Thursday, September 17, 2015

Encoding and Projecting

Party Face

In psychological literature, "to unconsciously project" is almost a redundancy, as "to project" is to unconsciously engage in something, namely casting a troubling inner demon into the persona of someone else and tuning it in as this "other" (perhaps beyond one's control) rather than as a manifestation of one's own psyche (perhaps also beyond one's control, which is scarier).

At the other end of the spectrum is what many writers do, of science fiction or other genres:  they project with the intent to encode, meaning they're actually consciously working on some "inner demon" challenge (e.g. rejuvenation or reconciliation) but they're using an alien (foreign, otherworldly) backdrop as a premise.

Ed Said talks about this process somewhat in his famous Orientalism, which I've been reading off and on since my visit to Earlham College in Indiana.  Some readers might be surprised how imbued middle America is with matters Oriental, NIU's Center for Burma Studies a case in point.

Westerners have a habit of projecting (back to unconsciously again) on Native Americans (Indians, as in Indiana) and Asians (Orientals) in much the same way, or used to (times have changed).  The melodrama of virtues versus vices would play out in these romantic idealizations, ala Avatar.

That's a two way street of course, projecting fantasies on the other, in that "the other" may project right back, which tends to further the spiral and make shared theater happen.  The protagonist and antagonist egg each other on, it's built right in to the language.

Ayn Rand, living in Russia, had a dream of the West, somewhat Made in Hollywood, and in her case her American Dream came true.

The lesson here is projections are not always of inner demons, but of inner angels.  In seeing someone's deep intelligence, we're actually in touch with our own (or how would we see it?).

But we're more often better off when there's a conscious element, i.e. when we're projecting on purpose, and know that's what we're doing.  That's why we came to the opera, or whatever.

Take The Beatles and their era of live and recorded experiences with Ravi Shankar.  The blending of world music is of course a metaphor for the blending of cultures more generally.  This blending was undertaken consciously, with intent, much as Paul Simon later reached out towards Southern Africa.

In The Pound Era by Hugh Kenner, there's a chapter on the "invention" of China.  Echoes of Said.

However again we have a sense of conscious intent, of inventing China on purpose in order to work through various issues and contradictions in peoples who had never set foot in China and spoke not a word of Chinese.

We might as well use Oz, but it's more work to invent a whole world.  Why not make do with an existing culture, or an historical one?  Or brew a blend, as did Orwell in 1984 or Gilliam & Rushin in The Zero Theorem.

When one consciously and willfully takes part in literary / filmic invention: that's more what I call "encoding".

One may see the process with the so-called Islamic State, variously abbreviated.  Demonization (projection) is working in every direction, creating a veritable Halloween of horrific characters.  By the same token, the encoders use this Gothic vista to engage in some internal dialog.