Sunday, September 09, 2007

Message (Preliminary Note)

"The understanding of symbols and (symbolic) rituals demands that the interpreter have five qualities or conditions, without which the symbols would be dead to him, and he dead to them.

The first is sympathy; I won’t say the first in time, but the first as I go on citing, and I cite by grades of simplicity. The interpreter has to feel sympathy for the symbol that he proposes to interpret. The cautious, ironic, or displaced attitude – all deprive the interpreter of the first condition to be able to interpret.

The second is intuition. Sympathy can aid it, if it already exists, but not create it. Intuition is understood to be that type of understanding with which one feels what is beyond the symbol, without it being seen.

The third is intelligence. Intelligence analyzes, decomposes, orders, reconstructs the symbol on another level; it nonetheless has to do so after sympathy and intuition have been used. One of the ends of intelligence, in the examination of symbols, is to relate on high what is in accordance with the relation that is below. It will not be able to do this if sympathy has not remembered this relation, if intuition has not established it. So intelligence, from being discursive as it naturally is, will become analogical, and the perfect symbol will be interpretable.

The fourth is comprehension, understanding this word to mean the knowledge of other subjects, which permit the symbol to be illuminated under various lights, related to various other symbols, since, at bottom, it’s all the same. I won’t say erudition, like I could have said, since erudition is only a sum; I won’t even say culture, since culture is a synthesis; and comprehension is a lifetime. As such, certain symbols can’t be well understood if there is not beforehand, or at the same time, the understanding of different symbols.

The fifth is less definable. I will say, perhaps, telling some it is grace, telling others it is the hand of the Supreme Unknown, telling even others that it is the Knowledge and Conversation of the Holy Guardian Angel, understanding each one of these things, that they are the same thing in the way that those who use them, speaking or writing, understand them."

(Fernando Pessoa, Message. Trans. gringocarioca)

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