I’ve been wary of the attempt to secure identity cohesion through aesthetic means ever since I read Carl Jung’s work on individuation. We are attracted to symbols of stability and cohesion because we think that symbolic unity will lend itself indirectly to our own psychological unity. The mandala, for example, is psychologically soothing to those seeking out more a more secure identity. Much in the same way we are attracted to symbolic equilibrium, our brain assumes that if the things that are near to us or clothe us or house us or transport us are clean, rigorously designed, meticulously organized, that somehow our identities will mimic those qualities. I love observing the implications of this effect in myself and others…
We are things that labor under the illusion of having a self, this accretion of sensory experience and feelings, programmed with total assurance that we are each somebody, when in fact everybody’s nobody. – Rust Cohle, True Detective
I met a traveller from an antique land,
Who said—“Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed;
And on the pedestal, these words appear:
My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings;
Look on my Works, ye Mighty, and despair!
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal Wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
BY PERCY BYSSHE SHELLEY
Feeling like I just coursed through the primordial caves of caveman fame, ascending all the way to the rarefied air of creator gods, I triumphantly lay down my conquered copy of Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind to seek yet another spiritual vista. Well, figuratively laid down; I listened mostly on audiobook, but “I emphatically tapped the pause button for the last time on my certified WhisperSync™ Audible Android app” just doesn’t have the same gravitas. Seriously, this book was such a trip, a journey, a trek through some of the most quintessentially human subjects and experiences that I now feel a totally new kinship with our species. It’s a wonderful review and synthesis of some of the most interesting and promising theories found within the anthropological canon, founding nonstop interdisciplinary forays into the realms of biology, psychology, political science, and pretty much any other realm you can imagine. Continue reading
Question: What if our understanding of coherence needs a makeover?
Is clean writing a myth? In a discussion about David Foster Wallace the other day, I am left to wonder whether a person who, lacking in the accouterments and support systems of a professional writer, should hold themselves to the same standards as someone whose entire network of habits and attitudes is geared to the task? After all, I’m a first-year teacher who is already spending way too much time tarrying over these kinds of concerns anyway. Yet, I am human, I do think deeply about things, and I do wish to discuss things at more length than Facebook or Snapchat make available. In contrast with most people in my culture, I feel that it is a civic obligation for me to do so. At the same time though, as someone associated with writing as a craft and process, I do feel ashamed when my writing doesn’t uphold those traditional conventions of style and quality that we so like to emphasize in our critical appraisals. I think, at this point, I’m willing to sacrifice those quality standards and conventions for the sake of being able to say something, at least, whatever its level of quality.
I think this attitude discouraging humble, blue-collar discourse, whether shared by others or simply a figment of my own imagination, is dangerous — the idea that, if our words do not meet a certain quality or thoroughness, they should not be uttered at all. I think this is a convenient development in favor of the powers-that-be that dissuades the common person from being able to speak a mind and take part in the important discursive issues of his or her day. I think we should say what we can, when we can, take pride that we have tried, and actively appreciate the same efforts when they are taken by others. This aversion to discourse pairs well with our sense of anti-intellectual suspicion in America, and our sense that these types of political or philosophical matters shouldn’t be tackled by the average citizen, but only by those “qualified” in their respective academic echelons. How tidy and oligarchical a development. Continue reading