[percy-l] In and About the world

James Piat piat1 at bellsouth.net
Sun Aug 17 14:57:14 EDT 2003

Dear Folks,

I think Percy talks a bit about the notion of having a world  and the distinction between an event occuring "in" the world vs talking "about" or symbolizing such an event.  Granted symbolizing occurs in part as an event "in" the world but symbolizing is also a way of stepping back from the world and talking "about" events that are merely "in" (and not one step back so to speak) from the world.  The question is:  How does this seeming ability to partially transcend the world arise and what are its theological, philosophical and psychological implications. 

Fundamental to this discussion is of course the distinction between the nature of an event which is merely "in" the world vs an event such as symbolizing which is "about" events in the world.  That these are in principle two fundamentally different kinds of events is (it seems to me) one of the first and main points Percy attempts to get across and is a theme he repeatedly returns to in both his essays and novels. 

Unless I misunderstand him he concludes or strongly hints that the ability to symbolize is at least for him a powerfully persausive  sign of God's presense in the world.  Something of this specific  point is I think is also coveryed in the Biblical parable of the Garden of Eden.  When man eats of the apple he becomes in some ways god like in the sense of being able to step back from events in the world and evaluate them against a moral criteria.  Without the ability to step back from the world of which he was a part man could not have discerned the "aboutness" of moral judgments and was thus previously unaware of their existence. 

One more elaboration and I'll stop  -- seems to me Percy was also very keen on exploring how the insights of the existentialist helped reveal the nature of symbolization.  I agree and one of the reasons I do is because I believe that symbolization is a kind of meta knowledge or knowledge about knowledge.  Specifically I believe that the ability to symbolize itself ultimately gave rise to the knowledge of existence (as a generalization from specific experiences of objects being present and absent in time and space) and that this is the key to the riddle of consciousness.  Consciousness is knowledge of the "existence" of objects not mere aquaintance with the the objects themselves.  

Hope all this hasn't been two circular or otherwise inchoherent. Just trying to stir up and join the discussion of symbolization which is also a favorite topic of mine. 

Jim Piat

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