Saturday, February 18, 2023

"Jenny, I don't know where to love from" - In Praise of Barrie's 'Jenny' - Thoughts on 'Inner Space' and Sources

Barrie is the musical project of Barrie Lindsay, a New York based musician and producer. I discovered her music after the release of her 2019 debut album, "Happy To Be Here." At the time I was completing my graduate school internship, working in a clinic with folks with intellectual and/or developmental disabilities. 

One client and I spent a lot of time listening to music. He loved traditional Chinese flute music. The flute music was our home base, our consistent thing we listened to, but I shared a lot of music with him, and he told me about other CDs he listened to. We listened to music together and explored his inner life as we did so. He had a remarkably rich inner life. He was also the quietest person at a clinic. You never know what someone is doing or thinking until you ask him. I asked him, and he had a lot to say. Most people at the clinic, clinicians included, apparently never asked him.


My favorite song from her first album is called "Hutch." I remember playing the song for this particular client. The piano on Hutch reminds me of Sufjan Steven's song "Come On! Feel the Illinoise! Part I: The World's Columbian Exposition Part II: Carl Sandburg Visits Me In A Dream," especially the second half of the song when Sufjan slows it down, leans into the piano and horns. Both songs share ascending piano, layered vocals, and something vibe-like, something hard for me to name. Resonance that I cannot specify. I'm listening to Sufjan right now, the transition about 3 minutes in is so excellent, so interesting; this little bridge linking the two halves of the song. 

Part II of Sufjan's song is so beautiful. The lyrics are so significant for me, perhaps the vocal melody even more important:

"And I cried myself to sleep last night

For the Earth, and materials, they may sound just right to me
Even with the rest belated, everything is antiquatedAre you writing from the heart? Are you writing from the heart?Even in his heart the Devil has to know the water levelAre you writing from the heart? Are you writing from the heart?"
Am I writing from the heart? Am I writing from the heart? I'm trying.

I always think about Sufjan's song when I hear Barrie's "Hutch." One thing I admire about Hutch is the playfulness of some lyrics: "What'd ya get? Who ya with? Where ya going?" all said in rapid, playful tones. It reminds me of child-like excitement that I feel sometimes in all relationships; wanting to be close to people; wanting to naively ask questions and be informed. I like to feel in the loop or inside the circle. 
"What'd ya get? Who ya with? Where ya going?"

Barrie released another album in late 2022 called "Barbara." Pitchfork reviewed it on March 31st, 2022. I didn't add it to my Syncd playlist until November 26th, 2022.

Truthfully there is only one song on the album that really leaps out at me: "Jenny." The rest of it sounds good but it fades into the background too easily for me.

Here are the lyrics:

"[Verse 1]
Jenny dropped under the water
Been waiting, pressed my head into her collar
Devotion, I don't know
Emotion, high to low
Yeah I don't know

Jenny, I don't know where to love from
Never had to hold myself true to someone

[Verse 2]
Jenny, let me punch her shoulder
Jenny, I'm only the opener
Met her at the show, she goes too
Man, I hate guitar, except with you

Jenny, I don't know where to love from
Nеver had to hold myself true to somеone
Jenny, did you love me in July?
Jenny, could you love me if you tried

Jenny, I don't know where to love from
(Jenny, I don't know where to love from when my time comes)
Never had to hold myself true to someone
(Never had to hold myself true to someone when I'm said and done)
Jenny, did you love me in July?
(Do you love m? Do you love me?
Do you love me? do you love me now?)
Jenny, could you love me if you tried
(Do you love m? Do you love me?
Do you love me? do you love me now?)"


The song, for me, is defined by and driven by the chorus. The chorus, of course, repeats. But every time it repeats with an addition, a change, something new. 

Initially we get just the two lines: "Jenny, I don't know where to love from. Never had to hold myself true to someone."

An important admission, an important question. Where do we love from? The heart... whatever that is.

The second time we get two additional lyrics: "Jenny, did you love me in July? Jenny, could you love me if you tried?

Ah, a temporal marker. Summer love. "Jenny, did you love me in July?" A question of effort: ... if you tried? 

In one way love has nothing to do with effort. It strikes us. Trying to make love occur is a fool's errand. 

In another way love has everything to do with effort. The flame must be discovered, but effort must maintain it.

There is a small instrumental bridge between the second and third iteration of the chorus. The third iteration is far richer than it has been so far: layered vocals, background vocals singing (sorta like) in a round, renewed inflections of passion in Barrie's voice. 


As I have thought about this song I have been reminded of a very early memory, when a teacher showed us in Kindergarten how to sing in a round. We sang "row, row, row your boat" in a round. I remember it being totally mind blowing to my small body. 

I have also been reminded of the time I went to Compline at St. Mark's Cathedral in Seattle. Every Sunday night there is a singing event, a form of prayer, in which folks in monastic garb sing and chant in deeply harmonic and melodious ways. I remember feeling the power of the space, the echoing of voices in the cavernous church. I thought about what it must have been like when early humans first discovered harmony, first understood that voices could interact, first realized that a cave would change the quality of a voice. 

Above all I am struck by the frank admission of this song and the vulnerable question it poses. "I don't know where to love from... Never had to hold myself true to someone..."

In some ways it is an odd question, Where do we/I love from? From is a term that has both spatial and causal meanings. I am from Maryland. This is a spatial/geographical sense of "from." I have recently been writing about the relationship between prediction and judgment. I have been claiming that judgment is something that must be undertaken from a "1st-personal" place; prediction generally comes from a "3rd-personal" place. These are terms that I got "from" Eugene Gendlin and his involvement in the phenomenological tradition. This is not a spatial "from," but a psychological or mental "from."

Where do ideas "come from?" We ask, "where'd you get that idea?" Ideas never come from space the way that food comes from the ground or I come from Maryland.

When talking about "where we love from" we don't mean a physical place, but a metaphorical place: the inner space of experience. 

We talk about how things feel "crowded" inside of us, or how we feel "spacious." When I go to work I want to feel spacious, I strive to be aligned with Rilke's claim about solitude: that we should be able to walk inside ourselves for miles without encountering another. 

In the world of Focusing, an embodied form of psychotherapy I work with, we talk about "close process" as opposed to "distant process." Sometimes people know that something upset them: "When my dad said that to me last week I was livid..." But then when they come to talk to me they can't recall the feelings, nothing is there... The experience has gone away or become distant somehow. 

With the right kind of effort an experience or feeling can be invited; we can reconstitute, reexamine the feeling, bring it back to life. 

Where to love from? 

I love from the place in me that is neither too close nor too far. I love by being present. But what is presence? It is not spatial or physical presence. It is presence in inner space, closeness with the things that are at hand. 

The "from" question raises the "source" question. Things come from other things. Living bodies come out of other living bodies. Where do living bodies come from? No one knows how to answer this question. A book like Terrence Deacon's Incomplete Nature tries to answer this question, but in many ways reveals that we simply don't know.

Source in some absolute sense seems hard or impossible to know. Where did all the extant things come from? God is our name for the source, or the whole.

But there is an experience of being closer or further from the source. The source is not God in some absolute sense. But it is a sense of being close to the place that fresh words come from. 

Sometimes when we talk we just recycle old phrases, old ideas, we repeat familiar stories. And then  other times when we speak we find we are saying new things, we surprise ourselves, old friends and familiar people surprise us.

New things happen.

Why do new things happen and where do new things come from? This is an especially difficult question when we are asking it in the non-spatial sense, like Barrie asks of Jenny. 

"Jenny, I don't know where to love from" is a statement or question about the source of invisible things like love or fear or experiences generally. 

The experience of being close to the source is the experience of real embodiment. There are ways of interacting with and being present with/in our bodies that can lead to new things. Gendlin calls this being with the "murky edge." 

The "from" question could be crudely answered with the concept of the unconscious. But I prefer this notion of the murky edge. There are edges in awareness, "places" we can sense in which we sorta understand something, can say certain things about a problem or situation; but we can also sense that there are things we aren't saying, that don't fit

When we learn to attend to and stay with that murky edge we find that new things come up. Plato's Meno is an interesting demonstration of how learning arises from staying with these unclear but felt places.

Love is about knowing how to stay in those murky spaces in which we don't yet understand but want to understand. "The big middle," as my therapist once called it. Staying present in the big middle is the opposite of being overwhelmed by something or letting it go totally out of mind.

Love is about particularity, perhaps of a person, but also of a flower or mug or period of time. 

Love is revelatory. It shows us what we are and what other people are.

Love and presence seem in some ways to be identical.

I have the sense of a leap. A circularity. A bedrock.

Love is. We learn that it is by experiencing it. We experience it when someone can offer us presence, listening, patience, and real understanding


Reality is unspeakable and the most true and potentially meaningful statement is "It is what it is..."

The Midnight's song "Bend" comes to mind: "Everything will always be exactly how its gonna be. Though I seem to worry every single day. This prodigal turns home again and morning comes and in the end I see that new sun shining on your face."

The sun is.

Love is. 

New things come. They come "from" our ability to stay present at the murky edge of our understanding. But that "from" is quite strange. 


When we stay at the murky edge we stand in front of a door. We know things come out of that door.

But we cannot go through that door and see what is on the other side.

We just know that things come, and everything that comes comes from somewhere. 

Some thing comes, from some where, out of some place... Something like that... These are some of the most important phrases I am aware of.

So, I don't know the answer, but I admire Barrie's frankness, her willingness to pose a question through an admission: 


"Jenny, I don't know where to love from..."

I think I do know where to love from. Or, at least, I find myself capable of love.

But it is a practice: something that must be repeated and returned to. 

Love is a practice of returning, over and over, to that mysterious "door" I find inside myself where new things seem to "come from."

Thursday, February 2, 2023

Mono No Aware, Grief, Disembarking on an Avalance: In Praise of The Midnight

The Midnight is one of my favorite bands. I would call them cheesy in some way, but I unabashedly love their music. Big cheeseball energy, and some of my absolute favorite music I've discovered in the last few years.

I use Spotify and I have a large, rotating playlist called "Syncd,"  to indicate that it is synced up to my phone, downloaded. I use it as a general repository for any music that I am currently interested in or listening to. Sometimes I shuffle the entire playlist. Sometimes I listen to specific albums on it.

The Midnight's entire discography has been on that playlist since May of 2020 when I first started listening to them. I, of course, have added their new albums as they've come out. Their most recent album "Heroes," for example, was released on September 9th, 2022. I added it to my playlist that day.

The Midnight is two different people, Tyler Lyle (an American singer-songwriter, I think from Georgia), and Tim McEwan (a Danish producer). Their most recent album apparently expanded the band to a full 5 piece and these new members were involved in the songwriting (I remember reading).

Part of the reason I resonate so deeply with The Midnight is because their songs are often about loss. Their Spotify bio, for example, contains a brief paragraph about the Japanese term "Mono no aware."

They write: "There is a Japanese term: Mono no aware. It means basically, the sad beauty of seeing time pass - the aching awareness of impermanence. These are the days that we will return to in the future only in memories." I appreciate the sentiment. I also think of Wabi-sabi.

Their first song they ever made together was called "WeMoveForward". I think it was the first song I ever really heard and loved by them. It was initially released as a single and later appeared again on their EP "Days of Thunder." 4/6 songs are total bangers. "The Years (Prologue) is beautiful and sad; "Gloria" is upbeat and exciting (and a favorite of my old friend Efron); "WeMoveForward" is track three and just makes me feel great (it reminds me of when I worked at a nearby mental health clinic); tracks four and five, "Days of Thunder" and "Kick Drums & Red Wine" don't do it for me; and the final track "Los Angeles" is wonderful, it has one of those bass lines that just vibes and vibes and vibes and stays steady for an entire song. I love songs with consistent rhythm sections or elements that don't change for entire songs (Disappears' "Elite Typical" and LCD Soundsystem's "All My Friends" come to mind).

I am listening to WeMoveForward right now. The chorus' lyrics are simple and resonate deeply with me: "We move forward, because we can't go back." The verses are more a love song, and I don't want to write about that right now.

2014's Days of Thunder was followed by their first full length release, 2016's Endless Summer. Of the 12 songs on the album I really like 5 or 6 of them and don't mind the other ones. "Endless Summer," "Sunset," "Synthetic," "The Comeback Kid," and "Memories" are my favorite songs. "Memories" is probably my favorite: "Everything is clear in the rear view mirror.... You'll always be a part of me... Some wounds will always sting..." I really like the lyrics: "All of this was planned when the world was started. The red blood hearts. The final word was never said." Because of course in the beginning was the word. The final word was never said.

2017 saw the release of the Nocturnal EP which has some great songs, especially "Light Years." I also like "River of Darkness" featuring TimeCop1983. Synth wave stuff is so silly (TIMECOP) and I love it.

After releasing Endless Summer they began a trilogy of records that would be completed in 2022: Kids (2018), Monsters (2020), and Heroes (2022). Their sound changes on each record but always feels unmistakably like them.

The theme of nostalgia dominates all three albums. Nostalgia is secretly the problem of loss, or the desire to return to a past that is now gone.

Most of the songs on Kids are great but there is a bit of filler that works in context but not on their own. "Lost Boy," is good (and its remix by A.M.R. is incredible). I remember a time, I think when I first started going into the office after the pandemic, that I was totally consumed by the experience of time passing, so attuned to the reality of daily loss, that I was listening to this remix all the time. "We were young once, but then we grew old..." That lyric leapt out at me every time. Its a wonderful remix. The original is good too, but I like the remix more. "Explorers" and "America 2" are the standout tracks, and "Kids - Reprise" is definitely a good time, worth the listen.

2020's Monsters is a bit more aggressively electronic or sample heavy. There are many good songs on it. "Seventeen" is great, with this big, clumsy distorted sample of a voice saying "SEVENTEEN, SEVENTEEN, CITY DREAMS, CITY DREAMS" repeats over and over. At times Tyler Lyle joins the sample, adding "We were... SEVENTEEN, SEVENTEEN... We had... CITY DREAMS, CITY DREAMS." Fuck. Good song. "Dream Away" is a beautiful song that tells a sad story about wanting to picture a perfect world. "Brooklyn" I also like quite a lot. I learned much later that Tyler Lyle actually has done a version of Brooklyn on his solo albums, much more singer-songwritery, not really at all synth wavey. This is also true of the first song from Heroes, "Golden Gate." The final song on Monsters, "Last Train," is also very strong. They seem to have a knack for closing songs.

Heroes was released in 2022 and I eagerly anticipated its release. I followed the EPs they released, consuming whatever they put out. The sound changed. All of a sudden it felt like arena rock, big sounds, weird samples. The first single they released was a song called "Change Your Heart or Die." Such a dramatic title.

The whole thing almost feels silly, this explosive chorus:

"FIRE! Ticking like a time bomb! FIRE! Burning like a napalm! FIRE! Waiting at the crossroads, how will you survive!?! CHANGE YOUR HEART OR DIE!"

The whole thing makes me smile and chuckle as I listen to the song now. I tell you what, its a great song to have coming through some headphones. Such a silly banger.

"Heartbeat," the second single they released, is also big and flashy, goofy synths announce its beginning. I do like the lyrics, though. It opens: "If the world is made out of love the pain is proof that it isn't done..." And the chorus: "If you can feel your heartbeat, your not done yet, you can't be. If it hurts its working, there's love enough for you and me..."

No wonder I like these lyrics. I never stop talking about love. I never stop thinking about loss and grief and the passage of time.

They combine these things in a way I appreciate. "Heartbeat" ends with a refrain of the lyrics from "WeMoveForward": "We keep going 'cause we can't go back... Just keep going, there's love enough for you and me..."

My right lung hurts as I recover from pneumonia. I feel a pain, both dull and sharp, when I fully inhale. I'm nearly well. I am aware that in traditional Chinese medicine the lungs are associated with grief. I had pneumonia as a child, and once in high school. What is it with my lungs? The more I've looked into my family history the more I've come to think that there are tremendous amounts of un-grieved losses in the line. I sometimes feel like I've fallen into the role of "griever," but I also wonder how much I've taken that on myself.

The next single released was the song "Avalanche." It was released on July 6th 2022 as an EP along with "Heartbeat" and "Change Your Heart or Die."

"Avalanche" begins with typical Midnight synths, some cool sounding guitar, and this wonderfully awkward vocal sampling of a voice just going "WHOA OH OH" over and over again. I love these "WHOA OH OHs," just like I used to love the "whoa ohs" on 12 Rods' song "I Am Faster". 12 Rods, I think, wield "Whoa ohs" like this in masterful spirit. I love that The Midnight just fucking went for it on "Avalanche," "WHOA OH OH. WHOA OH OH. WHOA OH OH. WHOA OH OH." Just over and over.

I can't tell you how deeply I resonate with this song. A brutal series of events began for me on July 3rd or 4th of 2022. Lost love, family conflict, death, illness, pain, pain, pain.

"Sail on in my memory
I'll wave from the shoreline
A ship so grand you could not believe
Disembarking on an avalanche
From butterfly wings
Saw my last chance
In a faded dream, when it's gone
Wherever you land, sing your song
Take this dance, avalanche"

The song ends with the word "avalanche" repeated over and over.  Actually, the song ends with the same "WHOA OH OHs" that we began with. Beautiful. I listen to it over and over and it just begins to sound like a voice making noises rather than words. I crave the space where animal voice and human speech blur.

Disembarking on an Avalanche. Whatever my life was in the first half of 2022, it was not what my life was in the latter half. Whoever I was before July of 2022, I am no longer that person. He disembarked on an Avalanche. Several Avalanches.

A friend asked to talk tonight because they were worried about a decision they made at a new job. We talked for 20-30 minutes, first just calming them down, circling the topic, making sense of their experience, and then ultimately coming full circle to just chatting. They commented on my voice; it is still hoarse from my pneumonia. I have sounded like this for more than 2 weeks. I speak for a living. Speaking is my greatest pleasure. It is hard for me to be this way.

I told my friend that I have been changed by the things that have happened to me since July. I told my therapist yesterday that any one of the events would have changed me. This lost love would have changed me. Massive conflict with my family would have changed me. The death of my final grandparent, my grandmother, would have changed me. Contracting covid and having it become pneumonia would have changed me. All of these things would have changed me on their own. For all of them to occur in the span of six to seven months has been astonishing.

I am currently wrapping up a 4 week workshop on "writing about the women in your family." It is built around various free writing prompts and I've been enjoying my time.

On Tuesday I did an exercise in the workshop: write a prose piece based on a photograph, turn it into a poem, turn the poem into a prose piece, don't refer back.

I wrote a long poem that I concluded by writing:

"Just the summer of falling.

My sickness also felt like a sort of falling, the way Jeffrey told me that his septic infection felt like a free fall.

I’ve fallen and I hope to continue to fall through my life.

I’ve lost all these things. I want to lose it all

Because then I know that there will only be things that are truly and properly mine."

Loss is hard. Loss is good. These are poetic things to say and I partially know their truth and partially don't.

There are so many things that pass through me, so many fears and anxieties, so many pains and troubles. I know they are not all mine. I know the world is a great repository of pain and suffering.  The world encodes this suffering in living bodies and written languages and constructed buildings and improvised tools. Suffering always leaves evidence of itself. Some of this evidence endures more than others. But all life leaves traces; all suffering leaves evidence.

I find myself strangely attuned to suffering. I think this makes me strangely attuned to experience in general. The Greek word for suffering could also be understood as "experience" or "undergoing." An old classmate of mine preferred to talk about "patients" rather than "clients" because they liked how the word "patient" had roots in the Latin word for suffering. I have often reflected on how patience therefore holds some relationship to suffering.

It is only within the last several days that I have been recognizing how my experience with pneumonia has changed me. I told my friend tonight that I had come to regard it as a culmination of a series of events in 2022 that deeply changed me. I have suffered. I have undergone. I have experienced. I am different.

It is a story that I tell, this notion of "culmination." I said to my friend that "I hesitate to call it a culmination lest I invite more 'culminations'." I hesitate to name all this trouble, or to imply a climax to this trouble, lest I invite more trouble. This is not the end of trouble.

Although I feel grateful for trouble. My recent reading of Michael Meade's Fate & Destiny has given me new language to express this gratitude. The two agreements. The first is the agreement of the soul to do its best to become itself. The second agreements are made in fitting into a family and navigating a social or nomic order.

The trouble has brought me closer to the first agreement. I spoke with another friend tonight, had a Focusing session with him. I encountered a purple ethereal body within my physical body. It could be mostly but not entirely aligned with my physical body. It did not and does not need to be aligned with my physical body.

The two bodies constitute the two agreements. The physical body occupies space and answers to the second agreement. The purple body, the body of the first agreement, does not occupy space but time.

The patterns of love are the patterns of time. The patterns of politics are the patterns of space (and their interrelations with time).

There are patterns that exist in time that cannot show themselves in space. 

The telos of the body is the soul.

An Avalanche has shown me how to navigate these agreements and how to continue to understand what my body leads me towards.  

When the full album "Heroes" was released I was pleasantly surprised at the range of styles on it.

The best songs on the album are "A Place of Her Own" and "Loved by You." Wonderful songs. "Brooklyn. Friday. Love." is also a lot of fun, really great and interesting song. It is the only song on the album (I think) that has rip roaring saxophone on it. Some of their earlier albums, mainly Endless Summer, have notable saxophone. Great big sax solos. Ha. "Golden Gate," the opening track is charming and it reminds me of the pacing of both The National's "Fake Empire" or Frightened Rabbit's "Death Dream." All of them are strangely slow, patient opening tracks that introduce wonderful albums (The National's "Boxer" and Frightened Rabbit's "Painting of a Panic Attack"). There are a lot of good songs on the album. It is probably their strongest effort so far and I really look forward to following them as musicians.

I love nothing more than to witness and understand people in their development. To witness and understand people in their development is to love them. Following an artist, seeing what they do, is nothing less than witnessing the dialectic of implication and explication. The consumed product is only a thin aspect of a much more complex being. It is a product of a soul. The important thing is to have contact with that soul. I only know the soul through its explications. But I also know more than the explications. For the explications point to the implicit.

This has been a long and meandering post and I intend to conclude it now. I have been enjoying more and more writing about music. Talons', Tomberlin, The Midnight. Music is so important to me. Part of my experience this summer involved sharing with someone my 2017 essay on Mount Eerie's album "A Crow Looked at Me." It was important to me that I wrote it and it was important to me that someone took interest in it.

Music is important to me. Writing is important to me. Writing about music seems like it could also be important to me.

But here I am making it clear to myself that I vibe so hard with The Midnight in part because they are constantly speaking to the reality of time, loss, and grief.

I grieve so much of what happened to me in the last 7 months. I have lost so much.

But in losing I know that I've grown and in a sense gained.

All this loss is taking me somewhere. To many more losses, no doubt. But to great havings and doings, as well, I'm sure.

"Disembarking on an avalanche."

Wednesday, February 1, 2023

A Portion of the Project: Politics and Securing the Space of Appearance

I'm nearly done with my first draft of a book project on "How to Talk about Mental Health as a Political Problem." I'm a monster, I've just been tearing through writing. I'm exhausted and self-possessed, with an emphasis on the possession.

My right lung hurts when I inhale completely. But my mind is lucid.

This last Saturday, 1/28/23, I wrote 18 pages in a three hour session. It is the section on political implications, seeing what I can say with 193 pages of writing behind me.

This is what is so interesting about speaking or writing at length. You can say, "Well, now that I've said all this other stuff about experience, institutions, and science, what can I now say differently?" This sort of thing occurs all the time in therapy: "Now that you've said all that detailed stuff, it sounds like we can maybe name all this as..." I've had moments where clients will give me all this detail, all these stories, and I'll say "Well it sounds like you are describing X, Y, Z." Someone once said to me, "Yeah! We could have just said that at the beginning..." This isn't true and I told them so. I said, "No, you needed to say all of that detailed, complicated stuff in order for me to be able to say it as concisely as I did."


Complexity and nuance has to emerge in detail, in images, in unclear formulations, in gestures and noises. Only once a wealth of material has emerged can it be said concisely. The concise, conceptual statement should not be given priority. The concise abstraction must be understood as containing or carrying forward all the experiential churning that was required to get there.

So, here is a big chunk of writing that was only possible after 193 pages of saying other things (about language and therapy, about institutions and politics, and about psychology and the philosophy of science). I'm sure many of the terms will appear opaque, as they have been explicated and developed in the prior pages. This is especially true of the 1st-personal/3rd-personal problem. But whatever. Here is a drop of a fragment in process. 

4.2. Political-Institutional Implications: The Space of Appearance, Institutions and the 3rd-Personal, Direct Reference within Roles: Or How to Imagine a Society of Love and Beauty

    Part of the difficulty with something like I’ve described above is that science is deeply wrapped up in our institutions. As Illich observed, we over-identify science with institutional process rather than with the creative activity of individuals. The nesting of the 3rd-personal within the 1st-personal is a way of trying to correct this imbalance. For institutions are precisely holders of 3rd-personal ways of knowing and wield them in organizing groups of people, usually by estranging them from their more intimate 1st-personal experience via imposed conformity with a (3rd-personal) model. As Gendlin observes in his 1st-3rd piece, most kids shut down access to their implicit understanding (1st-personal) somewhere between the ages of 6-10. It is probably not incidental that these are also the ages when children are learning to be in conformity with images and models required for functioning within institutional contexts. Any reform of science will therefore also have to be institutional reform. And any reform of our institutions will also have to involve a change in our sciences. They are simply too intertwined for us. Thus in presenting a different image of science as responsive-participatory as opposed to representational-manipulative I am also implying a different image of politics. If the goal of politics is not manipulation, then what should it be? The answer to this question, I claim, must be based on an understanding of human beings, our political situation, science, and reality that I’ve described above. I have described a general approach to reality above, and I now will offer an image of politics that is consistent with my image of reality. 

    The purpose of politics, I claim, must involve two interrelated goals. First, politics must seek to minimize the violence done by its necessarily 3rd-personal aspects: we need roles, models, and images, but we must take care to not to value these over persons. We must prevent the imperatives of the logical order of symbols from overriding the needs of the intricate order of persons. Second, and to say the same thing more positively, politics must concern itself with securing the space of appearance in which intricate persons can develop and encounter/see one another in spite of their participation in generic social categories. This is what it would mean for politics to tame its 3rd-personal dimension and privilege the 1st-personal, for it to moderate its capture elements and lean into its trellis or convivial forms. I will address these topics by asking two questions. First, Given what has been said up until this point, what can I now say about a convivial or trellis institution? And second, Given the formal limitations of politics and the impossibility of perfect institutions, what does it mean to be a convivial person, or to engage in direct reference, within an institution? This is a formal question and a question of how an intricate person may relate to the formal. I begin with Arendt’s The Human Condition in answering these questions. 

    Arendt’s The Human Condition offers a powerful narrative that should make these claims intelligible. Arendt’s book is chiefly a comparison between the ancient Greek experience of politics and the modern dearth of comparable experience. Rather than political experience, Arendt claims, modern European and American individuals are chiefly familiar with the social. Thus one of the first tasks of Arendt’s book is to distinguish the social and the political.

Put simply, the difference between the social and the political is the difference between behavior and activity/speech. Above I noted Arendt’s claim that modern societies are fundamentally behavioral in their orientation. Indeed, this is what defines the modern concept of the social as distinct from the political. The concept of the social is predicated on the “communistic fallacy,” that is, the idea that our communities are essentially homogeneous in their goals and desires, and that there is some invisible force that ensures convergence upon this goal. Thus concepts like the invisible hand (Smith), Absolute Spirit (Hegel), or the withering of the state (Marx) reinforce a false narrative about society: that it is homogenous and singular in its goals and directions. This necessarily involves the imposition of a 3rd-personal abstraction upon the lives of many unique 1st-personal bodies. 

In being founded upon the abstraction of the social, modern societies principally orient themselves behaviorally. We don’t care about unique individuals revealing themselves in particularized speech. We care about generic individuals who are capable of carrying out generic procedures. This is the ‘overprogramming’ of populations that Illich diagnoses in Tools for Conviviality. And thus Arendt argues that behaviorism as a form of psychology or science thrives because it is compatible with the imperatives of organizing a ‘society’ of procedural beings as opposed to persons, a “society of job holders,” as she calls it. “Politically, this means that the larger the population in any given body politic, the more likely it will be that the social [i.e. behavioral] rather than the political that constitutes the public realm [i.e. possible space of appearance]” (The Human Condition, 43). There is a dialectical process at work between the shape of modern society and the shape of sciences. It was known to the ancient Greeks, for example, that limiting the number of citizens was necessary for ensuring the integrity of a genuinely political domain; they understood that crowds generate the desire for conformity and behavior. In this sense behaviorism or crowd psychology has genuine insights, and ancient Greek thought anticipated some of these insights (Arendt's account implies). But, to again paraphrase Taleb, behaviorism (and the social sciences broadly)  are not just studying something objectively, they are also reinforcing these tendencies, providing models for institutions and individuals to deepen and cement this behavioral quality of mass society: creating the type of being it claims to study. Thus Arendt writes of behaviorism:

“The unfortunate truth about behaviorism and the validity of its ‘laws’ is that the more people there are, the more likely they are to behave and the less likely to tolerate non-behavior. Statistically, this will be shown in the leveling out of fluctuation [i.e. of unique, individuating action]. In reality, deeds will have less and less chance to stem the tide of behavior, and events will more and more lose their significance, that is, their capacity to illuminate historical time. Statistical uniformity is by no means a harmless scientific ideal; it is the no longer secret political ideal of a society which, entirely submerged in the routine of everyday living, is at peace with the scientific outlook inherent in its very existence.” (43)

Arendt’s concept of the social therefore implies a complex understanding of the relationship between modern conformity, the shape of our institutions, and the shape of our sciences. Behaviorism and statistical ideals are 3rd-personal, representational, and control oriented forms of science. This makes behaviorism highly compatible with a political system that values uniformity and conformity, that privileges the preservation and continuation of institutions over the development and disclosure of unique individuals. “The uniform behavior that lends itself to statistical determination, and therefore to scientifically correct prediction, can hardly be explained by the liberal hypothesis of a natural ‘harmony of interests’, the foundation of ‘classical economics’” (43). The harmony of interests is a consequence of a scientific-institutional process whereby people have been artificially homogenized to meet the needs of a ruling class that has access to the heart of our institutions. 

    This means that modern politics and institutions are essentially violent and oppressive of individuals. This means that a major task of contemporary politics must be the mitigation of institutional violence. My published paper “The Dilemma of Compliance” analyzes modern institutional violence in relation to the experiences of schizophrenia and censorship. The larger point, however, is that we are always subject to the twin pressures of being both generic and particular. Modern society has essentially become numb to or impatient with this dilemma. We think of ourselves chiefly as generic; as holding this job or having that diagnosis. We have lost a sense of the uniqueness of each individual. Indeed, it is this plurality, this uniqueness of individuals, that Arendt regards as the basis of genuine politics and genuine appearance. 

    The political, as opposed to the social, concerns itself not with generic behavior and the maintenance of institutions, but with the freedom and equality that follow from genuine action, speech, and encounter between unique individuals. Arednt’s model for this is ancient Athens. Athens, Arendt claims (perhaps romanticizing), was founded on the condition of plurality. Athens managed to balance the particular and generic features of human beings (of course through the institution of slavery and the exclusion of women): 

“Human plurality, the basic condition of both speech and action, has the twofold character of equality and distinction. If men were not equal, they could neither understand each other and those who came before them nor plan for the future and foresee the needs of those who will come after them. If men were not distinct, each human being distinguished from any other who is, was, or will ever be, they would need neither speech nor action to make themselves understood. Signs and sounds to communicate immediate, identical needs and wants would be enough.” (175-176)

Modern society is predicated on the fiction that all we need are generic signs and sounds to communicate generic needs. We often pretend to be generic. Why wouldn’t we also pretend that generic symbols would be adequate? Modern society suppresses the uniqueness of individuals. 

    My experience in my life, and especially my work as a psychotherapist, has taught me that the uniqueness of individuals is a commanding aspect of my experience, something I defer to deeply. I have been fascinated by the singularity of occurrences—that things only happen once—for many years. I remember telling someone at a party, more than 10 years ago, that “technically the same thing has never happened twice.” He took issue with the statement. We are so used to experiencing “kinds” of things: parties, cafes, appointments, “Mondays,” and so on. And these kinds are plenty real. But they hide from us the distinctness of every moment. The same is true in dealing with “kinds of persons” or various social roles. Every barista does the same things that a barista does, but none of them do it in exactly the same way. There is always some difference. This difference may not be externally visible, but experientially these things will never be the same. I have a young client who talks often about the neologism “sonder” or “sondering,” that is, “The profound feeling of realizing that everyone, including strangers passing in the street, has a life as complex as one's own, which they are constantly living despite one's personal lack of awareness of it” (coined by a guy named John Koenig, says wiktionary).

Sonder is awareness of the ontological primacy of the 1st-personal. There are “kinds of situations” and “kinds of people,” but the recognition of these kinds as such is a complex development of a much more immediate and far richer 1st-personal experiencing. An animal, for example, implies “kinds of situations” in that it has a behavioral repertoire that acquires stability and complexity via experiencing. A chimp or rat will ‘recognize’ the difference between a stone and a banana and their behavior will demonstrate this ‘recognition’. But that animal probably does not name “kinds” in the same way we do. Human experience is so involved in “kinds,” we so naturally adopt 3rd-personal perspectives (especially as moderns), that becoming attuned to the richness of the 1st-personal is a task for us. Bergson, especially in Introduction to Metaphysics, does an excellent job in describing and initiating us into this task of beginning to perceive the singularity of things. He describes it as reversing the normal work of the intellect, which is so inclined towards categorization and the perception of reality through or as kinds. And I am remembering an interview with a veteran who was frustrated by his experience with the VA, specifically with the experience of being diagnosed, categorized, and treated  as a kind of person with a kind of problem. He, understandably, felt distorted and disrespected by these procedures. “You’ve got all these ideas about what happened to me but you don’t know me…” Powerful. Real. 

    A political system must, in some way, concern itself with this reality of the uniqueness of individuals and their need for disclosure through action and speech. A first step would be recognizing that individuality is not disclosed through mere behavior. So long as someone is chiefly concerned with the behavioral, with being in conformity with an external image, they will likely not disclose who they really are. The non-disclosive quality of behavior is evident in the difference between two questions: “What are you doing?” as opposed to “Who are you?” When we ask someone “What are you doing?” we are asking a question that could go in two directions. The “What” question could be answered in social-behavioral-3rd-personal terms. Someone could accurately reply, “I am finishing my shift at McDonalds” or “I am picking up my child from school.” These are generic answers that principally indicate the fulfillment of role obligations. The “What” question could be taken as a 3rd-personal question, one that functions chiefly along the logical implications of symbols. The question “What are you doing?” however, could also be understood as a more intricate, 1st-personal question. For in answering this question in a role-bound way we are abstracting from richer 1st-personal reality.
No one is ever just filling a role; they are always filling that role for a particular reason, in a particular way, within a larger context, from a larger place of experiencing. 


Imagine this dialogue: 

—“What are you doing?”
—“I’m closing this Starbucks.”
—“Why are you working at this Starbucks?”
—“Well, it was nearby and they had shifts that fit with my school schedule.”
—“Oh so you are in school?”
—“Yeah, I’m trying to…”
—“Oh how did you get into that?”
—“My parents always talked about… and then my brother…”

A conversation like this, handled in the spirit of trellis talk, would eventually lead to the disclosure of complex details about a person's life. The behavioral layer, the strict “What are you doing?” really, always, implies the deeper, more intricate layers of experience that brought someone to that behavioral situation. Asking the “What” question necessarily implies the “Who” question. Whether or not the “Who” question becomes explicit depends on the people and the situation. Indeed, Arendt makes this very point in terms of natality, newness, the appearance of fresh beings in the world that must be freshly disclosed. Let me quote her at length, her writing is so fucking good: 

“Action and speech are so closely related because the primordial and specifically human act must at the same time contain the answer to the question asked of every newcomer: ‘Who are you?’ This disclosure of who somebody is, is implicit in both his words and his deeds; yet obviously the affinity between speech and revelation is much closer than that between action and revelation, just as the affinity between action and beginning is closer than that between speech and beginning, although many, and even most acts, are performed in the manner of speech. Without the accompaniment of speech, at any rate, action would not only lose its revelatory character, but, and by the same token, it would lose its subject, as it were; not acting men but performing robots would achieve what, humanly speaking, would remain incomprehensible. Speechless action would no longer be action because there would no longer be an actor, and the actor, the doer of deeds, is possible only if he is at the same time the speaker of words. The action he begins is humanly disclosed by the word, and though his deed can be perceived in its brute physical appearance without verbal accompaniment, it becomes relevant only through the spoken word in which he identifies himself as the actor, announcing what he does, has done, and intends to do.” (178-79, my emphasis)

This is a beautiful paragraph that confirms precisely the reality of my barista example: until someone begins to speak and give an account of their activity in their own words they are denied the fullness of their being, they are recognized only in thin, behavioral, social-role bound ways. Our society is one that systematically obscures people’s more intricate, personal reality. People are valued chiefly for their ability to be functional within industrial-capitalist role-systems. 

This is what Gendlin is pointing to in note 20 of Chapter VII of APM when he says that “a body cannot be nourished on behavior alone…” We must attend to the total hierarchy or ladder of human capacities. Modern experience, as being social-behavioral, consistently denies us the opportunity for deeper/higher body process: not just the plant, behavioral, and social-symbolic body, but the unique personal body, the Focusing, therapeutic, artistic, and philosophical body. The deeper reality of a person—their intricate, vernacular, transpolitical, or anarchic dimensions—cannot be extinguished, only obscured. As Gendlin observes in “Process Generates Structure,” “The organismic process in us continues even though it is hidden by the empty system of location ‘points’. The cluster of action possibilities is not really reduced, only covered over. We seem unable to think from the implicit because we try to make it fit the terms we have. We try to think of it as structured objects in the space of ‘there-from-here’” (p. 8). Our behavioral society demands we try to make ourselves conform to fundamentally 3rd-personal representations (the ‘system of location points’). We are valued chiefly on the basis of our conformity with an external image. Our designated role “covers over” a more intricate reality, a more immediate 1st-personal richness. 

Arendt, too, grants that the “Who are you?” question cannot truly be suppressed; its answer remains implicit in everything a person does. “The disclosure of ‘who’ in contradistinction to ‘what’ somebody is—his qualities, gifts, talents, and shortcomings, which he may display or hide—is implicit in everything somebody says and does” (179, my emphasis). We cannot truly hide ourselves except “in complete silence and perfect passivity.” Moreover, we may not even be capable of revealing ourselves to ourselves, as “it is more than likely that the ‘who’, which appears so clearly and unmistakably to others, remains hidden from the person himself, like the daimon in Greek religion which accompanies each man throughout his life, always looking over his shoulder from behind and thus visible only to those he encounters” (179-80). This is fascinating evidence for the function of psychotherapy. For the process of therapy revolves precisely around coming to know ourselves  better by allowing someone else to know us. A good therapist offers us the opportunity to speak at length and in depth about things that would often be too vulnerable or threatening to speak of openly. In not speaking openly of the most important things we deny ourselves the opportunity for self-revelation; we bypass learning how we really live with these problems. When this speech is witnessed and understood, when there is a recognition of who we are, people begin to change. This is why reflective listening is so powerful. When what is being said now has been understood there is room for something new to be said, another step to emerge. Most of what we say, however, is not genuinely self-revelatory, but behavioral, self-obfuscating. Thus we often repeat ourselves, or worse, stop speaking to begin with. Arendt is providing us with beautiful arguments about the difference between trellis talk and capture talk. Someone is in the midst of capture talk insofar as they are being asked only about the social-behavioral dimensions of their experience, the “what” of their living. Someone is in the midst of trellis talk when their more complex, nuanced, individual, “who” dimensions are being invited. 

I am thinking about a client I worked with during my internship at the IDD clinic. His hand twitched often. He had a schizoaffective disorder diagnosis. I once asked him about his hand twitching because it looked like he was pretending to do something. It looked like meaningful movement as opposed to random twitching. So I asked, “What are you doing when you move your hand like that?” He told me about how he was imagining a CD-Rom that he was using. A whole massive imaginative world of dragons and spaceships opened up after that. No other clinician knew about his world of dragons, “Biscuits,” he called them. These other clinicians had known him for 7 years and no one had ever asked him “what are you doing?” No one ever asked him “Who are you?” When I asked him, “What are you doing with your hand?” I gave him the opportunity to answer the question “Who are you?” No one ever gave him the opportunity to disclose himself through speech. 

True to our analysis in Chapter I, Arendt also confirms that the disclosure of a who is possible only in presence. “This revelatory quality of speech and action comes to the fore where people are with others and neither for nor against them—that is, in sheer human togetherness” (180). I like this word “togetherness,” it is powerful and makes me feel what is lacking in the word “presence.” Togetherness, being together, is essential. This togetherness, moreover, requires safety. Indeed Arendt acknowledges the risk of disclosing oneself to another: “Although nobody knows whom he reveals when he discloses himself in deed or word, he must be willing to risk the disclosure, and this neither the doer of good works, who must be without self and preserve complete anonymity, nor the criminal, who must hide himself from others, can take upon themselves” (180, my emphasis). There are ways of being, in other words, that make disclosure especially risky: those who seek to do good with an eye to the divine as opposed to the worldly, or those who are deemed criminal or deviant cannot disclose themselves; they are too distant from the socially proper. This implies that it is necessary to be sufficiently in conformity with social-behavioral criteria to have the opportunity to disclose oneself. One cannot speak and be understood if one has been excommunicated or totally without community. I fully grant, on the other hand, that I can imagine a community of people so psychologically distorted that a sane person could simply never be recognized. One would be fortunate to live in a world in which the conditions of social-belonging are also compatible with conditions of intricate-disclosure-through-speech. It seems plausible to me that there are social conditions in which the disclosure of a unique self is nearly impossible. Orwell’s 1984 attempts to envision such a situation (it occurs to me now, and I haven’t read the book in many years. Brave New World also comes to mind, of course).

It is my general contention that psychotherapy has arisen as a practice and institution because our society is so profoundly incapable of balancing the need for both the social and the political: we need both a functioning division of labor (social-behavioral) and the space in which unique individuals can appear, in which people can disclose and distinguish themselves as unique beings through careful, witnessed speech. Psychotherapy, as I argued, is divided along the manipulative-convivial spectrum: part of the field is behavioral and biomedical in its orientation and therefore chiefly reinforces the tyranny of the social. Another part of the field emphasizes the violent quality of our institutions (trauma research) and the need for the development of unique persons through careful speech (humanistic, existential, experiential therapies). Psychotherapy is indeed often a space of appearance (I called it a transpolitical space in my master’s thesis, which is a comparable claim). The foregoing analysis implies that politics must concern itself with the existence of these spaces of appearance; it must create and safeguard them; places where the intricate or vernacular can show itself. Psychotherapy is a model for these spaces of appearance, but it is not sufficient as a solution. There must be a larger process of reorganizing society so that people can appear more often. This feels like a question of money and leisure to me. Do people actually have the time and the resources to appear? Or are they so completely caught up in the process of labor and bodily maintenance?

Sunday, January 22, 2023

Stories of Compassion, Stories of Responsibility, and Where They Converge

 There are many ways of narrating the same events. 


No story will be simply and completely true. 

Every story will reveal some aspect. 

Thus telling many different stories about the same situation will give us many angles on the ultimately unspeakable whole of a situation.

Stories of compassion tend to minimize questions of individual responsibility. We zoom out and say "Of course it had to happen that way... Of course it wasn't the right moment for you to really confront that addiction... Of course they didn't mean to hurt you..."

R.G. Collingwood calls this "Absolute Ethics," in which everything is intelligible and understandable and therefore nothing can be entirely wrong or evil.

Stories of responsibility emphasize individual choice and freedom rather than the compulsion of circumstances. We hone in and say "Of course you were struggling with your own abuse, but I don't care, you can't treat me that way.... I don't care how hard your  day was, you need to remember to lock the door..."

The tension of compassion and responsibility is the tension between necessity and freedom, circumstance and agency.

There are forms of action in which these things converge, in which what we freely choose to do is also what we feel to be necessary.

This is a form of freedom that arises from self-compassion. "Given all that I understand about myself and my situation I see no other alternative. It is not a perfect alternative, but it is the best alternative I am aware of."

Collingwood called this form of action "Duty" (in a specifically non-legal, non-regularian sense, i.e. not duty as following the law, but duty as acting out of perceived necessity that follows from deep intimacy with the situation).

I was exposed to COVID on 12/25 and became symptomatic on 12/28. I recovered and tested negative on 1/7. I became feverish on 1/9 with what I later learned was pneumonia. I have been horrifically ill, more ill than I've ever been in my adult life. 


I am often critical of the "biomedical" orientations of my professional field. But I thank god for antibiotics because I probably would have died without them.

As I've recovered I have grappled with how to tell the story of my exposure. I, on the one hand, of course have compassion for the people I was around. And I find that the more I recover, the angrier I feel, and the more I am telling a story of responsibility in which people let me down.

There is truth to both of these stories.

Above all I am grappling with the vulnerability I feel in having been so violently ill, alone in my apartment, doing my best to take care of myself.

I am grateful for the many people that showed up for me.

I hope to not be this sick again for a very long time.

Saturday, December 31, 2022

A Note on Three Forgettings and the Task of Modernity, Or, Why Arendt is Right about Heidegger, Strauss, and Gendlin

Heidegger, Strauss, and Gendlin all claim that modernity involves some sort of forgetting.

Each of them use this claim about a forgetting to pose a task.

We have forgotten X, therefore we must learn/recover/think/understand Y. 

This therefore is very peculiar.

Heidegger says we have forgotten Being.

Strauss says we have forgotten the tradition of Esotericism.

Gendlin says we have forgotten the reality of implicit intricacy (or never known it).

For Heidegger this means we must recover a genuine understanding of  Being (as opposed to the beings, which are so well categorized and manipulated by modern science). When we recover Being we will recover authenticity and the experience of Being-in-the-world.

For Strauss this means we must recover the conflict between philosophy and politics, go back before Enlightenment harmonism and remember the real nature of philosophy as an expression of the ambivalence of human nature. This, too, seems to come along with its own form of authenticity.

For Gendlin this means recovering a sense of the more than formal nature of thinking: we must learn to "think beyond patterns," as one of his short books puts it. For Gendlin, too, this means rediscovering authenticity: we will recognize that being authentic or real never means being formal, but always means placing form in service of intricacy.

Arendt is right that all philosophies of history are an attempt to restore human contact with the world. We feel disconnected, estranged, disenchanted, alienated. She is right about all of them in this regard.

All these people posited a forgetting and the need for a recovery.

I am persuaded of some version of this project. I currently favor some synthesis of Strauss and Gendlin, but of course I think this would be a return to Being, as well.

I suppose I want to claim that approaching Being means approaching our particular way of being. 

Approaching our particular way of being means approaching the intertwining of our political-role identities and our deeper-intricate selves. Being is the being of both the esoteric-exoteric divide and the intricate-formal divide.

Eso-exo and intricate-formal are the same problem.

Both are the problem of this being that finds itself strangely open to Being.

Friday, December 9, 2022

The Unsaid and The Body - In Praise of Tomberlin

 Sarah Beth Tomberlin—who records songs simply as Tomberlin—is one of the most profound singer songwriters I have encountered in recent memory. Her debut album "At Weddings" is astonishing. The opening track "Any Other Way" has brought me to tears on more than one occasion. "I didn't know any other way..." she repeats over and over as the song closes. "You Are Here" and "Seventeen" are two other standout tracks on the standout album.

Her 2020 EP "Projections" filled out  her sound a bit more, moving beyond the spare guitars of her debut. Her most recent release, 2022's "I don't know who needs to hear this [idkwntht]" is fuller still with electric guitars, drums, and supporting musicians. My favorite song is "born again runner."

I have recently come to appreciate the depth of her song "unsaid." I reproduce the lyrics here in full:

"[Verse 1]
Left my home and a best friend
The places I could hide
For a city of six-lane highways
And lots of traffic lights
But I'm trying to grow roots here
Keep my feet on the ground
But sirens swim and circle
The shore that I have found

[Verse 2]
Well, it's only been a few months
And I can't tell the difference
Was I happy in the quiet?
All the open-handed distance
From the people and their parties
Where no one really talks
Distracting from the thought of you
And all those late night walks

'Cause if I don't call you up
Thеn I don't have to feel down
And if I don't say I miss you
Then you nevеr have to be around
If I don't say I love you
Then you don't have to love me
See how simple
The unsaid keeps things?

[Verse 3]
And Lucy gave me a reading
King of Cups and Queen of Wands
And in the middle, a perfect picture
Of everything I want

And I laugh 'cause it makes sense
But something leaves me feeling wrong
I know you're not a perfect picture
But my heart, it won't shut up

'Cause if I don't call you up
Then I don't have to feel down
And if I don't say I miss you
Then you never have to be around
If I don't say I love you
Then you don't have to love me
See how simple
The unsaid


I often say to myself, friends, or clients that the unsaid doesn't go away.


The unsaid goes into the body.


Tomberlin knows something like this, it seems. The song playfully invokes a problem that I and most people are familiar with: "If I don't say anything about it then what is the problem? The talking about it makes the problem, right? I don't want to make any trouble... I just won't say anything..."


"See how simple the unsaid keeps things?"

Life is complex prior to our speaking of it. Problems exist priour to our speaking of them.


Speaking of them, no doubt, clarifies them, raises them to a level of clarity, explicates them


But the problems are not linguistic inventions, and refusing to speak of them will not solve them. 

The many beings seem to have many problems without any words at all. 

Tomberlin knows that the unsaid doesn't solve anything. 

But it can keep things appearing simple...

It isn't until I came to write this essay that I realized she leaves the last line of the song... unsaid...

I'm listening to it now. 

"See how simple the unsaiiiiiidddddoooooohhhhhhh...."

She leaves the last line implied... Or the not finishing of the line implies.... something.....

Tomberlin leaves unsaid what I think is the implied conclusion of the song: not speaking of something does not make it go away.

I am working, slowly, on a paper I will present at a conference in the spring. It will be titled "Person, Body, Unconscious."

I will be working to redefine the unconscious in terms of incomplete body process.

The unconscious could be many things, but it is at least partly our lived awareness of the unsaid.

Our body implies symbols, instructs us in its hunger for the symbols that will develop and further our living in situtations.

Tomberlin understands much of this, it seems to me.

Thursday, December 1, 2022

A Note on What it Means to be 'Natural'

 I have been concertedly reflecting on the word nature in one way or another since 2015 or so. I read so much Collingwood, read so much about the distinction between nature and history (now nature and nurture for us), that the problem of nature should inevitably arise.

I was recently wasting time on the internet and came across this guy who calls himself a Tarzan Coach. We have been ignoring our animal side, he says. We should knuckle walk and climb trees, he claims.

I think this is not without value, but it seems misleading to me.

The other day I made this claim to a friend: "If we want to understand what it means to be natural, as a human being, then we need to rediscover the real power of speech."

This claim is predicated on the following presuppositions (in an unclear order):

1. The concept of nature can be applied to both living and non-living things

2. Naturalness with regards to living things is fundamentally about the capacities of a particular body. What is natural for a fish is not natural for a horse. 


3. All living bodies are chiefly defined by their ongoing processes. The caterpillar-becoming-butterfly must be understood as one process, despite the fact that it takes on radically different forms. The nature of that process, however, looks quite different: the caterpillar body has different natural capacities than the butterfly body. But this is, of course, also true of human bodies: the child body can do things that the mature body cannot, and same for the body of an elder (not an elderly person, but an elder, a wise older person, their body, too, is such that it is capable of things that the young body is not. Things, hopefully, like wisdom). 

4. All living bodies proceed via interaction with their environment. I am currently interacting with my chair by sitting on it, my keyboard by pushing buttons, and my tea by consuming it. 


5. For an animal to be natural is for it to find a way of interacting with its environment that further develops or carries forward its capacity. If you dropped an orangutan into the middle of the ocean, for example, it would certainly find ways to interact with that environment (probably mostly thrashing). But it would be absurd to say that the middle of the ocean is the proper way to carry forward or develop a body of that sort. 


6. The human body is like other animal bodies in that its naturalness is equivalent to its flourishing in interaction with an environment that is conducive with its development.


7. Living bodies range in their complexity so that being natural may look quite complex or quite simple. A protozoa or a plant doesn't have especially complicated potentialities. Therefore its naturalness is a simpler matter than ours.


8. Life proceeds via layering or pyramiding, so that what was needed at previous stages of bodily development is essentially still needed.


9. We are one of the most complexly layered creatures that we have observed, and our nature seems particularly difficult to understand. What is the right environment for the human being to interact with so that it will flourish? This is a deeply complicated question because we are the making animal who is capable of changing their environments more radically than the other animals (because the other animals of course build dams, nests, and all sorts of things). 


10. It is a mistake to identify naturalness with any component of a living process (such as neurology or physiology) or to claim that only the 'primitive' or early layers of development are natural. This is hard for us, our ability to modify the environment is so intense that we can posit ourselves as standing outside this order. But we do not need to claim that there is anything unnatural about culture, language, or symbols. Culture as a concept, of course, often stands in relation to the notion of nature, but this is a problem with our language, not reality.


11. The human capacity for speech, making, and political organization must be seen as just as natural as a fishes capacity for swimming or a gazelle's ability to leap. There is no need to deny naturalness to these capacities of our bodies.

So, then, I raise the question, why would I have to go back to 'monkey' in order to be natural? If naturalness is about an animal body actualizing its potentials in a conducive environment, then why would we think we need to actualize just those primitive layers we can share with others?

To make the point, would we say that a fish is less natural than the single celled organisms that it evolved out of? If a human being needs to 'return to monkey' to be natural, then why doesn't the monkey need to return to its evolutionary precursor?

The natural cannot be identified with the developmentally or temporally primitive

The human capacity for speech is in dire straits. We have been relegated to the lower layers of our nature by modern society: our nutritive/plant body, our behavioral body, and our symbolically augmented behavioral body. The deep, real capacity for speech, in which it changes things, moves situitions in real, concrete ways, this power has been hidden from us by the bureaucratic and industrial nature of modern society. Indeed, Hannah Arendt's The Human Condition recently made this painfully clear to me: Modern society is fundamentally behavioral, and we have lost the capacity for speech. (I recently wrote a blog post for my employer that covers this exact topic. My views, of course, are my own). 

To rediscover the naturalness of being human is to discover the power of speech. For only in the experience of speech, the deep and mysterious possibilities of speech, can we understand what it means to be fully human. In the power of speech we experience ourselves as both the animal with language and the political animal.


This does not mean I regard modernity or industrial society as natural or  good or okay. But it does mean that, somehow, this situation has been created by a body exercising its natural capacities in interaction with its environment.