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On Analysis

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 18/02/2020 - 10:08pm in

Seven or so years ago, near the beginning of my analysis, I explained to my analyst, after some frustrating experiences, how important it was to me that they always engage with the actual content of what I was saying. I took a huge amount of care in expressing myself – choosing exactly the right words, multiplying distinctions in order to communicate with laser precision – and I didn’t want to be ‘interpreted’ before the letter of what I was saying had been fully attended to....Those seven or so years ago, when I implored my analyst to take me at my word, it was, almost needless to say, only the first way, according to which it contrasts with “spirit,” that I had in mind. Two or three years after that, well into the analysis, I was becoming more comfortable and more curious. The tight control over my words – the only real power I could exert to protect myself and ensure the analysis did not unleash anything too scary – came to feel constricting, even suffocating...

 At the end I exclaimed “I’d like to go back to that injunction I made right at the start. Please make an effort to engage with the letter of what I am saying before trying to hear what is unsaid.” To which they replied, with some, subsequently confessed, hyperbole: “You do realize that is literally the exact opposite of what I’m supposed to be doing?!” (One reason to think that the designation of psychoanalysis as “the Jewish science” may be misleading.) In some sense, of course, what they said is obvious. They are listening for what is unconscious, which is unlikely to be found in the obsessively-controlled language that I wield almost like a weapon. But it startled me nonetheless and I decided to write this post to help work through it.--Simon J. Evnine "For the letter kills, but the spirit gives life"

One recurring fascination is the common root of 'analysis' in analytical philosophy that it shares with the 'analysis' in psychoanalysis. I sometimes wonder why analyse and its cognates had such pull over late nineteenth and early twentieth century (Viennese and Cambridge) minds. I was reminded of this by Simon Evnine who regularly calls my attention to his blog, "The Parergon." I hope he does not mind too much being the trigger occasion for these impressions. I treat him here as the everyman of analytic philosophy in which all of us can be substituted into his place, opaque contexts be damned!

It is noticeable that Simon treats his precision and "care in expressing" in terms of a "weapon." Even when used in self-defense, weapons are explicitly designed to hurt others.* I have noted before (recall) the analytic philosopher's tendency to describe the toolkit of her  craft in terms of surgical (and laser-like) instruments, but in those instances the instruments are meant to heal. Of course, Simon's intent is not to hurt others, but self-protection ("the only real power I could exert to protect myself.")+ 

I do not know a better expression of the fragility at the root of much analytic philosophy. Any badly formulated phrase is a misstep of monumental proportions. The robustness of the whole collapses with the weakest link. This fragility is fueled by "frustrating experiences." Once primed by psychoanalysis, it's hard not to discern the dependent child here. 

I do not mean to suggest that the analytic philosopher's attitude toward rigor  and clarity only expresses fragility. One may as well -- and here I am inspired by Simon's "extravagant letteralism" -- read it as pure holiness (recall here on Carnap). After all, a Torah scroll is disqualified if even a single letter is added or a single letter is deleted. Every sign must be correct. 

A few days ago a lovely blog post by Liam Kofi Bright inspired me to reflect a bit on what the norms of analytic philosophy would have to be if we "conceived of conceptual engineering as a means to enter into lifeworlds of others." I asserted that the non-dominating way of doing so requires a willingness to be transformed by the experience. What I missed saying explicitly then, and I suspect this omission (recall) is part of my professional deformation, is that one cannot (non-dominatingly) enter into the the lifeworld of another without, as Simon shows without saying, being vulnerable.

 

*Perhaps the memetic repetition-image of Batman slapping Robin inspired this thought.

+In practice, the toolkit is also deployed to advance careers and schools.

Amy Olberding on Politeness and (Individual and Social) Anger

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 16/01/2020 - 7:19am in

Not letting fly with an uncivil rebuke also means I cannot as readily from such encounters---to stay civil is, more often to stay engaged. By trying to be well-disposed toward others, I try to preserve social connection, even when doing so is displeasing, alienating, and terrible. The defiant optimism underwriting this resolve would have me hold out hope that we will all be better for making such efforts, that we can find some fellow feeling, some scrap of shared humanity that will enable better (or at least not worse) forms of shared life. Amy Olberding (2019) The Wrong of Rudeness: LEarning Modern Civility from Ancient Chinese Philosophy, p. 152 (emphasis in original).

While I very much like Amy Olderding's internet persona, I was a bit apprehensive about reading her book. I had been convinced by Johnson and Kaziarian (remember NewAPPS?) that civility policing was a means for the powerful to police the vulnerable while they (the powerful) could simultaneously ignoring the real harms emanating from micro-aggressions (see here Bejan on Hobbes) and other forms of incitement by way of (to quote Mill, recall here and here) vituperative speech.

I was, thus, worried that Olberding's book would celebrate the virtues of decorum and thereby lecture others on how to play nice. Even so, I was also predisposed to like the book because I am committed to the idea that if there is any idea worth preserving from the nexus of practices and ideological concepts connected to the word 'civilization' that we, qua public facing philosophers, should keep the conversation, including silences and long-stutters, going.

From the start, Olberding disarms the reader by presenting herself as prone to rudeness, even enjoying it. And she also explicitly recognizes that in particular personal and political circumstances, "sometimes incivility will be the best course" even if, in a humane agent, "it will be tinged with regret and distress." (151) Sometimes incivility or righteous anger is the only response that accords with our own dignity and sense of injustice, even if we know that "abandoning good manners, of failing to try to be police, will magnify many social ills and inequalities." (46) There are plenty of tragic circumstances, where all options are subpar. So, I did not find much to disagree in the book, and much astuteness. In what follows, I reflect on a minor thread that runs through her argument.

One way Olberding understands anger is as a species of truth-telling. And so hiding anger is a means of disguising from others what we really feel. We become inauthentic. In addition, such self-policing can have two costly effects. First, it can take real self-undermining effort at psychological self-management in internalizing anger.  By contrast, as Olberding notes "deliberate rudeness provides the chance to set down the taxing burden of hiding what I really think or feel." (2) I return to this in the next paragraph. Second, by not making (to use language from Hume and Adam Smith) one's resentment felt at some social harm one can have a non-trivial negative impact on regulating norms of justice. Since justice is one of the few social institutions devoted to truth disguising or hiding it can can undermine its functioning. This is why I largely agree with Srinivasan's defense of righteous anger.

Now, Olberding notes that "to be polite...entails getting good at managing an internal economy of attention." (32) This is hard work and requires imitation and practice such that it becomes habitual. That is to say, in addition for there to be a social pay-off (in keeping conversation going, and creating possibility of fellow feeling), politeness has a personal pay-off: one becomes, as it were, better at concentrating, especially concentrating on  what really matters to oneself. (This can be articulated in terms of efficiency; but despite the use of 'economy' and Olberding's decision to treat "attention as a kind of currency," (32) I don't think that fits Olberding's confucian framework.) The key point is that attention is a scarce good, and that to maintain and focus it requires considerable skill.

There is something very important lurking here. But to unearth it means we need to challenge the idea that anger is fundamentally a form of truth-telling (although it can be that). A psychoanalytic commonplace is that anger or frustration is a way to disguise from oneself other uncomfortable feelings or an instance of what the freudians call displacement. I find this thought a useful starting point whenever I need to calm down or have managed to calm down from my anger or frustration! One does not have to buy into much of psychoanalysis to see that this can be a plausible mechanism in many circumstances, personal and political.So, anger then is not itself a form of truth-telling although it can be a significant clue for the existence of other problems (this idea can be found in Machiavelli, too). 

As the nod to Machiavelli implies this is not just an individual issue. The whole business model of contemporary social media and news organizations is to habitually induce anger in order to capture your eye balls. The economy of attention is guided by the skillful manipulation of our reactive attitudes without providing opportunity to (learn to) manage their proportionality with regard to their causes and the possible effects. The cumulative effect is a debilitating and infantile public culture.  

When anger is a (voluntary or involuntary) mechanism to disguise from oneself what one feels, it also prevents intimacy or connectedness with others. So, it can be a form of self-undermining at the individual or personal level. Insert your favorite saying of Yoda here. Of course, lecturing somebody who is angry that by being angry they are self-undermining socially or politically can be infuriating, especially when the causes of such anger are conveniently ignored!

The previous paragraphs are not really a criticism of Olberding. Because what she points to is that the practice of individual and social politeness is, in addition to some other benefits, a means to making space for allowing the sources of one's anger and frustration to become transparent to one's personal and social self/selves. So, politeness can be a means to facilitate norms and practices that are truth conductive. It is also, thus, a means of reorienting our attention to more skillful and wiser agency. 

 

Magic Movie Moments

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 11/02/2016 - 11:35am in

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comic, freud

Magic Movie Moments

The post Magic Movie Moments appeared first on Dead Philosophers in Heaven.