Tuesday, 31 March 2015

Boiled Potatoes and the Analytic Method, part 7

I found myself in need of counselling last year. The counselling I received was extremely helpful, but it's only as, in the intervening time, I've started to study critical perspectives from gender and race discourse in depth that I've been able to understand the wider context of my difficulties. These approaches emphasise connectedness; the marketing of children's toys, for example, contributes to a domestication of women that in turn commodifies their sexuality and devalues their consent, leading to rape culture.

By contrast, the idiom of 'analytic philosophy', the tallest and remotest of the academic ivory towers, to which I've given a decade of my life and all my adulthood, puts detachment and abstraction foremost. It was detachment and abstraction - an overdose of both - that led me to counselling. What follows is a reflection on that journey.

In part 1, I discussed the specific experience that led me to seek counselling.

In part 2, I talked about a lack of emotional sensation that I discovered during my counselling sessions.

In part 3, I blamed everything on boiled potatoes (and allowing my everyday life to become too bland).

In part 4, I surveyed the rise of analytic philosophy and attempted to show how it rejects the spiritual and the emotional.

In part 5, I evaluated analytic philosophy and the limits of its conception of meaning.

In part 6, I identified the limit that the analytic method places on discourses of morality and responsibility. 

Part 7: What Pieces Are You So Scared Of?

I wasn't expecting to write this part in quite the mode I'm in at the moment. I've been feeling generally pretty positive and upbeat so far this spring, and was looking forward to rounding this series out with a similarly cheerful summation on the theme of healing and embracing a life that values emotional sensation.

But I had a bad weekend in a handful of little ways that left me feeling a bit on the low side. As ever when I get on a downer, I started to pull back from things, and especially from people. Anxiety sets in, loading every potential encounter with a hundred disaster scenarios.

There's a numbing process that's part of this, too. It's a defensive reflex, I think, shutting down the mechanisms of self-regard and self-care that identify the problem to avoid having to think about it. We're supposed to solve problems by disinvesting, stepping outside ourselves to look at them 'objectively'. This is supposed to make solutions clearer and less clouded by emotion. But sometimes the problem is the emotion, more than anything else.

In my head, at least, this sits side-by-side with the analytic method. They present themselves to me as the same process. For years I have embraced them as one, and identified all sorts of objective solutions to my problems - limited budget, for example, or shared living environments that aren't well cared for, or (when I was still living at home) the fact that my parents insist on listening to the radio news four times a day, making it completely inescapable.

The real problem, though, is and has always been the denial of inner sensation, the failure to attend to so many important dimensions of well-being, the determination to rise above 'meat'. I am starting to learn, though. Slowly, I'm thawing out.

It starts, perhaps predictably in my case, with music. Music has always offered the most purely emotional experiences of my life - I don't have the theoretical knowledge to analyse it the way I can tackle novels, films and now to a certain extent also video games. It's in music that I'm normally closest to engaging bodily - while I'm a terrible dancer, I'm also basically incapable of standing still when there's music playing.

And I have some incredibly talented musician friends. Look, I know no-one ever takes my music recommendations, but click that last link and listen to Sam's most recent album. Seriously, it's not long, and the last track is the first piece of music in a decade to bring tears to my eyes. It's five minutes that I can get completely lost in. Sometimes it's good to be lost.

Sometimes getting lost is exactly what I need. Some problems don't need the analytic distance of the cartographer - the map is clear, the map is the problem, the map shows you all too clearly what stands between you and the shining horizon. The map tells you what the walk is like, but sometimes you need to stop thinking about that and walk anyway. That's the point at which the map can't tell you anything useful.

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