Category Archives: phenomenology

Continuing from the last set of thoughts on community, a particular post made me think about community in a more general sense, specifically in terms of what kind of community do I want, what kind do we want, in line with my sense of the Self as simultaneously individual and shared.

From the outset, my approach isn’t founded on the Cartesian notion of the Self as an isolated subject, with community as creating some sort of external relation on this isolated “I”. For me a basic aspect of being human is being-with, that even when we are alone we experience that aloneness as a deficient mode of being-with. Being-with can take a number of distinct forms, the most basic is everyday being-with-others in whatever setting one is required to be in.

In this everyday situation being-with is mostly experienced in deficient modes, being-against, being-indifferent, ignoring, and perhaps the most insidious, being-against in the guise of being-for. As a result our basic being-with is a less than ideal starting point in terms of building a community where the mode of being-with is fundamentally a being-for those who one is with. On the other hand the Cartesian ‘problem of other minds’ and other solipsistic issues such as the question of what a ‘relation’ between two subjects actually consists in are not relevant. On the other hand, precisely the danger of being ‘lost in others’ is a strong potential. However being an authentic Self can’t consist in being alone, since that is also a deficient mode of being-with, so being authentic has to involve finding an authentic way of being-with others, an authentic community.

I can only speak about community from out of those communities I’ve experienced, but this includes those I was fully involved in and those I was periphery to. The experience in each case is a very different one, of course, but via analogy one can to a degree understand communities one is periphery to in terms of the community or communities one has been a part of.

The community I grew up in, primarily, was the Jesuit community. Since that community is not well understood, particularly here in the U.S., I’ll say a few quick things about it. Contrary to most ‘religious’ communities, being a Jesuit isn’t primarily a matter of having a shared belief-system, the notion of “once a Jesuit always a Jesuit” applies even if one doesn’t believe Jesuit theology, or even in Christianity or theism itself. For this reason, and others, there are some resemblances that are inherent in terms of being able to understand somewhat similar communities modeled as ‘brotherhoods’ that are not simply a matter of a shared belief system but a commitment.

Part of the implication of our average, everyday deficient modes of being with is that building a community is inherently a difficult task. One of the strongest temptations in inauthentic being-with is to desire that others have a fixed image of ‘who we are’ that relieves us of the burden of our own freedom. An authentic community, then, while it may have an ‘image’ to the public, may internally look very different from that public image, because the members are themselves not intending to be reified as that image. For instance in a leather or fetish community members may or may not ‘look the part’ at all times, even though both leather and fetish, as terms, are precisely a manner of dress. Looking the part doesn’t in itself demonstrate authenticity or inauthenticity: I could be dressed the part in order to give others a mental image of myself that in fact hides who I am; conversely I could be dressed the part because that’s how I feel most comfortable and most myself; a third and probably more common situation is that I dress the part when I’m going to be in a situation where I feel comfortable in it because it’s appropriate to the situation. Of course, members publicly representing the community, if it has a public face, or acting as representative of the community to itself, if it is private, are likely to dress the part simply because otherwise they wouldn’t be seen as representative of it. Within an authentic community, though, members are going to be judged as authentically part of the community over the long term by their demonstration of their ongoing commitment to it, not by their conforming to incidental representations.

The difficulty of creating community today is even greater, for the same reason as community is more needed by many people. The acid of rationalism and secularism, which dissolved many communities based on shared belief, is ironically now threatening the scientific community that most promoted it, as their shared praxes have been exposed as predominantly belief based and themselves not rational, and costly compared to knowledge work that doesn’t involve the shared praxes that make the scientific community a community. The same ‘efficiency’ concern has also successfully dissolved communities that were based on shared praxes in terms of labor, other than the few ‘professional’ unions such as the AMA and the Barristers’ association that are financially secure enough to maintain their organizations. The notion of the post-secular society, as a society based on newer thinking that has successfully undermined the dissolving rationalist worldview is still for the most part conceptual. We haven’t seen the emergence of new communities other than a few new fundamentalisms, the re-emergence of a few ethnicist groups, and scattered communities such as the various LGBT, leather, fetish and biker communities that have emerged, merged with others, dissolved, re-emerged and are now (at least in the leather/fetish area) trying to establish a more stable existence as a single recognizable community. There aren’t therefore many models to go on, and cultish, shared belief as a foundation is not a reasonable option for most of us, nor is ethnicism a choice we either can or want to make. Exactly how various communities, or what might better be described as proto-communities, might establish the type of shared praxes that eventually foster the sense of community is difficult to project.

Going back to the notion of commitment, though, I do think that personal commitment will be a necessary component, and with that personal commitment a commitment to be personal. By that I mean a commitment to not predetermine or stick to an initial or early determination of who others are, but to view them as they manifest, which includes how they may grow and change. And as importantly a commitment to allow ourselves to be viewed as we manifest, not as a fixed picture we would like others to have of us, but as we authentically are, including in ways in which we may have grown or changed over time.


Nobody Understands Me! Including Me!

Sometimes circumstances conspire to hit you on the head with something you know full well, but for some reason were avoiding your own understanding of. A few months ago circumstances to do with employment took a major turn from the situation I had been hired under, and wanting to make the best of things, along with maintaining a significant income, caused me to avoid understanding the significance of the change. This although had someone described the new situation prior to my accepting the position I would have run for the hills.

Even within the avoidant perspective I was framing the situation with, I spent much of the last couple of months watching the rest of the people on the project busily building a train and tracks to run it on, all the time knowing the destination wasn’t reachable by land. If someone isn’t ready to hear something, even if they respect you sufficiently to listen, your words won’t make any sense, and gesturing wildly towards the abyss between the current track and the destination is only going to convince people you’ve lost your mind, because not only is their perspective different, they have a different horizon, beyond which nothing is yet visible. This has nothing to do with intelligence or acuity, just the luck of the draw as to what you’re ready to see and hear.

This time circumstances conspired further. About a week ago I was forced to stop avoiding my own understanding and act on it, despite it seeming like the worst possible timing, both in terms of personal as well as financial stability. Already, though, it’s as if a massive fog has been lifted. Avoiding something you fully understand renders other things blurry as well, you can’t put blinders on to only one thing, they affect your vision of everything else as well.


Refusal Or … ?

Between my post on refusal and now I’ve had a very odd change in my manner of being.

I had what used to be called, in the conceptual world, a “divine revelation”.  Since I live in the post conceptual (post religious-metaphysical-scientific)  world it was no long divine in any sense.   However it was reflexive in a way that no epiphany could be.  It was a revelation of the nature of revelation itself.

The reflexivity made me suddenly understand Hegel’s Absolute Knowing, Nietzsche’s Eternal Recurrence of the Same, and Heidegger’s vom Ereignis (from Enowning) simultaneously as attempts to provoke the experience.  Not that they do, but they do at least prepare one for it in a similar way to mystic practice preparing one for divine revelation.  Understanding understanding, as it were, doesn’t give you an understanding of anything in particular.  It gives you a different sense of things where understanding precedes self-conscious interpretation.

More on this later …


Presence, Presencing, Presentation and Being

In terms of Being and Place, Topoi, it seems necessary to work out the differences at play between Presence, Presencing, and Presentation. Beings have presence, that is to say they are present in the present and abide by for a while. Presencing is the event of presence, therefore the event of the Being of any particular being, it’s uncovering, its truth. Presentation is the situation within which the being may presence, and different beings may presence in different situations. Being itself is the hidden core of presentation, the point of excess that always threatens the situation with its overabundance. As punctual Being is the limit of the limit-situation itself.


My vocabulary, its origin, and a kid difficulty

Someone I know, a thoughtful person herself, complained recently about my “reinventing vocabulary” in reference to how I write and speak, and it triggered a number of thoughts about vocabulary in general and mine in particular, which in turn triggered thoughts on issues I have had in my development as a whole.

Not that I do, or do intentionally, reinvent vocabulary (well maybe sometimes I do prefer my own terms for certain things, such as “absolute enslavement” 😛 ). I have a fair background in both phenomenology and the philosophy of language, particularly with reference to Hegel, Heidegger and Derrida, and so the language that I most naturally use includes terms and structures that are not unusual in these writers but are not so commonly used. But along with this I have some Asperger’s traits, and fundamentally for me all language is in the first place a foreign language, English as much as symbolic logic, and am often non-verbal for long periods, so language that is unusual and seems foreign to other people doesn’t seem any more foreign to me that what is deemed common parlance. I developed my sense of language despite, rather than because, language in general is a natural or easy thing for me. But I developed enough of a sense of language to serve me decently in what I do because I also had an ability for languages, whether foreign or not :).

My aspies traits have been a concern for me very recently in general. I’m not unhappy about having them – I enjoy the abilities I have as a result and I’m not upset by having had to make a slight extra effort with things like language. I learned language quite well in spite of aspies, and learned other things – such as how to judge people’s perceptions of oneself – that are more difficult for aspies people than for the general population. Overall I’m quite content with the combinations of abilities I have developed – I was lucky enough that my aspies traits weren’t so severe that I couldn’t overcome things that I found necessary to overcome, and I learned many of the things I learned when I was too young to actually notice that it took me more or less effort than other kids.

The reason it has been a concern, then, is not particularly regarding myself, but regarding emmie and her son. Both of emmie’s sons are diagnosed autistics, but the younger one really fits the description of someone with aspies more than autism, while the older one fits the description of a medium to medium-high functioning autistic more accurately. I haven’t spent a great deal of time with her older son, who lives with his father in another state, but her younger son lives with us and is currently 9, which seems to be an important age for a kid with aspies. According to child development guidelines 9 to 11 is the age when children generally become social personalities. Up to that point children are an odd combination of self absorption and parent-centrism, they don’t come across as completely self-interested, simply because their “self” is still integrated with those that raised them, usually their parents in this society.

But between 9 and 11 years this changes, and kids suddenly take an avid interest in one another. Peer pressure first really develops at this age and so does the need to be close to other kids, rather than first looking for parental/teacher acceptance and only later for acceptance by peers. Along with this comes the development of, not self-awareness, but awareness of how one is perceived by others. Aspies and autistic kids are often labelled not self-aware but this is a mislabelling of the fact that they are not aware of how others perceive them. They are aware of their actual “selves” quite strongly as far as I can tell. A striking difference between a fully autistic child and an aspies one, for me, is the difference between not knowing that one is perceived as “ different” or “odd”, vs. knowing it, but not necessarily understanding it or being able to change it.

So her son is having difficulty integrating with other kids at the age that they are all beginning to do so with each other. This could be a very temporary thing, where her son is delayed developmentally and will start to develop that kind of other-kid-awareness a bit later, or it could be a fundamental short-circuit in his wiring – I simply don’t know enough about aspies or her son to be able to judge. From being aspies myself, in a less apparently severe way, I know that an aspies kid “can” learn that kind of awareness even if it’s not altogether natural or easy. But I don’t know if that’s true for every aspies kid or just for some. And if it can be learned by any kid that is by definition aspies and not fully autistic (if there is a hard-and-fast line, which seems doubtful) I don’t know about the best way to go about helping a kid learn it. The kid has ample reason to learn it – at present he gets picked on and his reactions to things – or more precisely how he allows people to see those reactions – makes it all the more likely he will continue to get picked on. Kids are sensitive and emotional creatures. It’s not that “normies” don’t get sensitive or have emotional reactions to things, but they learn more quickly than an autistic child what reactions are acceptable to show in front of whom, and what reactions will cause them to be made fun of or treated as “weird”.

This kid has it both good and bad when it comes to the severity of his difficulties. From the limited exposure I’ve had to his elder brother, he has much more of a chance than the elder sibling of living an apparently “normal” life. Where the elder child will always be treated as disabled in certain functional ways, the younger one may be treated as having been “developmentally” delayed, and may always be “odd” in certain ways, but will likely generally be treated as having “caught up” with everyone else. I use scare quotes on “caught up” because, as with many aspies kids, he has definite abilities as well as disabilities, and overall is very intelligent, so much so that despite an obvious learning disability he is in a regular school at the right grade for his age and is on the school’s honor roll. There are many ways where he will always be “ahead” of the average kids in his classes. Not that you have to have aspies to be intelligent or have abilities, he is simply one of the lucky kids that despite whatever problems and issues he might have, he has these abilities to fall back on.

I hope that with further study, partly of aspies syndrome, mostly of emmie’s son himself, we’ll be able to figure out ways to help him overcome the areas where he does have difficulties. The extra effort it takes him will be worth it in terms of living the life that he will eventually want to choose for himself, and with certain other things being relatively easy for him, he should have spare energy to use on overcoming his issues.


Thought at its Limits

Foucault praises linguistics and psychoanalysis as examples of thought at its limits which discovers at the center of knowledge not humanity, but a sort of anti-humanity, a dead end if you will. Both linguistics and psychoanalysis find humanity suspended in a web of language, a language which mediates humanity and allows humanity to constitute an image of itself. But language is not such a stable support network; rather language’s promise of solidity is something like quicksand, an infinitely regressing system which cannot comprehend its own foundation since it has no center or originary meaning to rest on. “From within language experienced and transversed as language, in the play of its possibilities extended to their farthest point, what emerges is that man has ‘come to an end’, and that, by reaching the summit of all possible speech, he arrives not at the very heart of himself but at the brink of that which limits him; in that region where death prowls, where thought is extinguished, where the promise of the origin interminably recedes.” If humanity reveals itself only in and by language, humanity must accept a certain condemnation of silence to never be able to speak of its own origins and ends. Humanity is thrust into the foreground only to be distanced from its foundations, its background, a horizon which cannot speak and which, when approached, undoes thinking (as meaning is undone at the roots of language, the self at the roots of psychoanalysis), leaving only a horizon of the dead.

It is, then, in this context that Foucault speaks of humanity as a recent invention. Only with the elaboration of specific systems of thought which could inquire not into humanity’s ideal or essence, but the functioning of the foreground and the silhouette of humanity against the enabling background. “We shall say, therefore, that a ‘human science’ exists, not whenever man is in question, but wherever there is analysis – within the dimension proper to the unconscious – of norms, rules, and signifying totalities which unveil to consciousness the conditions of its forms and contents.” The subject of humanity was constituted during a certain moment in history which “dissolved” language, that is, an era which knowingly constructed its understanding of humanity “objectively,” in between the spaces of representationality which show how humanity is deployed. According to Foucault, the human sciences address humanity in so far as people live, speak, and produce (biology, philology, and economics), and create its model by isolating and questioning the functioning of humanity when the norms and rules break down, and on that basis rebuild knowledge by showing how a functional representation of humanity can come into being and be deployed (and thus, Foucault will later argue, perfect the techniques of normalization and socialized encoding of rules via totalizing methods of power).

As language is now re-coalescing at its limits, combining thought and unthought, the Other of knowledge must give itself over to the Same. Where the limits of thinking reveal its own basis as its foundational limitations, a new way of thinking is constituted which, as Levi-Strauss says, “dissolves humanity.” Foucault writes, “Since man was constituted at a time when language was doomed to dispersion, will he not be dispersed when language regains its unity?” The “death of man” seems a relatively peaceful event, not where humanity explodes with enormous violence, but a moment where humanity withdraws into the background such that a new array of knowledge can be foregrounded. Foucault does not yet have the advantage of a fully elaborated theory of language; however, if such a unity of language is not philosophized, humanity will forever find itself in a dying state, undoing itself by its own logic without our awareness. Foucault seems to ask that humanity die gracefully so that we can direct our energy to elaborating what is not yet thought, and approach a new horizon of articulation.


Helplessness and the Passing Under

mitda in her current blogpiece talks about an experience we shared on Friday.  She had been rendered helpless in a play session completely, and suddenly “something” came over us.  I put something in scare quotes because it didn’t have attributes or anything one could describe, it was just presencing pure and passing over, with a simultaneous (for me) passing under.  I have had this experience before but under very different circumstances.  I felt from it a huge sense of refusal, refusal of worship, refusal of description, refusal of communication.  It seems to be a rare occurrence, and one that one needs to be partially prepared for, but the preparation can never be enough, and it remains the most overwhelming, the definition of overwhelming itself.  The Abyssal.


Psychology of Worldviews

I came across a few things while helping E. out with a paper on Gestalt Therapy. Not that I was much help except in the criticism department, which seems to be my specialty when it comes to E.’s interests :). This however caught my eye from an essay on Jaspers’ Psychology of Worldviews:

“the construction of world views is not a merely neutral process, to be judged in non-evaluative manner. Instead, all world views contain an element of pathology; they incorporate strategies of defensiveness, suppression and subterfuge, and they are concentrated around false certainties or spuriously objectivized modes of rationality, into which the human mind withdraws in order to obtain security amongst the frighteningly limitless possibilities of human existence. World views, in consequence, commonly take the form of objectivized cages (Gehäuse), in which existence hardens itself against contents and experiences which threaten to transcend or unbalance the defensive restrictions which it has placed upon its operations. Although some world views possess an unconditioned component, most world views exist as the limits of a formed mental apparatus”

There is a freedom from anxiety about these limitless possibilities that is the gift of absolute subjugation. This freedom is the cause of the drop in reactance that the submissive experiences in the full acceptance of his/her enslavement.


Psychology of Worldviews

I came across a few things while helping E. out with a paper on Gestalt Therapy. Not that I was much help except in the criticism department, which seems to be my specialty when it comes to E.’s interests :). This however caught my eye from an essay on Jaspers’ Psychology of Worldviews:

“the construction of world views is not a merely neutral process, to be judged in non-evaluative manner. Instead, all world views contain an element of pathology; they incorporate strategies of defensiveness, suppression and subterfuge, and they are concentrated around false certainties or spuriously objectivized modes of rationality, into which the human mind withdraws in order to obtain security amongst the frighteningly limitless possibilities of human existence. World views, in consequence, commonly take the form of objectivized cages (Gehäuse), in which existence hardens itself against contents and experiences which threaten to transcend or unbalance the defensive restrictions which it has placed upon its operations. Although some world views possess an unconditioned component, most world views exist as the limits of a formed mental apparatus”

There is a freedom from anxiety about these limitless possibilities that is the gift of absolute subjugation. This freedom is the cause of the drop in reactance that the submissive experiences in the full acceptance of his/her enslavement.


Nature vs Nurture (sic)

Jubal just had to raise the spectre of the nature vs nurture argument viz BDSM in his post.  Now you should know Jubal and I have very different intellectual backgrounds and very different ideas about most things.  Luckily it creates a healthy, fun argumentative situation and not a nasty type of thing.

In this particular case Jubal states very definitively that all BDSM is a learned thing.  I’m assuming that by “all BDSM” Jubal intends to include M/s and D/s as well as the more playful types of BDSM that interest him more at the moment.  Now I don’t fall, this time, on the complete opposite side of his argument.  With just basic knowledge of information theory it seems unlikely that the number of bits required to produce the quantity of memes in a developed human brain could be found in the human genome pool.  At the same time evolutionary psychology has a foothold in demonstrability in the identical twins raised apart studies, which show striking and sometimes unbelievable correlations between the developed behavioural patterns of people with shared genes and different development histories.

Of course neither IT or EP are really close to my own background and methodology for analysing a question, but in order to satisfy Jubal that I am paying some attention to Science and not all my attention to Philosophy I mention them, and what I feel they do bring to the argument.

So what does phenomenology have to say about the situation?  Since here we are discussing psychology in a broad sense, without agreeing with the DSM-IV that these things are deviant in the sense of being a psychiatric issue, I will bring in the most phenomenological of the psychological schools, Daseinsanalysis.

 Daseinsanalysis prescribes a phenomenological approach of paying attention to the things themselves, and not immediately subsuming the concrete phenomena under a already available set of abstractions, such as specific development theories (Freud) or specific meaning theories (Jung).

The phenomenon of personal domination, in my history, is one where it was something I simply did.  It was only later that I realized how much I exerted control in my early relationships, without being overt or, really, honest about it, even with myself.  Partly due to my ex’s being a dominatrix, but mostly due to mitda’s need for submission and the immediate way I responded to it, I became open to the idea of being dominant in a thoughtful, proactive sense.  And this has continued since, as we’ve developed from playing at BDSM to entering a TPE triad, myself, mitda and emmie.  So the practice of domination is something I have definitely learned, but it seems to have been learned from a strong pre-existing tendency. 

This feeling I have seen talked about on the BDSM boards when the question comes up by dominants and submissives alike, who can trace their immediate responsiveness to BDSM situations, whether real or portrayed, as far back into their childhood as they can remember.  And while I am sure there are people into BDSM that can trace their interest back to specific events, such as childhood abuse or trauma, when asked on the boards it doesn’t seem to have that strong a correlation for most of the participants.

I am asking mitda and emmie to put in their opinions as to how they experience and first experienced the submissive traits they have developed.  How much came in the development and how much (if any) do you feel was a priori present?  My own feeling about M/s, at least, as a subset of BDSM, is that it is learned, but learned out of strong pre-existing traits.  That I happen to share my dominant traits with my mother (who I am similar to in many ways) shows a possibility of a genetic connection also, but since my parents raised me, it being developmentally acquired from her is not out of the question.