31 August 2005

Can products have soul?

Michael Surtees, president of the Alberta North chapter of the Society of Graphic Designers of Canada (GDC), has an interview with Halifax artist Jennifer Romita. The interview is in regards to a recent discussion that took place on the GDC listserv regarding depression, medication, and feelings that everyday people go through in light of the actions of Rick Tharp. (It's believed that Tharp committed suicide by jumping from the Golden Gate Bridge. While not familiar with him before the event made the news, his loss is being mourned by many.)
MS: Can products have soul?

JR: No. This is one of the reasons we have branding. Some people believe they identify more with their favorite brands than with their own families or friends. I think people try to attribute soul-like qualities to products so they'll stand out in a saturated marketplace but in the end they are just products regardless of how the branding makes one feel. All I want is a product that does what it's supposed to when I need it.

I consider myself lucky to be trained in the area of visual communication because it's instinctive for me to pick apart everything in front of me on a store shelf. Of course my design training is a double-edged sword because I am sometimes charged with an advertising campaign to promote such things but since I primarily freelance I have considerable influence in the ethical direction of my work. In the end, I don't think branding is all bad but it is changing the landscape of our value systems and priorities in very big ways.

This is interesting, in that I agree from a design standpoint, yet am forced to half-disagree from a magical standpoint. (Do I ever feel uncomfortable using the word "magic.")

I am of the opinion that in our manifest realm — of which I am wont to refer to it as intersubjective, because it rings of a fractal metaphor… and I read about it somewhere — in our manifest realm, that only human beings have souls. And even then there is quite a bit of debate in esoteric circles regarding whether all humans have an active, conscious soul or if they're (sorry to use the cliché) more akin to robots, entrained to follow patterns and reactions to algorithms accumulated over their lives in which the emotion fear prevents them from exploring other courses in which to explore deeper meaning to life.

So no, in that regard, products, objects, goldfish, and, in my fractured opinion, even many people may not have a soul. They all, of course, embody the spirit of the ineffable, but until consciousness permits they are part of a cybernetic, reactionary system in which they have no control. Waking up, as it's referred to, is the act of becoming conscientious of one's limitations, exploring means by which to overcome those limitations, and experiencing shards of "divinity" through the wisdom garnered by becoming a tool of potentiality, a master of their own life.

On the other hand, and this is beginning to really embody what I want to work with on this blog, it is indeed possible to imbue or stain an object or beast (perhaps even of the human variety, if they're dead asleep) with a shard of your own soul. By doing so, you grant life upon an aspect of your own observer-created universe and, if you're learned, you can program it with a sort of occult algorithm in which to carry out tasks — objective, abstract, or otherwise.

These essences are plopped down in the myth and folklore of history (from the Jewish lore of the golem to the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings), and are today know by a variety of contemporary occult names, of which the Chaos Matrix has a listing of articles dealing with such: sigils, servitors, egregores, and godforms. Mark Defrates (aka Marik), an online writer of magical works, has much deeper looks into this field with two decent papers which I'd like to expound on at a later date:

Sigils, Servitors, and Godforms, Part I: Sigils
Sigils, Servitors, and Godforms, Part II: Servitors

A debate about consciousness could rage on for eternity. But if anyone cares to take the time before I get there myself, the knowledge is there. And trust me when I say the practice of creating sigils is very simple, then any reader here shouldn't have any hesitation about trying it out at least once. However, may I suggest that you begin by casting a sigil for something that won't conflict with the desires of your ego. The ego likes to muck about with one's magic. Even Marik, in the above essays, eschews the concepts of soul in favour of a postmodern interpretation of experience and reality. All I can offer from a personal point of view that there is most definitely a capacity for consciousness beyond that of the ego, but it requires a concentrated/relaxed mind to pierce its quiet subtleties. Few people spend any amount of time being lucid in this state of "quiet mind."

Marik obviously explores Austin Osman Spare, the artist sorcerer whom is responsible for most of today's current chaos magic paradigm:—
Spare developed a method of sigilising quite unique in the history of magick. He maintained that "Belief is the fall from the Absolute." In other words, belief as usually practised, was self-defeating because "we are not free to believe...however much we so desire, having conflicting ideas from first exhaust." The mind, conditioned by its cultural context, the universal consensual belief structure, voices from childhood, and many environmental factors, cannot allow pure belief, but always muddies the intention of the magician. Spare's genius was to develop a technique that took this into account and subverted the discursive mind. He said "sigils are the art of believing; my invention for making belief organic, ergo, true belief." He maintained that "belief, to be true, must be organic and sub-conscious," that in order for the magickal desire to be effective, it must become organic, and "can only become organic at a time of vacuity, and by giving it (Sigil) form."

Spare stressed not only that the sigil must be implanted in the sub-consciousness at the moment of vacuity, but that afterwards the magician must strive to forget the sigil and the desire from which the sigil was crafted. He wrote

"When conscious of the Sigil form (any time but the Magical) it should be repressed, a deliberate striving to forget it, by this it is active and dominates at the unconscious period, its form nourishes and allows it to become attached to the sub-consciousness and become organic, that accomplished, is its reality and realization."

Also on this note, I have been reading through some of the editorials published in the Swiss design book Super: Welcome to Graphic Wonderland (which wasn't worth what I paid for it, but pretty). Tirdad Zolghadr writes of his experience sitting in antipasto bar with two graphic designers; here is an excerpt of their conversation:—
«The letter bears no intrinsic relation to the sound it refers to,» says one of them.

«In other words,» he adds, «there is nothing that makes the sound A resemble the letter A, in any way.» … «The letter is abstract form.»

The Jewish kabbalists insisted that not only the words, but also the very letters of the Holy Scriptures were fragments of an infinite network of potential interpretations. Every textual unit was precious, containing, as they liked to put it, the Breath of Life, and every letter was numbered, with the various textual fragments adding up to ever new sums and subtotals cross-referring to one another in an unbounded melange of meaning. Here, much as the letter itself was God-given, its reading and significance was open.

«Arguably the opposite of what is happening today.» says the designer who has spoken last. «People can sense that form is a historical construct, but it remains a mere support, a crutch, a prosthesis for content. And content,» he adds, «content is secured and guarded by sementic dogma. By hermeneutic dogma.» He looks down, scrutinizing his snow-white Lacoste running shoes. He sighs. «By pop semantics and hermeneutic faith,» he says, sadly shaking his head.

This can go on for a long time, so I am happy to have it here. I believe that over time my thoughts will become much more lucid as I string theory and practice together between the two fields of design and magic. For now, I'll end this and leave anyone interested with an interesting look at piece on professionally casting sigils for clients: "Smuggling Sigils Across," by Aerosol.

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