Self Deconstructed

Plato points to Heaven; Aristotle levels his hand to Earth. Excerpt from Raphael’s The School of Athens.

I’ve grown quite impulsive of late. If I don’t feel like studying, I just don’t. If I want to daydream, I just do. My humour has turned (more) facetious, my tolerance less than hospitable. I am restless, emotionally. Something threatens to destabilize this psychic order; or else its ecosystem has already been damned into disarray. My mind darts around from imaginary node to node–a baton race in a prison cell; Intuition has gone berserk.
 

I can’t concentrate; my consciousness is everywhere. Nope, I’m not talking about some meditation-induced hyperawareness in which conscious thought diffuses radially from a central nexus of being until the cosmos is entirely present to the internal Eye/I. Nah, none of that psychic arcanistry. In what seems like a mocking perversion of omnipresence, my mind feels like it’s been sundered and partitioned into spaces–a fragmented topos–and each piece of frayed fabric dyed with a shade here, a hue there. I leap and vault from one magic carpet to another–whole new worlds are at once raised and shattered: raised, only to be shattered, like some sick joke played by an ennui-ridden Maker.

Meaning. All my frustration, grief, and anger have precipitated from the compulsion to make meaning ex nihilo. To (en)force presence where there is none–where there is absence, that placid, sempiternal corpse; some things were dead from the start, but I could not recognize death-as-being. Or else, I misrecognized the primordial absence as a hungering for presence–a desire that craved satiation. So I stuffed that ravenous maw ravenously–almost out of spite, because why would God create absence when it was in his power to present? When we create meaning, we foreclose possibilities of meaning; in signification, we silence ambiguity–its dying gasps are met with our first words. We condemn and catastrophize with our semantic architecture; we conjure grand Pandemoniums and sky-breaking Babelian towers; sprawling tombs choked with corpses of royal dead, chambers and courtyards replete with blasphemous riches and amoral harems. All this we raise from the abyssal void of absence–and what for? To sustain the fantasy of that Eden which was never ours to begin with.

To be sure, there never was Paradise.But yes, I have catastrophized all my losses only because I’ve always wanted them to mean something. By signifying them–by fastening signified to signifier–I fixate on the fictional presence superimposed on a natural absence/ab-sense/nonsense. I was never–in my human capacity–obligated to throw that absence a second glance, but to merely accept the chasm as a feature of presence, as how one observes mountains and valleys alternating. But no, I needed and still need, closure. I need to dam(n) that absence, that gaping alterity. I have to make the loss meaningful in the most literal, pedantic sense of the word; it must mean something because of everything that I’ve lost. But by now, I think, I ought to know that commemoration is catastrophe.

That is why I must try not to impose meaning on everything that I own or lose. I am everything that I own, and very soon I will be everything that I lose because surprise–everything must die. If I persist in being wantonly sentimental, I risk foreclosing my entire life–my whole Self–to a single monolithic narrative no less hateful than the metanarratives of the ancients; and only because I need closure and despise ambiguity.

I need to stop taking myself and everything around me so seriously, and I don’t mean being facetious about things one ought to treat with gravity. I mean being ironic, unabashedly. Okay so what if I’ve loved carelessly and lost my heart (whatever that is) at sea? Let me then lose until I learn. Let me desire until I can finally realise that love and loss are dialectical, that we can never fully love without the overhanging shadow of loss.

But above all, let me desire and desire irrationally. Let me disarm myself of Reason, just momentarily–just so I don’t have to explain myself, to explain why I should or should not love someone, to convince myself why I should or should not miss someone. It is mortally exhausting to have to qualify something as psychologically complex as love, in the face of a thousand possibilities and contingencies. Love/desire/limerence is capricious, selfish, possessive–so let it be. It’s funny how I’m only beginning to realise this now. But hey, it’s about time.

If there is one thing I’ve lately learnt–or that experience has demonstrated–it is that there is no such thing as a humanly experienced transcendental Love; it is not accessible to us. Platonic/Transcendental Love does not desire; it cannot. For it to be transcendental, it must be timeless and unchanging–that is the love of gods.

All iterations of (romantic) love are phenomenological in nature–it is felt, in its full consuming force; mercurial, paroxysmal, wanting, fallen, or falling. How ever can we speak of and attest to the metaphysical Love if all we can do is perceive with our fallible senses? It is at best inferred, if not constructed. Constructedness–I must be aware of its constructedness: ideals and expectations that I can never hope to completely satisfy.

A paradigm shift is in progress–some kind of intrapsychic eclipse is ongoing, as I begin to abandon Platonic idealism for a Aristotelean humanism. Have I grown cynical? Perhaps I have; but I’d rather think I’ve been forced to be more critical, more aware that Eden is a fictional space, or a mental state–one that has no place on Earth. But truth be told, I am reluctant. I am reluctant to think and speak outside a system of Forms–of stable transcendental signifieds–because I need its dedication to absolute presence, closure, and therefore, assurance. By squaring every human phenomenon with the divine template, everything is blessed with meaning.

Something tells me I will never be able to completely forsake the Platonic philosophy, which in part convinces me that I can never lose faith in God. But I must concede that I am Human–and from me these ideals are forever removed. My gaze, having long been transfixed on the metaphysical, must be redirected to the earthly–the sensory, the physical, the mechanical, the absence, the artifice.

Or rather I, while keeping my gaze to the heavens, must learn to feel the earth beneath and all around me. Or else, I am simply a mortal fool living by eternal laws, whose high virtues will always remind me that I can never be good enough for anyone–not even myself.

A part of me wishes, that there were an Aristotle incarnate somewhere today to teach me, in all my idealism, to stay grounded because I am only Human. To be carefree without being careless; or to love and lose unapologetically.

Because we don’t have many sunsets left to watch.

Romance and Metaphysics

“We’re going down,
And you can see it too;
We’re going down
And you know that we’re doomed.
My dear, we’re slow dancing in a burning room.”
— John Mayer, ‘Slow Dancing in a Burning Room’

If there is any one lesson I’ve internalized after years of grappling with the Fall, it is this — that one should never take love seriously.

I remember long ago (in one of my entries) making the distinction between phenomenology of love — the feeling and sensation of being romantically involved — and the logic undergirding the performance of love, the mechanics of romantic desire. If I’m not wrong, I implicitly argued that while romantic feelings are spontaneous and erratic, attraction is a very rational process. I mean, there are cultural, psychological, and biochemical processes explaining how and why we fall in love (with someone); and if we are hardcore determinists — at the risk of being overly but justifiably reductive — we can maintain that at bottom, love consists essentially in the collision of atoms and molecules. Of course, no romantic would want to grant that, and we are all romantics in some guise or another, whether we believe in Fate or interpersonal chemistry. Such a scientifically reductionist approach to defining or understanding love grates against the strongest of our intuitions — although love makes us believe anything sometimes.

Yet even if we remove the microscope a tier or two higher up the explanatory hierarchy — at the level of psychological analysis — we still observe the same casual relations subsisting between discrete units: neurons, psyches, individuals. All we have done is simply to overlay the disconcertingly mechanical operations of love at the atomic chemical level with more aesthetic or intellectually comfortable concepts; we replace collisions with desire, desire with love, and love with Love capitalized and transcendental. Still there remains a thread of logical rigour that weaves these seemingly disparate strata of discourses into a unifying fabric — a kind of operational blueprint of romance. While ostensibly counter-intuitive, this systemic conception of love is a no less valid one. Before the clueless romantic gets all up-in-arms with accusations that I have desecrated the altar of Eros, I wish to remind him/her that this is an objective account of love. Just because you don’t immediately see or feel the underlying causality (and we can’t) doesn’t mean it isn’t operant.

Anyway, all is well and reasonable — this polyvalent yet conceptually singular understanding of the causal action of love — until we (or rather, the romantics amongst us) venture passionately to claim, perhaps under the auspices of Aphrodite, that love is nothing but an inexplicable, intoxicating feeling. That is to say, love just happens, and when it does, it is mysterious and esoteric. What we would have done in making this assertion is to not only (1) make the convenient leap from ontology (love as system) to phenomenology (love as experience), but also to (2) deny one and privilege the other.

To transit from the logic of romantic action to the sensation of love — to equate and conflate them — I think, is a kind of fallacy of identity.

A romantic fallacy, if you will — something that perhaps the aforementioned romantic would champion and fiercely defend. Yet in his construction of love as pure sensation, it deserves mention that the romantic would be just as guilty of the reductionist charge that he had leveled against the determinist earlier (for reducing love to mechanics).

Now, as we observed earlier, from physics to biochemistry to neural systems to psyches, and finally to individual persons, the causality or logic of love at each tiered system is evident (and essentially identical). But once we stack the phenomenology of love onto this equivalence hierarchy, the thread of identity is broken. This is because while the chemical, psychological, and cultural machinations of love are rational processes, the sensation of love — its phenomenology — is anything but rational. It is purely and only felt, and no depth of intellectual discourse can induce in a mind the feeling of being romantically affected. It is no different from the fact that we can never reproduce a touch, or a taste, or a smell, or an image by means other than a spontaneous engagement with the senses. Even in dreams, their imaginary analogues cannot ever match the degree of intimacy that characterizes the immediate sensations — of actually smelling a rose on a mildly drizzling evening, or waking up to a warm wash of sunbeams pouring forth from an open curtain.

Why then are we so intuitively inclined to conflate the raw sense impressions of love (what it feels like) with its objective ontological account (what it is), such that — falling as much in love as into the trap of the romantic fallacy — we claim that love is feeling the rush of dizzying adrenaline, or the self-consuming desire for another? The answer is pretty straightforward: we only have access to the phenomenology of love. Can we see the undergirding clockwork causality — the directors or stage-masters — of romantic performance? No; what we feel is the pathos of the performance, the enthralling heights of ecstasy and the annihilating abyss of loss. We do not and can never perceive the biochemical precursors to what we feel and identify as phenomenological love. What we immediately perceive is the very intimate force of romantic sense impressions engendered by mechanical processes we cannot see or feel. This is why it is so easy to say that love is and only is phenomenology — pure sensation. At one level it is; but one cannot discount the fact that there is another dimension of romance that is operant as a foundational substratum, and which brings into effect or causes the sensations of love that we spontaneously experience. The relation between the invisible logic of love and the experience of love is not one of identity, but causality.

Because all we personally know of love is the sensations it impresses upon consciousness, we can only refer to them, or their memory, when we make decisions or judgments that may affect the course of our romantic endeavours. As we all know, love as phenomenology (or feeling) is fundamentally irrational in virtue of consisting in sense impressions, since as mentioned earlier, sense impressions are beyond the purview of Reason (and therefore not-rational). As such, just as how we spontaneously perceive light from the Sun, or heat from a stove, feeling romantic affect is immediate — that is to say, it is not mediated by the judicious gatekeeper, Reason, or the wise old man, Memory. When we feel attracted to someone, we don’t form internal arguments from premises and arrive at the conclusion that we like him/her; we just feel. No act of judgment is involved, at least not until we make decisions on the basis of these sensations.

And when finally we do, we are susceptible to the same errors of judgement as one unwittingly falls prey to upon believing that he sees a yellow wall in front of him, when in fact what he perceives is a white wall under yellow light. Our senses deceive us — or rather, they are imperfect and thus fallible — and latching onto those faulty impressions, we inevitably make misguided judgements that do not immediately seem faulty. The same mode of misrecognition and misjudgment is evident in our experience of love and how we navigate our romantic geography. Often along the way, there are mirages of reciprocal attraction — perhaps we misinterpret a certain gesture or a particular vocal inflection, and thus mistakenly infer the possibility of affection. Then we begin to invest our expectations and ideals in what we perceive to be a prospective relationship, only to realize later that the oasis is a lie — a self-conjured illusion. And it is very difficult to blame anyone but ourselves, because no one else sees the same things we do — our emotional states inflect our personal phenomenology. Truly, we see and feel what we want to, and sometimes not even the incessant hammering of Reason at psyche’s door can convince us otherwise.

And so no matter how rational and mechanical the underlying processes of love are, there is always the possibility of delusion at the level of sensations, and subsequent errors of judgement in decision-making. We are only granted access to the irrational facet of love, and because its foundational system of surefire causality is irrevocably removed from us and our senses, we can never be too sure of ourselves when we do fall in love. Our only certainty is of what we feel when we are finally loving someone. Nothing can prepare us for that, or anything that follows from that moment of genesis.

In short, romance is a kind of religion, if you ask me. Not in the sense of being an institution with a monolithic center, but rather in the way that it demands a leap of faith — to jump even though we’re not quite sure what lies ahead. The essential difference is that you may lose your footing while making that romantic vault, but no God will be there to catch you when you fall. Because not even our faith can save us, we’re better off wearing simulacra of our hearts on our disposable sleeves, while keeping the Heart safe where it rightfully belongs — right here, at Home.

One should never take love seriously.

Metaphysics in Rooftop Prince (2012)

Rooftop Prince (옥탑방 왕세자) (2012)

So just last afternoon I closed the covers on the highly acclaimed Korean drama serial Rooftop Prince, which I started following last week after a friend — having perhaps known that I was just done with Lie To Me — ardently recommended it. As I turned the last few leaves of this trans-temporal romance and allowed its closure to settle in, I began to realise that my emotional reception of the ending was very much modulated by my vested interest in metaphysics, in particular personal identity. And no, there really is nothing at all ostensibly intellectual about this realisation — it isn’t an instance of critical reading or interpretation. It is simply a matter of making sense of the ending beyond a generic dismissal of the drama as a blissful, fortuitous romance driven by a benevolent fate; I say this because the denouement (resolution) is anything but idyllic — romantic perhaps, but certainly not celebratory. In fact, it left a bittersweet aftertaste on my palette palate that was more bitter than sweet — I thought it was almost tragic.

In a nutshell, the drama is centred on the temporal translocation of the Crown Prince and his three-man entourage (over a span of three hundred years) from the Joseon era to the present time by some twist of fate. This facilitates his investigation of his beloved Crown Princess’s murder, which occurred shortly before his displacement into the future (and is presumably the impetus of the uncanny event). Fate — capitalized — appears to be a very real force directing the narrative trajectory. Anyway, the longer the Crown Prince lingers in the modern present, the more he realises that there is in fact a one-to-one correspondence between the past and the present. He discovers that there is in fact someone (Tae Yong) who looks exactly like him, but who supposedly went missing. In short, every key individual in the present has a corresponding doppelganger/double in the past; but more than that, the scandalous events surrounding the murder of the Crown Princess in the past seem to repeat themselves (albeit in a different guise) in the tumultuous corporate landscape of the present.

Soon enough, the Crown Prince realises that he has been propelled three hundred years into the future to solve the mystery of her death precisely because of this narrative symmetry between past and present owing supposedly to reincarnation. As he begins to unravel the threads of fate, he falls in love with a woman (Park Ha) who is ostensibly the modern analogue of the Crown Princess’s sister (Boo Yong), and soon finds out that the Crown Princess was hardly the person he knew, but had been in truth a scheming collaborator involved in his attempted assassination, just as she is a compulsive liar in the present. Park Ha’s past doppelganger Boo Yong would have been installed as Crown Princess if her sister had not scarred her face with a hot iron and taken the former’s place when they were young. In fact it is revealed that it was she who had been murdered, and not the Crown Princess (who in actuality went into hiding after her sister took the rap for her). All this points to the fact that both the Crown Prince and Boo Yong were destined to be lovers (to phrase it rather simplistically). To cut to the chase, Fate returns the Crown Prince irrevocably to Joseon after he solves the mystery, leaving his lover Park Ha behind in the present. However, the Crown Prince’s present double reappears (after awaking from a coma) and makes contact with her, thereby bringing the narrative full circle by reuniting the lovers who were tragically forced asunder by circumstance three hundred years ago.

***

The final meeting of the reincarnations — of both the Crown Prince and Boo Yong — marks the close of the dramatic narrative. But it is at that juncture that many philosophical issues begin to break the surface of the reader’s literary consciousness, disturbing the placid waters that have settled in the narrative’s aftermath. Even long after the curtains have fallen, we are perhaps made to wonder if the ending is in any way a proverbially happy one: is the reunion and the ensuing romance an authentic one? Is the man who arrives to meet Park Ha at the end of the narrative (Tae Yong) the same man whom Park Ha had fallen in love with (i.e. the Crown Prince) over the course of the story? What constitutes personal identity, or the same person? Identical memories and experiences? Identical physical constitution? Identical souls? I am obviously tempted to discount the identical soul theory as a possibility since I’m very much a self-professed materialist who believes that physical configuration determines consciousness — that is to say, consciousness and thus personal identity is an emergent property of our biological arrangement. Our bodies grow, die, and decay. The end of life is the terminus of consciousness/identity.

If one subscribes to materialism, then the concept of the soul (eternal or transient) is irrelevant and superfluous as a marker of personal identity. Therefore philosophically speaking, I am more inclined to say that the continuity of memories and experiences (biologically limited consciousness) defines the individual, rather than this fuzzy, intangible entity known as the soul (regardless of whether it is eternal or not). Although I believe we do have souls in some sense, but like heart, I am of the opinion that it is a linguistic metaphor, in this case one for the intimate consciousness of our present existence.

But I am not writing now to elucidate the metaphysical logic behind whether or not Tae Yong (the reincarnation) is the Crown Prince. Much more immediate and intuitive than the intellectual food-for-thought was the emotional response that the ending invoked in myself, which bordered on a kind of resignation at some irredeemable loss even though a serendipitous reunion had taken place across the chasms of time and space. This stemmed primarily from my instinctive belief that Tae Yong and the Crown Prince are not the same person. I was thus made to imagine how Park Ha must feel when she encounters someone who looks exactly like the person she fell deeply in love with (and married briefly), but who is at once a different person —  Tae Yong does not have the memories and experiences essential to the romance that blossomed between his past double (the Crown Prince) and Park Ha. To be honest, this is my one major qualm with what would have qualified as a poignantly affirmative love story that is so not because it transcends space and time, but because Fate here is a constructive force in all its determinism. The tight symmetry and circular closure of the narrative, in its literary perfection — like the union of two complementary puzzle pieces made to fit — I think obscures with its romantic idealism, and even renders irrelevant some of the intimate phenomenological consequences of such a resolution.

Suppose Tae Yong and the Crown Prince share the same soul. Yet what is an identical soul without a persisting memory? Memory is an imperative keystone of personal identity — it affirms the Past of an individual, which is the premise of the Present; for how can there be Present without Past? Who we are is defined hardly by who we are now, but much more so by who we have been (and to some extent, who we can be). If we grant that reincarnation is possible — that there is the transmigration of souls from body to body after biological death, then all that follows is the existence of a perduring soul; we are not allowed to conclude that the memories associated with each life is an aggregate of previous iterations of memory. After all, according to doctrines of reincarnation, subsequent incarnations do not remember their past lives. As such, there would be an ostensible disjunction in memory between each life even though the soul is carried over. Therefore, to love an incarnation of someone (who is in every way outwardly identical to his/her previous iteration) would not be a simple matter of continuation but transference. We would not be loving the same person (who has passed on), but in fact relocating the love object and transferring desire onto the (re)incarnation. Even if we manage to accomplish this shift, I’d imagine that there would always be a lingering sentiment of interpersonal disjunction at the level of shared experience and memory, which may culminate in an uncanny resistance to the person; she is at once herself and not herself — herself in body (and even soul), but another in consciousness. The person we have loved all this time would be dead and absent to us, and what remains for us to grapple with is a fiction in the guise of a painful physical echo — an active simulacrum that torments by reminding us not so much of what we have lost, but what we are left with: a vacuous shell of the original that can never return our love in the same way.

To end off, another sentiment that struck me profoundly was the feeling of irrevocable loss when the Crown Prince disappeared against the fading light of sunset right before Park Ha’s eyes, after they exchanged wedding vows. How it must feel watching someone you love slowly ceasing to exist — or worse still, returning three hundred years back into the past. To return to the past would effectively be to die, or to be dead in the present, and dead for almost three centuries — to be dead before having met the other and loved. Once that person disappears — at the very moment when no tangible trace of him remains — he would have lived out his entire life and died, all in the atomic fraction of a heartbeat. And for the time traveller there is no gradual languishing from life to death — there is only life or death, and the passing from one state to the other is so acute and sudden, that the magnitude of loss becomes so excruciatingly apparent to the observer. For someone to have vanished, it is most painful for the one that remains because any empirical testament to a shared history would have accordingly ceased to be accessible, and one would be compelled to wonder if anything ever happened, or if the memory of that time spent together were at all real. Even a lifeless cadaver would qualify as immaculate evidence of having known and loved someone. After all, tombstones are memories and histories made corporeal; they are the desperate scratchings on lacquered marble proclaiming that this sorry pile of ash beneath them had once reveled in the privilege of sentient existence.

One day, they too will be forgotten when those who spend their lives remembering them become memories themselves.

Four and Twenty

Let’s be honest, this isn’t going to work – this one-post-per-week regime that has emerged as an instinctive knee-jerk response to the sheer absence of any impetus on my part to write. It’s not that I no longer enjoy writing; I just don’t see the point in writing (here, anymore). This is no longer the authentic act of what Heidegger terms poesis – of the Self – of unconcealing the eidetic core of the I, and bringing it to the fore into the unravelling ellipse of epiphanic light where shadows disperse on all sides to reveal the I as it is. Of course, it is unwieldy and unnecessarily naive to expect that words can in anyway operate as the touchstone of the soul (whatever it consists in). As I’ve probably iterated a gazillion times (to the point of nausea) in the preceding entries, the world – our experience, ourselves – we are forever refracted by language; and it doesn’t end there. This conclusion is an auxiliary that only paves the way for a much stronger claim. (And as usual, at this juncture I proceed on an annoying tangent that is completely not the point of this post, but which I have to take to its upshot because I’ve already begun. Ignore the following paragraph if exasperated).

If as Hume suggested, we cannot be certain of the existence of an external cosmos, then all experience is empirical, and all knowledge derived empirically. Our epistemological grasp of the world is a whirl of sense data, albeit differentiated – but by what framework or template? How can we tell the red apple sense datum from the wooden table sense datum? Intuitively and ineluctably, our taxonomic navigation of the world is made possible by nothing other than language. So we have data on two very different but compounding metaphysical strata. In the primary, we have raw, visceral sense impressions – the softness of fur, the redness of an apple, the coarseness of wood. This constitutes fundamental apprehension (of objects in the world, although by using the term ‘objects’ I have already presupposed some degree of linguistic taxonomy or naming); until our entrance into language, these perceptions remain an undifferentiated chaos. In the second, we have the nomenclature – the linguistic ascriptions – of these perceptual phenomena; we call that soft silky stuff ‘fur’, that edible red fruit ‘apple’, and the material rough to the touch, ‘wood’. This involves a voluntary judgment that, as we have discovered, is collectively determined by the society in which the language in question is operant. Needless to say, it is language as a system of differences that accords our experience – our perceptions – meaning, without which one wouldn’t be able to distinguish a cat from a dog, or (to use a more fitting example), where the sea ends and the sky begins. As such, if we are only granted access to the ‘world’ through sense perceptions, and can in turn only differentiate (and hence render useful) these impressions by linguistically organizing them, then it necessarily follows that our world in its entirely is an immense textual space. Heck, we may go as far to say that we are language.

This is the more forceful claim that replaces the earlier one – that language refracts. If phenomenology is all that we’re assured of, then language does not refract any extant world or ontology. There is no world to refract. This world is language, a fiction – a text, and this is the Truth.

After that insufferable digression, I (finally) return to the crux of this entry – my writing has ceased to be poesis. I am not writing myself anymore. I am not writing to clarify – I am writing to obscure. The above wall of nigh incomprehensible jargon and the series of entries leading right up to this one are explicit (implicit?) testaments. I have been indulging in intellectualization to shade, to dissemble something – sentiments. Pathetic sentiments that struggle always to reach out towards the surface – to break the boundary between liquid silence and sonorous air, but fail again and again because the repeating waves smother them; or else there is a perpetual tempest thrashing and flailing above that drowns (out) these voices.

I turn 24 in less than thirty minutes, and I can’t help but wonder where the I is, under all this. Behold, here is another post fed full with immaterial theories and conjectures that flourish on a different plane, away from the immediate, away from what I am feeling right now – away from the things that matter to me now. Do you really believe all this time, while going on about psychoanalytic desire, language, and phenomenology, that I’ve actually only been thinking about them? Why yes I have – but I have been feeling and thinking about something else too, something so much more relevant and pressing to myself than these metaphysical castles that I’ve built out of the time meant for more genuine reflection. It’s the dreamwork all over again – displacement; the transvaluation of mental elements – the inversion of the hierarchy of importance, such that what really matters is relegated to the surrounding mist, the thin, vapid atmosphere – the stage, while some utterly dreary, pedantic trapping is correspondingly monumentalized and even fetishized – as the spectacle. But no, no place for theorizing right now – I want to stop.

***

saudade, n.
sauˈdadə
The famous saudade of the Portuguese is a vague and constant desire for something that does not and probably cannot exist, for something other than the present, a turning towards the past or towards the future; not an active discontent or poignant sadness but an indolent dreaming wistfulness. It is the mysterious melancholy which sighs at the back of every joy. (OED)

Saudade was once described as ‘the love that remains’ after someone is gone. It is the recollection of feelings, experiences, places or events that once brought excitement, pleasure, well-being, which now triggers the senses and makes one live again. It can be described as an emptiness, like someone or something (e.g., places, things one used to do in childhood, or other activities performed in the past) that should be there in a particular moment is missing, and the individual feels this absence.

This emotional state appears to be a symptom of losing someone to some kind of uncertainty or non-closure. It’s like someone tells you he’s going out to get some groceries, but he never returns; and so you wait by that open door everyday, with an intermixed sentiment of hopeful vigilance and dire resignation. And somehow this intolerable complex of emotions can never, ever be resolved because the time and place for resolution has come and passed away. But still, there is a sliver of possibility – it’s just that the contrary, impossibility, is so overwhelming that this possibility is seized and sublimated into a kind of fantasy or fixation. Sometimes it’s so difficult to tell whether there truly is still a chance of return, of reprisal; or if we merely miss something so much to the point of constructing an enduring imaginary ideal in its absence. Thus we phase in and out of self-conjured fictions and brutal reality, like the ghosts of shipwrecked mariners who have missed Charon’s vessel, wishing always to go home, but all the while knowing that the only home now is anywhere but home.

Somehow I think, this is going to last for always.

Soul and Sublimation

So, as apparent as it is, I haven’t been very consistent in transcribing my thoughts into words lately. Between the unending deluge of readings (especially from my two Honours modules), and the thrice-occurring weekly dance rehearsals in preparation for the upcoming CAC+US concert, I really haven’t had much free time on my hands to give voice to my musings, although I assure you, there have been many, and on a plethora of issues, some personal, some philosophical. I’d like to think of thinking or in popular self-help parlance these days, reflecting, as a sort of self-subsisting, cycle-bound treadmill, in which thought fuels thought, and through this perduring process refines the intellectual, emotional, moral, and logical capacities of the soul. Soul?—yawn

Yes, I do have qualms with this concept of soul, a metaphysical entity whose constitution I would have deemed unquestionable many a year ago, when I was still that naive (not that I’m better by far now) youngling infused with an unadulterated purpose that derived its force from a staunch, heroic idealism. After reading Philosophy for close to three years now, my ideations of soul, in all its repeated iterations, have been reduced to an emergent property; that is, a phenomenon that precipitates from the mechanical, clockwork churning of a mortal body. Heh, call me reductionist, but don’t brand me cynical—I have not dismissed the existence of the soul, but merely attuned myself to a philosophical position (if it is indeed one), which is inclined towards all degrees of physicalism. In fact, I think I have just very intuitively conflated soul with consciousness. Are they one in the same? Returning to the issue of the nature of the soul, I was once actively invested in the belief that it is a perduring substance independent of the body and the material—transcendent, metaphysical. Now, I hold that it may be metaphysical, but it certainly is not transcendent—it cannot be divorced from body. Concurrently however, I easily and intuitively speak of the soul as a spiritual, autonomous form (of consciousness) and body as prison when waxing romantic or literary. Perhaps featured in the former is a technical account of the soul, and in the latter, a phenomenological account—what it is like to have a soul; I have over the years also learnt to make that distinction between the mechanics of love and the phenomenology of Love. We don’t feel neurons firing when we love someone—we feel and experience virtually anything else but that. In cases wherein holding two beliefs entail a prima facie (superficial) contradiction, it appears that I have either learnt to compartmentalize my beliefs according to the circumstances that demand them, or am absolutely oblivious to (or repressing) the fact that I no longer believe in one of the two positions I hold that contradict each other. The physicalist soul versus the romantic/religious soul is one such binary—is it possible to subscribe to both and remain consistent? Existentialism and determinism is one such other, as is Roman Catholicism and determinism. Perhaps there is some nominal overlap between positions that seem to be mutually exclusive? I’m not too sure. Or perhaps I do not wish to find out that it is not so.

In other news, I have been reading up on the various defense mechanisms of the psyche as posited by Freud, his estranged student Jung, and other modern psychoanalysts; these include (from the top of my head) sublimation, reaction formation, displacement, denial and—(pauses for about 15 seconds)—aha!—how could I have forgotten the one everyone is at some point guilty of—projection. The first one—sublimation—was mentioned in passing during last week’s EN3224: Gender and Literature seminar, in which we read, interpreted, and critical analyzed the first few pivotal fables of Ovid’s Metamorphoses. In particular, the professor proposed that Apollo’s framing of Daphne (in laurel-tree form) as an invested signifier for male victory may be conceived as a sublimation of his ravenous sexual desire (now unfulfillable) for Daphne. Essentially, the psychological process of sublimation involves the channelling of destructive energy to serve constructive, socially condoned ends. Less abstrusely speaking, in facilitates the reconfiguration of an act that would have been socially condemned (e.g. rape) into one that is acceptable, if not lauded, by the community as noble or virtuous (e.g. religious art). This, I realised (rather fortuitously), is exceptionally evident in John Donne’s religious poetry, wherein his appeals to God are almost sexual in diction. Or perhaps it is a partial sublimation—I’m not sure if the sublimated taboo has to be completely effaced from the noble product. It probably has to be, at least from the phenomenology of the ego, since it is after all, a defense mechanism against forbidden desire lurking in the unconscious. Reaction formation and projection are two other pretty intriguing ways by which the ego navigates the boundaries between impulses in the unconscious and the monarchical superego, but I am loathe to go on rambling using the post-reading time that I’ve allocated to myself for some less intellectual indulgences (i.e. continuing my adventures in Golden Sun). The clock reads 11.11pm—am I supposed to make a wish? Okay, I wish for a good week ahead, and that I’ll manage tomorrow, God and my atrocious shopping expertise allowing, to buy whatever paraphernalia I need to complete my dance performance costume.

Alright, that’s all for now. Certainly, the belts that run between gears are fast tightening as I approach the zenith of my sixth semester.

So perhaps that is why the vestigial gears of Memory have fallen off, and all that remains is their phantasmal whirring, in the hollow of my head.