Friday, May 6, 2016

That Shape Am I

I've come to think there's a sort of staticky chaos irrevocably in the center of the human psyche which we each know privately more than anyone else ever will - not least because we hide it at all costs: it's too anarchic, unacceptable, monstrous: it is completely oblivious and remains forever immune to our most cherished, foregone notions of reason or decency or ideology. It is therefore untouched & perhaps untouchable, but it does touch us, and exists because we do: it's not a kind of autism persisting defiantly in face of the 'human.' No, it in some ways makes the human, if not the 'human' we like to acknowledge. Like Freud's imaginary Id, to talk about it at all (like trying to name God) is always to miss it.. However although it cannot be tamed or altered, knows only its own explosive force & substance, it takes place in us, and may be the most intimate dimension of consciousness we know.

But it is horrifying; we guard it like a terrible secret. It is the thing that wakes us at 3 a.m. in a deep state of bewilderment - out of gravity and time, beyond form; it's the swizzlesnitch that for a moment makes us want to murder the redhaired woman in front of us in the post office line. I think William James probably knew what this was better than anybody - maybe  his whole family did (since they each seemed to have kindred separate experiences of its horror - Henry Sr. called his a "vastation"): to me it's suggested by William James who reconstituted in his Principles of Psychology his own terrible experience of a 'presence' into the form of a mad man in a French asylum. Referenced here from an article about James in the New York Review of Books ("The Most Entertaining Philosopher" - ):

'...when suddenly there fell upon me without any warning, just as if it came out of the darkness, a horrible fear of my own existence. Simultaneously there arose in my mind the image of an epileptic patient whom I had seen in the asylum, a black-haired youth with greenish skin, entirely idiotic…. He sat there like a sort of sculptured Egyptian cat or Peruvian mummy, moving nothing but his black eyes and looking absolutely non-human. This image and my fear entered into a species of combination with each other.That shape am I, I felt, potentially. Nothing that I possess can defend me against that fate, if the hour for it should strike for me as it struck for him.
After this glimpse into the horror rerum, James writes, “the universe was changed for me altogether” and he was left with “a sense of the insecurity of life that I never knew before, and that I have never felt since.” Somewhat surprisingly, perhaps, he concluded by professing to believe that “this experience of melancholia of mine had a religious bearing.”
He was not the first in his family to be thus afflicted....'
Why do I feel I have to jump in now and say this is not a negative thing? It's so centrally part of what existence smells and tastes like.
So that's my eve-of-my-65th-birthday news.

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