Blowhard, Esq. writes:
Last night I opened my copy of Taleb’s Fooled by Randomness and was greeted with this passage:
At the cost of appearing biased, I have to say that the literary mind can be intentionally prone to the confusion between noise and meaning, that is, between randomly constructed arrangement and a precisely intended message. However, this causes little harm; few claim that art is a tool of investigation of the Truth — rather than an attempt to escape it or make it more palatable. Symbolism is the child of our inability and unwillingness to accept randomness; we give meaning to all manner of shapes; we detect human figures in inkblots. ‘I saw mosques in the clouds’ announced Arthur Rimbaud, the nineteenth-century French symbolic poet. This interpretation took him to ‘poetic’ Abyssinia (in East Africa), where he was brutalized by a Christian Lebanese slave dealer, contracted syphilis, and lost a leg to gangrene. He gave up poetry in disgust at the age of nineteen, and died anonymously in a Marseilles hospital ward while still in his thirties. But it was too late. European intellectual life developed what seems to be an irreversible taste for symbolism — we are still paying its price, with psychoanalysis and other fads.
Regrettably, some people play the game too seriously; they are paid to read too much into things. All my life I have suffered the conflict between my love of literature and poetry and my profound allergy to most teachers of literature and ‘critics.’ The French thinker and poet Paul Valery was surprised to listen to a commentary of his poems that found meanings that had until then escaped him (of course, it was pointed out to him that these were intended by his subconscious).
Previously, here’s Ira Glass on symbolism.