Monday, April 23, 2007

I think, therefore I suffer

I love the company of young children, they live in the eternal now.

It is a comfort beyond words for someone such as myself, plagued as I am by an internal monologue of existential awareness, continuously, incessantly, relentlessly.

Within young children, there is cognitive awareness of self, and of the world, and of others, and of issues, and of feelings and emotions, but it is a non-speculating cognition, where one now follows another.

It is not always happiness, I am not blind to the suffering of childhood.

But it is still the paradise we lose when the speculative existential awareness sets in, where "I am, and I am, and I am, and I am" is replaced by "I have been, I am, I will be, and I will cease to be" - from which there is a short step only to "I think, therefore I am" - and there you have it, thinking overtakes existing-being, and man is pierced by his intellect like a worm on a fishhook, wriggling, writhing, suffering, helpless, able only to perceive his condition, unable to just be.

I believe this also to be the reason why the company of a pet dog is such a joy and a comfort - the possibility to share in the eternal now of another, intelligent, joyful species.


Reading the Signs said...

Living with an animal (mine is a cat) has been a revelation to me. I sometimes think of the words of a certain native american chief (seattle?) who, warning against the indiscriminate shooting of buffalo, said that if all the animals in the world were killed, man would die of loneliness of spirit. Our evolved consciousness comes at a price - to be thinking creatures, always at one remove. Cue - reference to importance of heightened sexual experience. But we have covered that in your previous post, I think.

Anna MR said...

Yes, dear Signsy, this post is obviously a development of our previous conversations "down there". I knew you'd spot it - I felt it deserved a post of its own. Also, we can start another deep delve here, should we so desire.

I am with Seattle. I remember hearing/reading that quote before, but it wasn't in my active memory - thank you for bringing it up in your comment.

The Moon Topples said...

Anna: Please do not forget the sage words of the sailor/philosopher Popeye, who said "I am what I am and that's all that I am."

Well, technically, he said "I yam whadd I yam..." but the spirit remains true, even to those of us who are three-dimensional and only eat a normal amount of spinach.

Anna MR said...

Ah, trust you, Mr Moon, to (gently or otherwise) nudge me back down from the over-flighty heights I sometimes reach for. How very healthy for me.

Popeye is called Kippari-Kalle in his Finnish incarnation.

Reading the Signs said...

I remember something that went
"I stand on the streeple and pee on the people, I'm Popeye the sailor man (peep peep)"

You didn't really need to know that, did you? I'm just showing off, sorry.

nmj said...

For me, it would be the company of a cat, I had one growing up for sixteen years, but it has never been practical to have one since. To have no anxieties, to just be fed and stroked and leap around on the vegetable patch & chase your tail, I could do that, I think it would be enough.

happeningfish said...

Ah, it's so nice when everything is summed up simply.

Got an hour? I think you would love, LOVE this lecture (I'm getting close to memorizing it by now):
Alan Watts on What Is

Anna MR said...

Dear Fish - I haven't an hour right now (you know what it's like) but I have bookmarked the link and shall listen to it as soon as I can. If it comes with your recommendation, it's going to be worth it...

(Incidentally, have decided that "Ah, it's so nice when everything is summed up simply " refers to my post - so therefore, thank you.)

Signs - et tu, Brutus. Don't you start on bloody Popeye, he was never a big fave of mine...although I am very partial to spinach. Even though it's good for me. (Remember, I was brought up to be a literary snob.)

NMJ - I had a cat too, for decades (remember him, black, wild, intelligent, used to suck his tail?) and have consequently always had myself down as a cat person. I have, however, had one dog, too, whom I had to leave behind at one of my life wrenches (it was horrible). I don't know if it's just the cats I've had, but the whole joy of existing in the now is, in my view, better expressed by the dog. My first cat was possibly too highly existentially-cognitive-aware for an animal, and has left me feeling that way about the species in general.

It's a bit like the other thing I said, my big love in the field of the arts (literature) doesn't at the end of the day give me the full-on existential shock experience that other art forms sometimes reach. Literature seems - to me - rather to talk about it, explain it, allow me to feel like someone else has experienced it too - maybe there's an analogy to cats and dogs there.

Who knows.

Matti said...

anna, i have to say my first instinct was to disagree with your post. not all of it, just the bit about consciousness-as-pain being a markedly human trait.

if you look at culture, especially capital-C Culture, that's what it looks to be about: cerebral dramatics about the human condition. strindberg and helium. of course! that's what drama and especially literature do best. but i don't know that such things play much of a significant role in the real lives of most people. i think the "tragic man skewered on his very consciousness" rap really describes a particular personality type more than anything. and it's almost certainly more prevalent in the contemporary west, where we've (amazingly) depersonalized the vessels we use to traffic culture.

but then i saw that that's all just philosophical wankery and that what you actually did was you managed to put something essential into a number of really strong words, and i'll just choose to appreciate that instead.

also, here's a challenge for you: if you listen to the alan watts podcast h. fish pointed out upthread, and if you can look me in the eye and say it wasn't anything special, i will buy you a drink. lie if you want to: let's see if you can do that with a straight face. it IS that good.

today's captcha word: "aunmpw". universal for "help, i've been gagged and locked in a supplies closet"

charnel doze said...

‘The whole joy of existing in the now.’ Could someone please tell that to my angst-stricken cat? Even our cats are on antidepressants – now there’s the state of the contemporary west for you!

Anna MR said...

matti - hello. I am v. glad you decided to appreciate what I had to say - it was, as you probably realised, written from a totally subjective point of view - this is how I experience life, and you understanding that I wasn't being hoity-toity or something does feel good. I get the shame quite easily when I attempt saying something on this level.

I don't actually disagree with your criticism of this state of affairs being a typically modern-affluent-Western dilemma, rather than inherent in the human condition. I am sure as our great-grandparents ate tree bark, their existential angst could take the back seat in the face of actual fight for survival, for instance. The individualism of modern man is for sure a contributary cause to this suffering, too - I have allowed myself to be told that medieval man, for instance, would've viewed his entire existence from a completely different angle, as a small part in an unfalteringly organised whole. However, I think there's also plenty of evidence (literature, yes) of this existential angst being something people have felt, say, in (obvious example) Shakespeare's time. But you are right, and I am right too, which is a pretty cool state of affairs.

I shall listen to that lecture as soon as I can, not because I want to dislike it (or be bought a drink) but because it comes now doubly recommended...

Charnel, honey, I have said what I have to say about your cat's problems. Just to recap - he wants his nads back, and then he wants a girlfriend. I wonder if that could be seen as analogous to the problems of Modern Man?

The Moon Topples said...

Just popping by to remind you and your readers about the GBA(s)FC #2, which kicks off May 1st over on my blog. Hope to see you there.

Sorry to post off-topic.

Anna MR said...

Mr MahtMoon - I have had this horrendous feeling I owe you a bit of an apology, for the whole week now. Are you ready for it? I am sorry. I was cranky and short and out of order in my reply to your Popeye comment.

Allow me to explain myself fully. I am not a big fan of comic books (although I did read Donald Duck (in his Finnish incarnation Aku Ankka, he is huge in Finland) and Tintin in my childhood, and I do confess to reading this off-the-wall three-four-framer on Helsingin Sanomat, the big Finnish daily - it is called "Viivi ja Wagner", and chronicles the life and times of a very established couple, a woman and a pig in black shorts).

(where the hell was I)

So, yes. I am not a big fan of comic books, and I have an insanely high level of personal shame production about my thoughts, my opinions, my writing, about me. So this silly ditty I wrote (under which we currently are, reading and commenting) just happened to be something I felt importantly about, and consequently, it was a huge potential source of shame. Your Popeye remark, esteemed Chicagoite, just came at a bad moment, when it seemed aimed to expose my attempt to tease out into words something I thought fundamental as a load of old pompous platitudes (which is what it probably is/was). I got (hideously) ashamed of my almighty pomposity, and this caused me to lash out in such an impolite and unfriendly manner.

Again - I do apologise. I hope we're alright now.

Onto your invitation, herra Kuu. GBA(s)FC #2, I believe, is a short-story writing competition that you run. Now please, don't get me wrong. I know many people like taking part in these things and that certainly people who wish to publish something have to develop the ability to allow other people to read their writing. But Maht - I am not a writer. I just blog. I haven't anything to contribute to a competition of this sort - of any sort, in fact, the reason being I cannot abide being in a competitive situation. It is horrible, to me. The horror, the horror. This is something that is very inherent in me, has been since childhood. And given the very high levels of shame I derive from my writing (let alone putting it out onto public domain), the mere thought of entering a writing competition on public domain fills me with an anxious sweatiness that is the precursor, for me, of a neurotic vortex attack.

This, of course, doesn't mean I am not flattered by you thinking of me as a potential contestant. Thank you, that is a nice compliment, particularly given what a total rude bollocks I have just been.

So you'll maybe also forgive me for not taking part, Maht? I am sure you'll have lots of excellent participants, and I shall try to pop in for a look. I have been feeling a mite delicate last week or two so have been less than active here in Blogger.

I wish you all the best with the competition and everything else, too, naturally. x

(Ms Signs - the apology goes for the dregs end of a cranky remark I scared you away with, too. I am sorry. As my offer of peace, I give you your Finnish name: Ms Kärkikolmio. I hope you like it. x )

The Moon Topples said...

Anna: While I accept your very sweet and wholly unneccessary apology (and I feel absolutely terrible that my comment made you feel bad), I do not accept your refusal to enter the GBA(s)FC. Hear me out...

The whole idea is to encourage writing from people of all levels and in the last one, I got quite a few submissions from people who had never written fiction before. At least one of these entrants ended up winning one of the more coveted prizes.

The blogosphere is also not, strictly speaking, within the public domain. In America at least, what you write belongs to you, provided you have proof that you've written it.

But the primary reason I do not accept your refusal to take part is because I would not right now accept anyone's refusal to take part. The contest is not even begun, and so I must bubble with optimism. All I ask is that you check it out and think about it. It isn't about the prizes or the competitive aspects, it's just a chance to try to draw people together through writing, and the common desire to express ourselves.

I apologize if I sound combative. This is not at all my intention. I hope you know I am inordinately fond of you, Anna.

Anna MR said...

No, Maht, listen, no. No, no. No.

I am not a newcomer to writing fiction. I am a born-again-non-fiction-writer. I wrote fiction for most of my childhood and all of my teens and I am not going back to that place. Untold layers of shame lie in waiting there, ready to pounce. So - thank you and no thank you. Do visit my friend Charnel Doze, though. She is a writer. You'll find her 5 posts above this one. Tell her I sent you. Kanikoski (available in most comment sections here) writes too, although mainly poetry, but maybe you could tease him into a story. Again, tell him hi from me, so he doesn't mistake you for some god-awful spam person.

My usage of "public domain" was careless, a little less than dictionary accuracy. I mean into a public space where actual real live people would read me, Maht. No way. This comment has now gone a full circle. No, no. No.

It is lovely to know you are (hang on, checks wording) "inordinately" fond of me. How does that happen, in practice? Signed, Interested in Helsinki


The Moon Topples said...

Anna: I am delighted to hear that you will be taking part in my little writing festival.

Wait. Isn't that what you were saying?

I didn't mean to imply that you had never written fiction. I was pointing out that a ton of new writers turned out in order to try to make you feel more comfortable.

And it occurred to me long after I left the comment that you probably meant "public domain" in another sense than the one in which I took it. Sorry.

Anna MR said...

Dear Maht, sorry to leave you hanging here for such a long while. I am sure you are actually deliberately misunderstanding my refusal as an acceptance, my no as a yes - I really regret it but I cannot, no-way, no-how, take part. I hope you have a great many participants, though. Given my current circumstances, I'll be lucky if I can just get over to your house to read them. I shall try though.

Hope the sun shines in Chicago for you.