AESTHETIC STUDY | OCEAN
Here, standing by the ocean you feel its solitary wildness in the most primitive and archaic way. It beckons and it enchants you. It moves you with its rhythmic swing. Shades of blue, and turquoise, and gray. Jagged edges of the waves melting with the touch of the shore. It’s not a dialog – inside of your head there’s just the ocean tale with the tides moving, one after another, swallowing each other, perpetually.
Even the most disinterested observer of life has some ineffable empathy with the ocean. Is it because we subconsciously feel the parallel between the processes of the mind and the rhythm of the waves? When the wave crushes and absorbs into the sand, it reminds us of the struggle and despair caused by the sense of void. When the new wave is forming, we associate it with a renewal of strength. And finally, when the wave swells, when it arches its back, that reminds us of human desire to confront and to fight for life.
Words by Lily McFly
Visuals by Vorn Smith
Two of western literature’s oldest stories The Odyssey by Homer and The Aeneid by Virgil are stories about crossing oceans
To early man the earth was a divine creation of the gods. Every natural place and phenomena represented something from the gods symbolizing aspects beyond their mere physical reality. The infinite height of the sky became associated with divinity, as the depths of the ocean represented aspects of the devil and darkness. The symbolism of places developed through history and exists all around us in our modern world.
Ocean is one of the most ambivalent symbols in our culture. We experience the ocean in contradictory ways: it mesmerizes with its beauty, but still evokes the sense of danger. Vast and endless like the desert, for ancient people ocean had a certain boundary symbolism in stories in that it is a place to be crossed rather than a place to be inhabited. Oceans are barriers between the continents and the nations of the world.
Two of western literature’s oldest stories The Odyssey by Homer and The Aeneid by Virgil are stories about crossing oceans. In his epic poem The Odyssey, written in the 8th century BC, Homer writes about the ten-year voyage of the Greek hero Odysseus who struggles to return home across the sea after the war with Troy described in The Iliad. Here, Homer gives one of the first epithets of the sea – “wine dark sea”.
Many of world’s fairy tales have an ocean background, which tests the mettle of the characters. In Russian fairy tales, skazkas, the sea is not just a place, but also a personage. The Tale of Tsar Saltan, written by Alexander Pushkin, the sea takes pity on tsaritsa and her newborn child, when out of jealousy the older sisters put them into a barrel and throw them into the water. The sea casts them on the shore of a remote island, giving hope for a new life. Just like a living creature, the sea decides whether to swallows the lives of the heroes or to rescue them from their enemies. The same motifs can be found in fairy tales of other countries: Italian The Dancing Water, the Singing Apple, and the Speaking Bird, French Princess Belle- Etoile, German The Water of Life.
In psycoanalysis, the sea symbolises the personal and the collective unconscious in dream interpretation. Studying the human psyche, Carl Jung created the theory of collective unconscious. According to Jung, collective unconscious is the reservoir of our experiences as a species, a kind of knowledge we are all born with. And yet we can never be directly conscious of it. It influences all of our experiences and behaviors, most especially the emotional ones, but we only know about it indirectly, by looking at those influences. The human collective unconscious is populated by instincts and by archetypes: universal symbols such as the Great Mother, the Wise Old Man, the Shadow, the Tower, the Ocean.
Sea/ocean: the mother of all life; spiritual mystery; death and/or rebirth; timelessness and eternity.
Jung suggested that parapsychology, alchemy, and occult religious ideas could contribute understanding of the collective unconscious.
In alchemy, Jung found that plain water, or seawater, corresponded to his concept of the collective unconscious:
For the alchemists it was wisdom and knowledge, truth and spirit, and its source was in the inner man, though its symbol was common water or sea-water. What they evidently had in mind was a ubiquitous and all-pervading essence, an anima mundi and the ‘greatest treasure,’ the innermost and most secret numinosum of man. There is probably no more suitable psychological concept for this than the collective unconscious, whose nucleus and ordering ‘principle’ is the self (the ‘monad’ of the alchemists and Gnostics).
– CARL JUNG MYSTERIUM CONIUNCTIONIS COLLECTED WORKS VOL. 14
They came there regularly every evening drawn by some need. It was as if the water floated off and set sailing thoughts which had grown stagnant on dry land, and gave to their bodies even some sort of physical relief. First, the pulse of colour flooded the bay with blue, and the heart expanded with it and the body swam, only the next instant to be checked and chilled by the prickly blackness on the ruffled waves. Then, up behind the great black rock, almost every evening spurted irregularly, so that one had to watch for it and it was a delight when it came, a fountain of white water; and then, while one waited for that, one watched, on the pale semicircular beach, wave after wave shedding again and again smoothly, a film of mother of pearl.
– Excerpt from
Virginia Woolf. “To the Lighthouse.”