Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Why Things Matter, When They Do

I woke up this morning with this idea: there are three fundamental interrelated reasons why things matter – why we pay attention to them at all. They’re interesting and they’re dangerous and they’re beautiful. 

Actually what I woke up remembering was how enthrallingly whomped I was by my first encounter with Freud, whose work I started reading – when? 1989, I think (jeez, could that have been 27 years ago?) when I began my extended moment, through the early ‘90s, of attending Shrink School (The Center for Modern Psychoanalysis, a training institute for psychoanalysts). Reading Freud caused my continents to shift.

Far from dismissing his theories as antiquated or irrelevant the way so many others seemed bent on doing, I was completely won over by his audacity: inventing a fresh vocabulary to explain, or at least attempt to explain, why human beings behaved as they did: terms which really turned the prism on how we think about how we think. I fell on his language like a starving tiger falls on prey. It wasn’t so much a matter of believing I’d found ‘the truth’ about anything – I mean I was already in my forties and I’d developed most of what our culture holds to be a requisite skepticism about any claims to ‘truth’ – that everything was a matter of perceptual relativity. But, whatever the final verdict on their genesis or efficacy might turn out to be, Freud made the ingenuity of our self-protective & -defining strategies seem inarguable and gave us new less charged ways (beyond reflexive moral condemnation) to start to talk about them: those endlessly inventive mental shenanigans we conjure up for skewing our thoughts, feelings, points-of-view, attractions and repulsions so that they became either more bearable or more beautiful or more persuasive – or all of the above. Look what Freud said dreams do! Superego vs Id wrestled in sleep like dark angels until Ego woke up and wrestled with both of them in waking consciousness. It was like the Christian Trinity gone mad. We wrestled with our wishes (battling varieties of mostly unconscious ambivalence) all the time.

That seemed about right. 

Although I’ve long since fallen off that – or any – single ideological bandwagon, not so much because none of them persuades absolutely as because it’s no fun to limit yourself to one doorway into the odd infinity of the mind, I still think the sense of human ingenuity in reconfiguring “reality” I got from Freud is spot-on. That ingenuity is unendingly interesting to me.

“Interesting” may seem a colorless word: but to me it’s full of power. If something truly interests, it absorbs you in a flash: curiosity is ignited, extraordinary prospects await. If people are interesting, they’re interesting in every dimension, including the psychoanalytic (with its attempted deep dive into the dynamics of what makes them ‘run’). Happily, the catholicity of true interest, the all-encompassing curiosity it engenders, can free psychoanalytic terms from their supposed therapeutic purpose, to be enjoined instead as part of an almost esthetic investigation into the nature of what makes the person miraculous: unique – and therefore, in my view, beautiful. Of course Alphonse is caught in an Oedipal web: the particulars of which create such a strange intricacy in his life, balancing the bewildering tugs of his opera singer mother and his circus acrobat father, each of whom he alternately loves and hates. He’d never eat a prune in his life, so dependent was his constipated mother on them, and don’t get him going about his father’s rank post-circus sweat! – sometimes he felt like Lady Macbeth trying to wash even the memory of that taint off himself. (Damn that it turned him on.)

But when you wonder about what’s going on with and in Alphonse – after you’ve managed to drop assumptions that any of this is a problem, or that Alphonse needs to be “fixed” – you’re inviting yourself to look at his inner ‘scape’ with brighter less inhibited sight: not so much non-judgmentally (we depend on our judgment for sense and direction) as full of a freer and finally more pleasurable discernment, more to do with form than with pathology. Indeed, 'interesting' no longer is a euphemism (as it reflexively can be in American minds) for pathology, to which the only conscionable reaction is "fix it." There’s no reason to fix Alphonse because there’s nothing wrong with him. There’s nothing wrong with anybody.

“Dangerous” matters in some obvious ways. Look out for that gun! But a kind of danger always invades and infuses the Interesting too. As dispassionate as 'esthetic investigation' may seem as a phrase, it ushers us into impenetrable darkness no less than if we were inspecting it for what was wrong with it. If Keats is right, and beauty and truth are interchangeable, oh my – what a many-splendored conundrum of darkness and light life becomes! Indeed the 'shadows' to be found here are more harrowing because they require they require looking at whole. They’re part of the template of being. How much can we bear to see? Think of the danger in that. And the beauty of its inimitability – a beauty which transcends any facile notion of surface appeal.

The Interesting and the Dangerous and the Beautiful. Sounds like an awkward title for a soap opera. (Right after The Young and the Restless and the Boring.)

Anyway, welcome to what it’s like to wake up from, to and as me. Wheee!


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