise than discovering in my reading of Man and his Symbols
that I'm also a Jungian. Foucault's primary theses concerning how
power operates within individuals, discourse and society still cuts against
the grain of popular thought. While Foucault's process continues to defamiliarize
us with our accepted understandings, much of Jung's terminology, meaning
and thought have merged with our collective conscious.
Most of us in the West are familiar and comfortable with the
idea that the characteristic symbols of our dreams, or at least some of
them, represent a communication from our unconscious to our conscious
even if, and this is the kicker, even if we don't actually use this communication
to our advantage. We have heard the terms collective unconscious and archetype
and have probably used them in cocktail conversation, though not entirely
correctly and without attempting over-much to reconsider our self-conception
based on them. But perhaps Man and his Symbols is such an easy
read because Jung has managed to capture some elemental aspect of human
nature, something implicit in the structure and process of all cultures
and individuals and successfully describe it within the context of Western
discourse. That is, he successfully describes the image we can all see
for ourselves in the mirror, if we care to take a look.
Reading the likes of Foucault
or Jung is kind of like mounting a new filter on a lens, or more appropriately,
like removing one. For a little while at least, we consciously seek and
manipulate information with half an eye to this other way of thought.
So, when the guide says, on a tour of Notre Dame in Paris, "The facade
of the cathedral can be read like a book but it is written not in the
language of words but in symbols," your ears prick up.
Before Gutenberg's press, books and, therefore, literacy were
available only to a small membership of elite classes. Now Western countries
often boast literacy rates of 90% or more (usually a well-padde figure).
But since Gutenberg's press illiteracy of another form has been on a tear
so much so that now the facade of Notre Dame bears conveys little meaning
to me or anyone else without an interpreter. Yet the facade was 'written'
in language clear and simple enough that perhaps any 10-year old of the
middle-ages could grasp the meanings and apply them to the context of
23:34 Milton Keynes -- England :: 24 DEC 96
Meanings which escape me entirely until a knowledgeable guide
explains some of them to me. Or rather a few paragraphs of a very long
book. There are statues, and reliefs, and significance in the smallest
detail of them but there is also the form of the facade itself, the squareness
of it referring to the four corners of the earth, and the circular stained
glass window, a rose window, centred in the square and representing the
perfection and wholeness of God.
We don't speak in those terms any longer. Form follows function,
Before I was born, Jung was saying this is the very language
we need most to come to terms with. This is the language that wells up
from deep inside us, this symbolic language in which we are now so illiterate.
I'm inclined to agree.
~~~ Responses Sought ~~~
Jung's thinking has colored the world of modern psychology
more than many of those with casual knowledge realize. Such familiar terms,
for instance, as "extravert," "introvert," and "archetype" are all Jungian
concepts--borrowed and sometimes misused by others. But his overwhelming
contributions to psychological understanding in his concept of the unconscious--not
(like the unconscious of Freud) merely a sort of glory-hole of repressed
desires, but a world that is just as much a vital and real part of the
life of an individual as the conscious, "cogitating" world of the ego,
and infinitely wider and richer. The language and the "people" of the
unconscious are symbols, and the means of communications dreams.
|| John Freeman
From the introduction to,
Carl Jung's Man and his Symbols