psychomime

Internal states and the noises they make

I have this thing going with the guy in the basement suite. It’s entirely chaste, but I think — I hope — it’s a mutually satisfying exchange.

I live in the magnificent shack in the back yard, but I do my laundry in the entryway to the basement suite in the main house. The suite is a strange knocked-together labyrinth with two bathrooms,s created by fusing a pair of existing suites. Tenancy changes over every six to twelve months. Right now there’s a young guy — an astronomer, I think? Physicist? He told me, but I forget. He has science books lined up on his windowsills (at ankle height from outside). I’ve run into him once or twice and he seems affable, funny.

Once or twice his laundry’s been in the dryer when I needed to use it, as will happen. Instead of cramming all of his laundry higgledy-piggledy onto the small stand next to the dryer, which act seems a little hostile, I use a trick I learned from a tenant in my last building: I fold his clothes.

I don’t fold his underwear. My feeling is that you don’t want to think about your middle-aged neighbor folding your underwear (unless you do, but I feel confident he doesn’t). Instead, I pile it unobtrusively on the towels and put everything else on top of it like, “Oh, was there underwear here? I didn’t even notice it.” I think these things through. Still, it must be disconcerting to arrive home (or wake up) and find your laundry ghost-folded.

The day after I first folded his laundry, I found taped to the dryer a Ziploc bag with “THANKS” written on it in Sharpie and a five-dollar bill inside.

It seems to me that five dollars is exactly the right amount to create symmetrical confusion between us. Well calculated, Science Guy.

I left the money in place for several days, but he didn’t take it back. Finally I took it, because, well, five dollars. I went to the store, bought some stain remover, and put it in the laundry room with a sticky note that said “FOR COMMUNAL USE”.

Yesterday I again had occasion to remove his laundry and fold it. I am learning some good tricks, like the way you can let the shirt drop against your knee, quickly fold the sleeves in, and then double it over, all in one movement. Very satisfying.

Later that same day: another baggie, another five dollars. This time I bought some Febreeze.

I hope he’s enjoying this as much as I am.

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Preface to the Preface

I’m in search of a scholarly (ish) book (or even better, an actual scholar) concerning the subject of prefaces — their history, use, qualities as a genre.

I have one article: “Towards a Taxonomy of the Preface” by Steven Tötösy de Zepetnek.

Thoughts? Other leads?

[Semi-cross-posted from the Other Blog]

The difference between the feeling of something and the thing itself

I told a friend of mine I believed in something like authenticity — not as an absolute statement of your True Being — but in the form of honesty about whether a thing feels good to you or it doesn’t. Yet this feeling about the thing, of course, is not actually evidence of the thing’s value, and that’s been haunting me ever since.

I was thinking in particular about gender identity and how weird and off it feels to me when someone gives a social reason for adopting an identity, rather than an internally felt one — saying, for example, that they owed it to other people to perform a particular gender identity — and I know, gender is constructed, it’s a surface we believe to be an interior, etc., I know all that — yet still my impulse is that identity should be about the feeling and not about an abstract social goal, however laudable the goal — but maybe I am wrong. The feeling is not more true than the goal. Just more concrete — and I guess inasmuch as I trust anything, I trust this organism that I am to send me signals about what is good for me, more than I trust other people, or even social movements whose goals I generally believe in, to do that. I feel like I owe my actions to the world, but not my sense of self — wherever it came from, however constructed, it’s mine now.

I believe that somatic/emotional experience has content, or rather I feel that I believe that somatic/emotional experience has content.

All of this from a conversation we had after the conference, before she had to travel home. I was tired by then and crashing post-paper.

(partial cross-post from the Other Journal)

Theory sometimes reads as though the mind is infinitely malleable and undifferentiated, an immaterial substance with the properties of water, spirit, or putty — or else as though the entities and processes Freud or Lacan named were the last ones to be of use to the theorist.

Yet this is not the case — or at the very least, proceeding on the premise that this is not the case may produce some interesting thought experiments. Mind is a property of the material processes of the brain. Mind has structure, even if this structure is invisible from within the experience of being a mind/body.

This need not be an invitation to determinism (I am going to have to make a determinism caveat page, since I will say this so often.)

Thought has limitations of speed, for example. There is a measurable lag between a moment and our perception of that moment.

I won’t be able to accommodate scientific ideas well — my understanding will always be a popular one — but a goal of mine is at least to take some of the ideas being generated about the brain, about perception and sensation and mind/body experience — and see what happens.

There was never any more beginning than there is now (part 2)*

I have to start somewhere, so I’m going to start with Walt Whitman. Every beginning is already flawed, partial, compromised. This one is like that too.

I too had receiv’d identity by my body,
That I was I knew was of my body, and what I should be I knew I should be of my body.
(“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” 60-61)

These ideas came in large part from a great conversation today about Whitman and two of his poems — “Song of Myself” and “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” — with a poetry discussion group I recently joined. Also from my preparation for said group, when I realized that “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” was much weirder than I’d remembered.

Creeds and schools in abeyance,
Retiring back a while sufficed at what they are, but never forgotten,
I harbor for good or bad, I permit to speak at every hazard,
Nature without check with original energy
(“Song of Myself” 10-13)

In this latter quote, Whitman sets Nature against Culture, and imagines that he can be free of culture by an act of will — either a physical act of movement, like leaving the city for the wilderness, or an internal, emotional shift.

If we agree that Whitman cannot do this, that once in culture he can never be out of it again, can we also agree that something interesting can still be happening here, beyond a mere disavowal of the unavoidable condition of the subject? There is that, yes — and what else is there? What is this Nature, if it isn’t, in fact, nature?

When Walt writes of his soul, when he writes of his self, and when he writes of Nature, it seems to me that in each case he is speaking of the same thing: ecstatic sensory experience.** When I break down my own idea of “self” (which, cannily, my supervisor insisted that I do) I see that I mean much the same thing that Whitman means. I mean pleasure. I mean the experience of ecstatic embodied pleasure.

The real or fancied indifference of some man or woman I love,
The sickness of one of my folks or of myself, or ill-doing or loss or lack of money, or depressions or exaltations
Battles, the horrors of fratricidal war, the fever of doubtful news, the fitful events;
These come to me days and nights and go from me again,
But they are not the Me myself.
 
Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am,
Stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary,
Looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest,
Looking with side-curved head curious about what will come next,
Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.
(“Song of Myself,” 70-79)

For Whitman, at least in these poems, the self is pleasure, and suffering is outside of the self, something to be endured but not incorporated into identity. Cultivate detachment in the face of suffering, he advises, but plunge into pleasure. I think I’ll have to think about suffering differently, since suffering also shapes our sense of ourselves — our sense of our senses, in fact — of our bodies, even our pleasures and what they mean to us.

“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” is so powerful because it almost fails. Whitman strives and strives to make a link from himself in the embodied moment of the poem to his future readers, “fifty years hence… a hundred years hence.” Yet he is wrong in almost every detail. As readers we cannot experience the Brooklyn and Manhattan he knew — not materially. Yet Whitman also succeeds. He succeeds in language. His language, his control of image and sound, is so powerful that he makes us feel what he felt. He makes himself almost palpably present:

Closer yet I approach you,
What thought you have of me now, I had as much of you — I laid in my stores in advance,
I consider’d long and seriously of you before you were born,
….
What is more subtle than this which ties me to the woman or man that looks in my face?
Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you?
(“Crossing Brooklyn Ferry” 86-88, 96-97)

Lacan would say he acts in the Symbolic order of language to trigger the Real of our bodily, emotional response. And this is so, and yet there is more to be said.

I, too, will do this work in language, because language is what I have to reach you with. I realize the irony of this, and the claim it makes available — that all I can do here is generate signs that refer to one another, that in the end I will have said nothing at all about embodiment except as language constrains it.

All I can do about that is attend to my conviction — a bodily, emotional conviction as much as an intellectual one — that this is not true — and hope that I’m right.


*You may recognize this title as a corruption of a line from “Song of Myself.” The original is “There was never any more inception than there is now,” but I didn’t feel like making a reference to the film Inception or its ideas, although I did enjoy it as a movie. Same reason I won’t be using the word “matrix” very often, even though it’s a useful word.

** M. of the poetry group made this link to the reference to Nature here. I’ll credit her by full name if she permits it.

There was never any more beginning than there is now (part 1)

I am hoping I can make this blog work like a mobile — an assortment of moving parts that shift against each other to create new patterns — and also that I can make it textile, capable of being woven.

The purpose of this particular textile mobile is to explore some ideas about embodied identity. Specifically, the conviction that embodiment is a more complicated entity than a reflection of subject-position; that it is a multi-layered and dynamic phenomenon; that somatic (bodily, sensory) experience is not only constituted by symbolic experience but also constitutive of it and often in excess of it — and (for some reason this is the more difficult bit to argue) that this can and should be talked about.

Embodied identity is specific as well as categorical. We say something important, something invaluable, when we say that each body is governed by a subject-position, the construct in language that governs how we position ourselves in the world. Yet by doing so we have not said everything interesting or important about embodiment.

This investigation is additive, not substitutive. I am trying to expand the number and kinds of things it is useful to say about embodiment, not to replace one set of terms with another.

These arguments will draw often and haphazardly from French feminist theorists — Kristeva’s concept of the chora, Irigaray’s sex-which-is-not-one — the arguments that follow from them, like Deleuze and Guattari’s becoming-woman — and the theorists that precede them, primarily the grumpy old obfuscator himself, Lacan. These arguments also draw on ideas from popular neuroscience to try to reframe some of the structural assumptions that underlie a particular image of subjectivity. I am not a scientist, though. In my effort to open up a little theoretical space for myself, I will often get it wrong.

Because this is a thorny topic (possibly a topic composed entirely of thorns) and because I am both scrupulous and insecure, there will be many caveats, which I will attempt to organize in separate entries so that they can be referred to at ease by way of annotations. Same with definitions of myriad terms from High Theory, including some I have made up.

In Which a Book Arrives and We Wrestle with Nomenclature

About the blog’s title, which was accidental or at least serendipitous: I was searching for a blog name that wasn’t already taken. Phenom: taken. ThePhenom: taken. Phenomenoumenon: surprisingly, taken. Or maybe I just thought better of that one.

I tried abbreviating to something catchy and vaguely reminiscent of altered-consciousness memoirs like Pikhalphenomime. To my surprise, phenomime was also taken, which meant that I had to look up what it might actually mean.

Phenomimes and psychomimes turn out to be categories of sound symbolism. Phenomimes imitate sense data through sound. Psychomimes depict internal psychic states. Since such a distinction is exactly the sort of idea we’ll be thinking about — at least I think it is — Score.

Currently, the information comes from Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sound_symbolism, which is intriguing but brief. I’ll see if I can find some better sources.