Monday, 12 October 2015

Maybe our life is not that personal...


Posted by Tessa den Uyl


 We think, act and feel without understanding precisely what it is that makes us act, feel or think the way we do. It is difficult to understand why we became accustomed to our visions of, and opinions about, life. We find ourselves into narratives others have created for us and have to find ourselves within these accustomed stories that maybe are not as familiar as we would like to believe. To extract ‘the impersonal’ out of this familiarity and bring it towards the narrative we identify with is difficult

As physical beings, we become a person and during life we try to keep up with that conception. We are conceived to then conceive ourselves. When we are born, someone else has already imagined us. This pre-imagination initiates a life to become your life to then be re-imagined as a life somehow different from that one. The better the ‘proper’ narrative fits, the less conflict will occur; the idea of exclusion fits an idea of inclusion in safeguarding experiences of certain values and goals.

In the routine of daily life rarely attention focuses on the premises that gave raise to those values. We might say that the value doesn’t remember where it came from and neither can it be understood why it is believed, though those values seem to constitute a rather important playground for our narratives. Previous ideas are exactly those we use to inhabit our narratives and comprehend the narratives of others - the abstract building blocks we identify with.

Strangely, we are tempted to identify with something we didn’t imagine ourselves but are willing to see ourselves, and others, in that picture. The picture is to always have a picture: without a picture we fall out of identification, one of the greatest human fears. In the absorption of many narratives deposited into many values, a person has to find, create and become in a universe. In such situations we start to understand the difficulty involved in coming to ones senses. ‘We are born as a person but it is difficult to die as a person.’

Changing your personal narrative means taking considerable responsibility while undertaking a flight into the unknown. A change of narrative doesn’t solely involve doubt and questioning life as a whole; it means searching to apply those doubts into a life for which there are no alternatives at hand. Altering ones narrative is a struggle with estrangement. Somehow the narrative is pulled into a need to not safeguard former descriptions; it is a profound surrender towards the unknown. This is why such change provokes perplexity, a state of being that is needed to avoid ending thinking (too quickly). Perplexity indicates a pause to identify things and put them into the proper narrative, inevitably postponing the identification of those narratives thought by others.

Imagining narratives is our tool to relate ourselves in a world; our capability to weave things together. It is the human way to give a sense to Life. Now if this weaving is used to confirm the best copy of what we think is a good picture, we are not truly weaving the relations ourselves but only those that serve a particular purpose: the picture orders the weaving. Any perplexity that arises during this kind of weaving is due to estrangement from that picture; it cannot but pull the proper confusion back into that picture.

Yet you cannot simultaneously weave a picture while not affirming it, even though you’re still weaving. Such weaving is of changing phenomena and every confusion that arises cannot be drawn back into the picture but only into the weaving. When you no longer work with static images, you are forced to dismantle the rigidity of your perception. This is the moment that imagination can truly break loose.

Long ago, we identified with the mammoth we killed to provide shelter, clothes, food and sacrifice: however the mammoth was standing next to us. Our relation was then rather direct. Today, when we’re asked to give opinions about world politics and economics, we witness visions from others all over the globe; but this is an abstraction of which our lives have become another instantiation. It seems awfully frightening to become aware of this picture; the awareness involves envisioning your proper narrative placed onto those ‘impersonal’ building blocks that have become more abstract then ever before and of which it seems we don’t want to separate ourselves. What tricks us is that the picture enigmatically provides an idea for the worthiness of our life. But upon what exactly have we placed that worthiness?

An important question to pose might be whether we are capable to keep track with those narratives that gave raise to our visions about life? We identify with those abstractions, we have feelings, opinions about, one might say, almost everything. Maybe we overestimate what we know in those narratives and lack humility in recognising what we can know.

Is the vision of our lives in which we overcome (and thus embrace) insecurity something too abstract to be imagined? Must we accept to live lives based on an abstraction that is far beyond our own imagination? Or dare we enter into a deep crisis of the kind hinted at by Nietzsche when he has the madman warn:

 “ ...what did we do when we unchained this earth from its sun?”


The challenge, as Zarathustra might have expressed it, is to try to relate our own, proper narratives to our suns.

4 comments:

  1. I like this essay. It was the philosophes I think who popularised the notion that the individual is prior to the group, and it does not seem to me to be a well rounded view of reality. You suggest, I think, an acceptance that my life "is not that personal", while at the same time proposing a re-imagining of oneself and one's world.

    Speaking personally, my Swiss wife Mirjam was a whirlwind on the international stage when they caught her in the end stage of cancer. When she died, I realised deeply that I am not an individual. That is why, in my little image here, I am no longer alone. (Pictured with me is my wife Ester).

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  2. Thank you Thomas.

    Somehow we're always translating the world back into our own world, for we have nothing else. The world we see is our own in this sense. Though we affect other 'worlds.' It is a hint, but my intuition is that we never see The World, what we see is the world we know in our own description. This sounds like an old story, but somehow our attention moves to information and description as if those nominations constitute The World while really we're only drawing those descriptions into our own worlds and there is confusion in this. There is some kind of ignorance to focus on The World while neglecting that we're only dealing with our own world. This is not some kind of solipsism, rather an effort to acknowledge that there is work to be done into those own worlds to be less limited in The World, for The World exists but to see that World we might have to turn 'inward.' I think imagination is the key for us to do this. In a way it is connected with thoughts raised by Quantum mechanics but I wouldn't dare to bind these discourses together.

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  3. Re. world out there and in here... Yes it is an old story, but I always think the truth lies in reality being a mixture of both the two. Is Tess perhaps making the reverse error to the scientists and materialists of assuming that the inner world can be separated from the world of experience? At least, I think it is a mistake!

    By the by, thanks for another great and totally original picture!

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  4. Hi Martin,

    Indeed, I didn't explain very well, let me try again....

    I don't think anything is separated. We are ambiguous beings and draw ambiguous information to our ‘own worlds' for we have no other way to deal with it. You always turn information into your 'own world’ to translate the information. Turning inward is not a separation but rather the notion to enlarge visions about how to deal with information and to take attention where we place it ‘upon.’

    You see, if you compare the information that enters your 'own world' onto A World that is seen in a certain manner, let's call it a social property, you compare descriptions onto that idea of a social property, and all explanation will be measured into the standards of that property and turn into that measurement backwards to you. I think there is confusion in here, for it is this movement that creates the idea of the individual and separation. The "I" is seen into a boundary.

    Thus where we tend to place our descriptions should be considered in connection to where we receive that information first. I don’t think there is an independent existence; but that where we receive information (‘my world’) creates different aspects of reality, with that, I’m not saying we’re separated from a whole. What I’m trying to say is that turning inward we can uncover rigidity in regard to our own perception and that imagination is a key to do so.


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