Additional Book Information
Series: NYRB Classics
Publication Date: September 22, 2020
A Dictionary of Symbols
by Juan Eduardo Cirlot, translated from the Spanish by Jack Sage and Valerie Miles, afterword by Victoria Cirlot
Juan Eduardo Cirlot’s A Dictionary of Symbols is a feat of scholarship, an act of the imagination, and a tool for contemplation, as well as a work of literature, a reference book that is as indispensable as it is brilliant and learned. Cirlot was a composer, a poet, an art critic, and a champion of modern art whose interest in surrealism helped to bring him to the study of symbolism. Carl Jung, Mircea Eliade, René Guénon, Erich Fromm, and Gaston Bachelard also helped to shape his thinking in a book that explores the space between the world at large and the world within, where, as Cirlot sees it, nothing is meaningless, everything is significant, and everything is in some way related to something else. Running from “abandonment” to “zone” by way of “flute” and “whip,” spanning the cultures of the world, and including a wealth of visual images to further bring the reality of the symbol home, A Dictionary of Symbols, here published for the first time in English in its original, significantly enlarged form, is a luminous and illuminating investigation of the works of eternity in time.
[Cirlot’s] book is not merely a reference work for students of symbology, but a book to be read at leisure. It does indeed provide informative and interesting reading. The longer entries can be read as independent essays, but it is only by reading through the volume steadily that one can become aware of the intricate interrelations of symbolic meanings.
—Catherine D. Rau, The Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism
[This] is a volume which can either be used as a work of reference, or simply read for pleasure and instruction. There are many entries in this dictionary—those on Architecture, Colour, Cross, Graphics, Mandala, Numbers, Serpent, Water, Zodiac, to give a few examples—which can be read as independent essays. But in general the greatest use of the volume will be for the elucidation of those many symbols which we encounter in the arts and in the history of ideas. Man, it has been said, is a symbolizing animal; it is evident that at no stage in the development of civilization has man been able to dispense with symbols.