Judging books by covers and a re-centering of the aesthetic.

In the past I have analyzed or at least called attention to the different types of covers for abnormal psychology textbooks. I looked at some of the introductory psychology textbooks sold on Amazon.com and one specifically caught my eye. The image these publishers or authors chose that seemed to hold the most significance, the image perhaps that holds, or so they seem to be imply, the field or discipline of psychology captive, is that of a single or many fish. Not just any fish, mind you, or fish in a stream, in a lake, in pond or those outdoors that can be caught and consumed and bring metaphors to mind of Jesus, the fisher of men, little fish in a big pond as I often felt in college, or any other fishing metaphor.

The 1st through 4th intro to psych editions, by Saundra K. Ciccarelli  and  J. Noland White, is sometimes called “Psychology: An Exploration,” and other times called just “Psychology”. It’s unclear from Amazon if these two titles refer to paperback and hardcopy editions or text- and work-books or students in universities but below are the progression of the edition covers as they are labeled.  Oddly enough (or perhaps not) they totem animal they seem to posit for psychology is a pet fish, a pet fish and not fish to be eaten which may imply the object of study (psychology) is one that can be made a pet of. That seems to be how my husband uses it. It’s tame(d).While he majored in philosophy and linguistics at Cornell he does has his moments of armchair psychology, the introductory course of which was a most popular at our university.

Psychology 1st edition

There is a move from the 1st edition to the 2nd from a single gold fish, and all that implies, to that of gold fish swimming one way and a digitally altered goldfish made to look purple going the other, the one that goes against the ‘school’ or stream.

psychology an exploration 2nd edition


psychology paperback second editionThere are two different 3rd edition covers, both not of a western gold fish but what are called Siamese fighting fish, an object of study in biology: One cover is of two Siamese fighting fish of the same color,

3rd edition

and the other of a orange (or gold) fish in a tank, and the purple (unsure if there are purple of this species but they come in a variety of colors) one outside the tank looking in, facing off as Siamese fighting fish are (if memory serves me correctly) known to do and an owner of these fish are not to have two males I believe (though perhaps its females) in the same tank as they will duke it out to the death…

3rd edition 2

to finally, in the fourth edition, the image of just a purple Siamese fighting fish.

4th edition

What were they thinking.

I’m not sure, but I think the progression to an ‘other’ kind of fish (Siamese or Eastern, and one that is not a standard  Western color of ‘gold [read white/blonde] fish’) is interesting. As some say and no I’m not going to find the quotation but I think it’s Emily Apter who wrote about a ‘re-centering of the aesthetic’ in the postcolonial. Is this a postcolonial other dare I say subaltern fish? Eh? Not so sure. Maybe it has more to do with selling textbooks?

So I googled purple goldfish. A book (again on Amazon.com) is the first link. “What’s Your Purple Goldfish?”, part of a series of three books that asks marketers what their [insert specific color] goldfish is. A green goldfish


has to do with the premise “Happy employees make happy customers”. A golden goldfish

download (1)

which shows a golden goldfish that was presumably hatched from a goose that laid golden eggs (who wants roe?) is about the premise that “all employees and customers are not created equal.” These are distinct from a purple goldfish


which has to do with “differentiation via added value. Marketing to your existing customers via G.L.U.E (giving little unexpected extras).  The end result is increased sales, happier customers and positive word of mouth.” I wouldn’t think this really meant all that much but then I read in the reviews one by “Deb Reed” that this concept of a ‘purple’ goldfish (why that color? The color of phonecian royalty?) is what she thought at first could be a “ripoff of Seth Godin’s Purple Cow” but instead “pays tribute” to “the principle.”


A Purple Cow, according to this book’s  amazon description, “describes something phenomenal, something counterintuitive and exciting and flat out unbelievable. Every day, consumers come face to face with a lot of boring stuff-a lot of brown cows-but you can bet they won’t forget a Purple Cow. And it’s not a marketing function that you can slap on to your product or service. Purple Cow is inherent. It’s built right in, or it’s not there. Period. In Purple Cow, Seth Godin urges you to put a Purple Cow into everything you build, and everything you do, to create something truly noticeable. It’s a manifesto for marketers who want to help create products that are worth marketing in the first place.” So there’s a conflation in today’s psychological economy of creatures as symbols between purple cows and goldfish. This color for an animal on a textbook directed to undergraduates and this book’s description brings to mind the supposed ‘exceptionalism’ of the entire millennial generation, each one a purple fish.

And now for a poem by Gelett Burgess known orally throughout America for which Wikipedia cites a commentator saying it is”[t]he most quoted poem in twentieth-century America, after “The Night Before Christmas“:

I never saw a Purple Cow,

I never hope to see one;

But I can tell you, anyhow,

I’d rather see than be one.

Is this how an animal of another color (not known widely in nature ie black sheep or swan although those examples may be applicable) and specifically that of the “The Color Purple”


got into American consciousness? Let’s dissect this nonsense poem briefly. A purple cow is posited, although in has not been held in sight in the captivity of vision, ‘anyhow’ or otherwise it’s written that the voice of the poem would “rather see than be one”. To hold the other in the (male) gaze as a (feminine) object. To hold the mind and psychology in the gaze of science. Not just to make a pet out of a ordinary run of the mill goldfish. But to see, finally, we are to assume after these changes, nothing but an exotic, iridescently purple Siamese fighting fish confronting I the viewer as in battle against a pristine white objective clarity (read ‘reason’/science) background. We are a match for this creature. We are a kind. The mind or psyche analyzing another akin to it while both extraordinary. The mind is an exotic animal. The fish of the mind is not in a tank (3rd edition) or against a bubbly colorful background (2nd and 1st editions) but there is clarity and nothing to clutter us from the view of all that psychology is. An exotic fish of another color ready to fight. “Psychology: An Exploration”? is this about finding your inner Nemo?


Or is more about the age of explorers?

4th edition

You know Caliban, that now-classic postcolonial example said:


Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again; and then in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me, that when I waked
I cried to dream again.

-Caliban, Act 3, Scene 2, the Tempest


Sounds like the unconscious.