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The Book Of Symbols: Reflections On Archetypal Images Hardcover – November 25, 2010
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About the Author
Drawing upon Carl Gustav Jung's work on the archetype and the collective unconscious, the Archive for Research in Archetypal Symbolism (ARAS) is a pictorial and written archive of mythological, ritualistic, and symbolic images from all over the world and from all epochs of human experience. The collection of 17,000 photographic images, accompanied by commentary on their cultural and historical context, probes the universality of archetypal themes and provides a testament to the deep and abiding connections of all life.
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Top Customer Reviews
As a physical book, it is designed thematically and that's part of its charm. As a reservoir of information, it's impressive, insightful and inspired. The evocative essays and image reproductions will have you thinking and re-thinking what so many things in life mean, might mean and were designed to mean.
A must for any semiotics fan - casual or compulsive.
Instead, weighing over 800 pages ( including back matter), very few articles in this would-be encyclopedia merit even one full page, plus illustrations on the facing page. It purports to unpack the humane metaphysics of symbols common in dreams, rhetoric, and art. But few articles run long enough, or contain enough details, to provide more than salutary introductions to very complex concepts. Particularly moving into themes lacking real-world referents, articles tend to turn airy-fairy and abstract.
This book has its uses. Especially in early articles, more grounded in concrete external referents, it provides decent Wikipedia-like introductions to current Jungian psychoanalytic theory. Though its ideas are preponderantly Western, and frequently pre-scientific in outlook, it does provide engaging introductions to ascendent opinions regarding our psychological response to certain primordial concepts, both visceral and acquired. And to its credit, it's willing to embrace ambiguity. Consider this example from the exegesis of the symbol "Worm":
"Because of its humbleness, literally its `closeness to the earth' and its physical vulnerability, humans project on the earthworm lowliness and even groveling, `spineless' behavior. The Hebrew psalmist, feeling forsaken by God, cries out, `But I am a worm and no man; a reproach of men and despised of the people' (Psalm 22:6). Yet, for Christianity, the same verse is a reference to `the chosen one,' the Messiah" (186, Biblical citation in the original).
I like this. It's concise, polyvalent, and insightful. I'd like it even better if it offered sources on scholarship; this volume lacks even an omnibus bibliography, much less citations per article. Though it sometimes cites is quotations, as in the Biblical citation above, there's no connection to relevant scholarship. This book, when it succeeds, introduces concepts so well that I want to learn more! Then it entrusts me to the library's frequently confounding search capacities.
Things get less helpful as we move outside the natural and primordial. Articles referencing the human built environment sand off complicated controversies surrounding how to comprehend their subtext. Rain and dolphins have multiple interpretations, certainly, but that goes double for falling dreams, airplanes, and hammers. Though the section on human-derived symbols is the longest, it's also frequently the most frustrating, because what appears ambiguous and multivalent in earlier chapters, becomes merely vague and abstract here.
The final section, transcendental symbols and "The Spirit World," descends into outright uselessness. From natural but mythically fraught symbols like hanging and the crossroads, to supernatural beings like vampires and angels, the articles treat in broad, sweeping stereotypes which often only acknowledge society's changing relationship to these symbols incidentally. These symbols differ from, say, theist and non-theist frames, modernism versus Bruno Latour's so-called "anti-modernism," and even cultures, as one lynching photo reveals. Consider the following:
"In our time, the image of metamorphosis is embedded in variations--from the sophisticated unfolding and alteration of the genome to the children's series Power Rangers, adolescents who `morph into superior beings at the touch of a button through the transformative energy of technology. But whether it is at the behest of the gods, or through the devotion and works of man, metamorphosis symbolizes the revelation of essential qualities and radical transformations of destiny" (776).
Maybe that's generally true, but I have multiple problems here. The classic Frog Prince metamorphosis ultimately reveals the titular character's true regal nature, but only after his first metamorphosis, which initially obscures it. Or, search "TG Caps" on Google Images. Notice the copious amateur art, mostly made by men, where a male protagonist's true nature vanishes beneath a female exterior. This book's myopic definition overlooks vast, plentiful counter-evidence for a conclusion both obvious and superficial.
I can't hate this book, because especially early on, it offers an engaging survey of complex symbolic thought and pre-verbal concepts. It's seldom out-and-out wrong. But between its paucity of sources, tendency toward sweeping generalization, and disregard of germane counter-claims, it leaves me frustrated and hungry for more. It'd make more difficult writing, and probably slower reading, but fewer articles with more detail and broader surveys of unresolved controversy would suit this book's purposes better.
The Book of Symbols contains page after quality page of beautiful color illustrations and photographs of the symbols as they appear in ancient works of art, monuments, architecture, etc. It is a substantial book although not overly weighty and a perfect size to feel comfortable in your hands. Just the look and feel of this book says that it holds something wonderful inside before you ever crack it open. There are multi-colored ribbons, one color for each of the 5 main sections of the book (1-Creation and Cosmos, 2-Plant World, 3-Animal World, 4-Human World, 5-Spirit World) with which you can mark your place if you find something you want to revisit. I simply love this book!!! Well done!