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Jan's Master Class--SYMBOLISM

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Soren2007
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Postby Soren2007 » Wed Mar 25, 2009 1:35 pm

I think the literary discussion has been quite good on this thread. Here's my nickel's worth...and you can choose to give change up to five pennies for it....

I remember trying to make something special of an author's words and he told me three things:
1) he had no such thought or even the notion of that thought ever in his head as he wrote what I was quoting back to him
2) he told me what the quote did mean to him as he wrote it
3) go forth and make it my own should I wish

He felt no personal authority over the words he used, he saw them as from a heavenly source and he the scribe. Now, the work is copywritten, and he as the scribe had an experience that was significant in the process, but he took no issue with what they brought forth in readers, nor that such a thought could be traced to his pen.

I recommend a reading of Henry James' classic work, The Art of Fiction, for any interested.
Here's a quote:
"The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting."
“Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.” ~Dillard.

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Postby glorybee » Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:14 pm

Excellent, Tom! Thanks for that point-of-view (which I'm leaning toward, myself).

However I may wish to totally give up ownership of my writings, though--when it comes down to it, if I got wind that someone was doing something totally ridiculous with something I'd written (*cough*Steve*cough*)--I think that'd bother me.

So I guess I'm a hypocrite...read what you wish into my writing, as long as it's as cool as or cooler than what I actually intended.
Jan Ackerson

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Postby anna banana » Wed Mar 25, 2009 3:23 pm

:D :D :D

Wow I just started to write in Danish...that would be fun for ya'll (Yeah, I'm originally a southerner) to try read,huh? (My husband is speaking Danish beside me on the telephone so I got confused! :D )

Yeah, anyway, it was fun to read what you wrote. Actually, I originally had five jars of water in the story, but then I thought...oh yeah, 6 is the number of man. (at least from what I've heard from Biblical scholars :D )
Does it have anything to do with the 6 waterpots of water that Jesus turned into wine and all the implications of new wine/new covenant/ new life?


Steve, you are right about the water into wine aspect. I heard some wonderful preaching lately about the wedding in Cana. 6 was the number of the ceremonial jars there were at the wedding....but the preacher talked about them being the number of man....so that was my inspiration.

Everything God created was created in six days. The pots each represent one day of creation which would then include all of God's creation which would then represent ALL of the kingdom of God thus putting you directly on target for the topic.


Gerald (that is the right name, right?) I really like your interpretation...very deep. I guess I wasn' thinking that far into it though. :D But man was created on the 6th day so..... :D

Jan, I like your last sentence there....definitely true for me!
In order to clarify: Rachel Rudd

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Postby Soren2007 » Wed Mar 25, 2009 4:13 pm

Jan, all I can say is, I hear ya! I would probably be bothered too. People are too heavy a burden for paper and ink to bear. In our communications, we may create a lifejacket for one and a noose for another, but we are not lifeguards or executioners, and we must avoid the praise of the former in order to resist the shame of the latter...the goal is to be a midwife to a beautiful sketch's dream of becoming known.
“Get to work. Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.” ~Dillard.

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Postby SisJ » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:03 pm

glorybee wrote:I've got to say here, that in addition to having some extremely intelligent things to say about symbols and their interpretation, you have also deomnstrated your superior intellect by treating 'Ackerson' just like 'Frost' and 'Hawthonre'.

Made my day. :D


More than welcome, Jan. Thanks for your compliments to me. :D

I really liked what Steve had to say, and I was laughing, too, with the both of you. Amy wanted to know what was funny and I told her she'd have to come read the thread, 'cause I couldn't explain it out of context, either.

I also think that, in a limited sense, interpretation belongs to the reader, especially in fiction, because reading is an experience. The author provides much of the material for that experience but some of it comes from the background of the reader. Some things will have a different association or connotation.

However, the experience of the reader is the reader's, and should not be ascribed to the author. In some cases, such as reading the Bible, or, say, reading a journal or autobiography in gathering material for writing a biography, the actual meaning of the author is far more important than the reader's experience. (For instance, the Log Cabin Republicans take a phrase used by Lincoln and infuse a modern connotation to get a meaning which cannot have been intended by Lincoln. Not symbolism, but the same principle applies.)
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." ~ John 1: 1, 14

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Postby SisJ » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:13 pm

glorybee wrote:Tally, there may be a better way to do it...but I just tried a "highlight, copy, paste" maneuver, and I was able to move this to Word. Of course, you get all the avatars, etc., not just the class content.

I'd love to know if there's a "copy thread" option anywhere.


You can also save it from your browser (but not as a Word file). In Internet Explorer, under "File" (or Shari explained on another thread where to find the option if you have a newer IE--I think it might have been "Page") select "Save As". Leaving the default of "web archive, single file" works great for me.
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."
"And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth." ~ John 1: 1, 14

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Postby swfdoc1 » Wed Mar 25, 2009 9:41 pm

Something ridiculous? I have no idea what you mean. By the way, when I explain your piece “Thanksgiving Afternoon With the Queen of Scrabble” to you, I think you will agree that it should find a natural audience among Baltimore Ravens fans, Aleutian Islanders, and women who wear size 6 dresses with pink pumps while walking their Weimaraners.

As for Tom’s points, I agree that authors can engage in this view as much as non-authors. But being authors doesn’t give them any more authority in the debate than the rest of us—at least not if the question is an “ought” question—as I think it is. The question really is about the nature of truth (aletheology/veritology) and the nature of knowledge (epistemology) and goes way beyond the scope of this thread, but it opens lots of subsidiary questions. Is the author claiming direct dictation from God. If so, he may think he knows what the work means and may be dead wrong. I would have no problem with that assertion, but such a claim would raise other red flags. If the author claims to be “inspired” in more general sense, the claim of not knowing/controlling meaning becomes more like any other author's claim and is less tenable in my view. [THE PRECEDING SENTENCE WAS ORIGINALLY GARBLED & I HAVE EDITED IT.]Then we have the question of non-Christian authors who claim they don’t control meaning. The obvious comeback is “Well can’t God use unbelieving authors unbeknownst to them?” Then we are really off and running into territory beyond this thread. But we could make an easy case: Let’s presuppose a pornographic novel or some other writing that we believe God would not be involved in (and if someone says there is no such thing, I give up). So the authorship is entirely human. Now we can ask whether the author controls the meaning or not. I say “yes.” From there you start asking the tough questions backwards to the more complex situations.

I have my views on theories of communication and I think they are fairly easily defended, but I think they are EVEN MORE easily defended in the context of CREATIVE COMMUNICATION. We are created in the image of God and I believe that part of that image bearing involves being creative. Just as God controls His creation, so we control ours. (I can hear the objections now, but that’s not what I mean—all analogies break down. BUT the MEANING of God’s creation is His to determine.) However, the broader proposition is not much harder to defend—God controls the meaning of His communication (who wants to argue that we do?) and as image bearers, we control the meaning of ours.

None of this is to deny what several folks—including me—have said: various readers may have various REACTIONS and may take something away from a piece that was not intended. (Who can stop them?)

Now I am aware that this is a “Jan’s Master Class” thread, not a “Theology” thread so I won’t post back if folks want to disagree with this.

And Jan said, “How long before I can post my lesson on Tense? How long? How long?”
Steve
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things are gone." C.S. Lewis
“The chief purpose of life … is to increase according to our capacity our knowledge of God by all the means we have, and to be moved by it to praise and thanks. To do as we say in the Gloria in Excelsis ... We praise you, we call you holy, we worship you, we proclaim your glory, we thank you for the greatness of your splendor.” J.R.R. Tolkien

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Postby glorybee » Thu Mar 26, 2009 6:43 am

Not only that--this thread is making me tense.

I'm kidding, of course--but you all are WAY smarter than I am.
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Postby anna banana » Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:03 pm

I must say that these classes are very inspiring! I recently started working on my novel again, after a long absence :D . Last night when I was trying to go to sleep I realized that I HAD TO HAVE symbolism at a certain part in my book.... :D :D :D
In order to clarify: Rachel Rudd

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Postby glorybee » Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:15 pm

Glad to hear it, Rachel!
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Postby lthomas » Tue Mar 31, 2009 5:43 pm

From The Scarlet Letter, by Nathaniel Hawthorne:

When the young woman -- the mother of this child -- stood fully revealed before the crowd, it seemed to be her first impulse to clasp the infant closely to her bosom; not so much by an impulse of motherly affection, as that she might thereby conceal a certain token, which was wrought or fastened into her dress…On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A.

I think it interesting that Hawthorne uses such terms as “seemed” and “might” to describe the mother’s actions. In other words, to know Hester’s true intent, we must first learn of her story. I feel this snippet shows that her shame was not of the child but rather speaks to something else - she could no longer hide behind innocence – naiveté was no longer a defense. By her movement of the child to her bosom, two things simultaneously pressed against her heart. One was condemnation the other absolution. She would need to measure both and it would seem destiny hung in the balance of her choice.


5. From Stolen

The man pulled my wrist, and I bit him, so he jerked me away, away from my mother who was on her knees, crying. Her lip was bleeding. A wagoora cackled—caw! caw!--and as the men yanked me outside, I saw it flapping overhead.

Man = the temptations of life (Satan)
I bit him = mortal attempts to defeat it (Him)
Jerked away = taken unwillingly (reminds me of Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night”.
Mother = those who (mortal as ourselves) pray for us
Bleeding lip = they are wounded, yet still pray and believe
Wagoora = How helpless we can feel and desolate our futures appears at times


My submission is a piece I did a while back, called "Something More"
It is partly allegorical but hopefully some will find some intentional symbolism in it as well

But Cap, as he was called, had never seen the sea, in fact, because of happenstance; he only knew the outside world by a round window at one end of his room. A window that was far too high for him to look out and far too small to allow anything but light to pass through.

This window, however, meant a great deal to him; and, as he lay in bed, he would often count the moments until its light would march across the floor and move up to touch his pelt and warm his body. Its touch seemed to draw away his pain. Its warmth bringing comfort; and, during the dark hours of night, the thought of its return gladdening his heart.


Loren
"And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." From "As You Like It." Wm. Shakespeare.

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Postby glorybee » Wed Apr 01, 2009 6:32 am

Loren, I'd love a link to that story!
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Postby lthomas » Wed Apr 01, 2009 10:09 am

Hey Jan, thanks for asking, this piece has a particular sentimental value to me. Here's the link:

Something More

Loren
"And this, our life, exempt from public haunt, finds tongues in trees, books in the running brooks, sermons in stones, and good in everything." From "As You Like It." Wm. Shakespeare.

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Postby Gentle1 » Wed Apr 01, 2009 3:00 pm

WOW!! This class is deep, thought-provoking, funny, educational! I feel slightly overwhelmed!

I know I can read something in the Bible, and it will speak to me personally in a different way (often relating to something I am currently experiencing) than it speaks to someone else. Also, I can read a familiar passage that suddenly has a fresh, new meaning I've never noticed before. So, symbolism can have a fluidity to it in our own personal experience---can't it??

I agree with others that we can read whatever we want to in a work, as long as we don't assume our viewpoint is also the author's!

I am trying to think of where I've used symbolism in my Challenge pieces. I believe I did in a piece called "Crafted to Bear Light" and in one called "How Long Must I Wait?"

Thank you, Jan, for these interesting and informative discussions!!

Blessings,
Myrna

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Postby srashmi » Thu May 07, 2009 11:18 pm

I'm sliding into class late and it looks like everyone else covered the homework quite well. So I thought I'd submit the following.

glorybee wrote:Steve, Carol, Gerald, and Holly, you've all given me a lot to think about! I had no idea that a class on symbolism would start such a lengthy discussion. My cat just walked by with a smudge of dirt on her nose.


I think the dirt on the cat's nose represents the details you have gleaned from this discussion.

glorybee wrote:Can I also say how much I love that differing opinions have been stated with such respect? My class rocks! A butterfly has landed on my shoulder.


The butterfly represents your delight in the responses of your pupils.

glorybee wrote:I haven't decided exactly how I feel. Until a few days ago, I'd never read the word 'anti-deconstructionism', so I feel rather like a 3rd grader...so I'm certainly not going to say who's right about the issue of interpreting symbols in works of literature, reader ownership, etc. Quite possibly, everyone is. A bird just thumped against my window.


The bird thumping on the window represents your frustration at trying to understand the concept of "anti-decostructionism".

glorybee wrote:I WILL say, on behalf of English teachers everywhere, that I'm sorry that so many great works of literature have been picked apart to death! (I've probably done the same. For penance, I shall read the collected works of James Whitcomb Riley, a poet I loathe). My neighbor has put up a new fence.


The fence is your attempt to hide behind the analysis of literature English teachers have inflicted upon their students.

glorybee wrote:And I return to my original thought upon choosing this topic--that a symbol dropped into a story or a poem every now and then can add a bit of depth, imagery, foreshadowing, mood. The morning mists have hidden my car, which is parked across the street.


Your car is hidden by the morning mist is a symbol of symbolism itself which serves to propel a story forward in a non-literal way.

:wink: :mrgreen:

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