The things that populate our world and the parameters that define our situation are familiar to us, and they provide the terms we use to make sense of our own identities. In fact, though, these familiar terms and situations are generally frames of reference that have been handed down to us: for the most part, they are terms that have been culturally and historically shaped, and we have inherited them, typically without really understanding where they have come from or why they were invented, and, further, typically not noticing how culturally-specific and contingent they are. Marriage, the identifying of the days of the week, the invention of coffee, the development of clothing styles, the very creating of our native language, are all cultural—and culturally specific—accomplishments that have their roots in specific human practices and human needs. We grow up into situations in which these accomplishments are taken for granted, and we take them over as the natural terms within which to define our lives, when in fact these terms actually represent not the given order of nature, but the result of a history of human effort to figure out how to live.
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What we should, but often do not, recognize, is that the same situation is true of sex. Sex, like love, is a way of comporting oneself with another, and it is enacted through a complex web of different attitudes and practices. Once again, there is no necessary or sufficient condition for sex: in particular, it is not reducible to genital contact, nor is genital contact automatically sex.
A body enters our field of experience, and the whole environment is transformed: a new order of meaning overlays the world, a new order in which my body and that of the other are suddenly highlighted in a magical, magnetic way. Erotic experience takes us out of the ordinary, and we experience the opening up of a world beyond the everyday, a charged world where the very fabric of things takes on a new, exciting texture, a bodily texture in which we find ourselves bodily implicated.
Erotic experience is first a kind of calling, a beckoning from one body to another. One feels oneself called upon to respond, to act in such a way as to take up the charge of the situation, but the charge is puzzling, ambiguous. The bodily action is a kind of answer to the question the other poses to us, but, as in any real conversation, the answer to the question is not given in advance. We feel that something is called for from us, but it is not immediately clear what that something is.
The various activities we engage in—caressing, kissing, etc. The erotic is what takes us into something new and unprecedented, in which we cannot rely on an already established set of terms and rules. Sex is natural, not in a biological sense, but in the sense that we feel especially brought home to ourselves when we are called, puzzlingly, to creatively mould our bodily situation with this other body.
It is natural, that is to say, as a form of experience rather than as a biological given. No doubt it because we feel this call and response as a bodily emergence that we are sometimes tempted to confuse it with what is natural biologically. Erotic perception is as hard to maintain as is artistic creativity. The puzzling challenge of the erotic call is not easily answered, and it is easiest to evade the unsettling beckoning of desire by drawing upon the readymade. Kissing, fondling and all the other stereotyped practices so familiar to us from the movies are easily substituted for authentic erotic engagement, and treated as if they were sex.
Politics and language are two of the most striking examples of realities that we have to bring into being in order to be able to truly be ourselves.
Sex, it seems to me, is of this same nature. We live with the need to have the world in our mind fit with the world of other people, and the shape our life takes is determined by how these two mesh. At another, ultimately more intimate level, the need for the integration of perspectives means having our sense of ourselves accord with the views others have of us.
In any given encounter, it is possible to interact smoothly with another who thinks of you differently from the way you think of yourself. But many of us not all! Or, again, it may be amusing to be lectured to by someone with far less experience in a matter with respect to which you are an expert, especially if you will soon return to a world where your expertise is recognized such that your sense of yourself is not significantly threatened by this minor case of misapprehension.
Finally, such a situation of misrecognition can even be strategic, that is, you might rely on being misunderstood so that you can subsequently win praise through revealing your unrecognized greatness. I have a friend who used to do just that: at a young age, he had sailed both across the equator and through the arctic circle, thereby earning the privilege of resting both of his elbows upon the dinner table while at sea; he would regularly put his elbows on the table nonchalantly, counting upon being challenged by an older sailor who would presume from his youth that he had not earned the right to do so, only so that he could have the pleasure of proving that sailor wrong.
At the age of 70, Socrates was accused of impiety and of corrupting the youth of Athens. Those who accused him and most of those who tried him were significantly younger than he was; they were not there when, as a young man, he spoke with Parmenides and Zeno, or when he learned the art of love from Diotima, or when he returned to Athens from a long absence and spoke with the young Charmides.
Both at his trial and with his later followers, Socrates exists primarily as a reputation that he has acquired in the eyes of others—a reputation that may be quite at odds with the identity he actually lived through in the events of his life. It is hard not to think that both his accusers and many of his followers significantly misrecognized him; in the case of his trial, that misrecognition cost him his life.
Most of us will not be tried in court at the age of 70 and forced to justify our lives to the younger generation. But it seems to be nearly a necessity that with age will come misrecognition. Since no one turns to you now for help, no one will recognize how much you know about mechanics, finance, or medicine. Though for you your love affairs were many and meaningful, no one around you even knows of the existence of your former partners, let alone of your passionate, erotic style.
One need not be 70 or 80 to face such misrecognition. We can all surely turn to those around us and notice how short and narrow is the history of our acquaintance with them.
But this issue seems especially pronounced for the very old. When we are younger, we have resources to turn to with which to counter the force of misrecognition: we can turn to a more intimate community of peers and old friends where we feel better recognized, or we can demonstrate through our actions those aspects of our identity that others are failing to notice.
For the very old, though, there typically is no other community to turn to for recognition, and typically it is no longer realistically possible to re-enact an earlier identity. We should take care that we remember that the old were once young, and that it is up to those of us who are now young to ensure the continuing recognition and remembrance of their true identity. But whereas New York has been a major city only for about years initially beginning to prosper through offering a regular naval cargo service operating back and forth to England , Rome had been a cultural capitol for centuries.
In , though, Rome was sacked by the Goths, and, though that particular event may not be of tremendous significance by itself, it is emblematic of the dramatic change that took place around this time.
While there were obvious signs of trouble by , I imagine that people generally did not imagine their whole world and all its familiar terms and structures were about to disappear; by , I imagine the millenium-long glory of Greco-Roman Mediterranean culture seemed the matter for a nostalgic dream. I tend to think that we are living in Rome in In other words, I think we are living in a world that is soon to undergo a pretty dramatic change.
Our modern North American culture and the broader culture of European modernity that is its context was built up through generations of creative work, and, through both fair means and foul, this modern life was accomplished. Our modern generation, though, has mostly lived on the fruits of these accomplishments—not so much accomplishments in technology, which are obviously of central importance, but more importantly accomplishments in the development of social infrastructure such as sewage systems and roadways, accomplishments in political participation for historically marginalized groups, developments in intercultural communication and interaction, and so on—without particularly advancing or even protecting these accomplishments.
Instead, the richness of our accomplished culture has been a great storehouse to be plundered by wily politicians, bankers and the like for many decades, while the broader population carries on its life largely oblivious to what is happening, content to live on the basis of the progressively attenuated form of the accomplishments of earlier generations.
I fear that not long from now this world will look different in a way most of us, presuming without question the general continuation of the familiar, have not anticipated or prepared for. I think it is important in such situations for concerned individuals to remember that this was the age into which we were born. The forces that have brought us to this point were not of our making, and none of us has the individual power to change this contemporary state of things.
We, as individuals, are not players at the global level and we should not, therefore, measure our individual agency by its ability to have an impact at that level.
While it is easy and no doubt proper! Teachers typically do not have the power to reduce the sizes of the classes that they are required, by the economic and organizational decisions of governments and educational administrators, to teach.
While it is right to complain about the bad educational policies that produce such large classes and to contribute what one can to collective action aimed at pressuring administrators to improve things, frustrating experiences in which we commonly discover more impotence than power , we should nonetheless complement these activities with the positive practice of doing what we can to offer the most we can to the students who have no other avenue to education than this, and we should recognize that, in so doing, we are offering an essential human service that will come from nowhere else if not from us.
But, in the absence of the ability to have a large-scale impact, which is the glittering dream by which contemporary advertising tantalizes us all , we should not conclude that art is no longer relevant, but should instead contribute to the spiritual health of the smaller communities to which we belong, and we should appreciate the irreplaceable importance of this contribution. We should care about matters of global justice, and do what is within our power to understand these issues and to support constructive efforts, but we should also remember to focus on the local matters of justice that arise in our families, our workplaces and our other local communities.
Whereas in the first domain we can typically expect to meet with failure and frustration, there is good reason to think we can meet with much success in our local settings, which is much to the advantage of the quality of the lives of all the individual persons involved. This year, why not resolve to contribute what you can to your local worlds, despite the gloom that characterizes our global situation? One was on the streetcar, where a man was introducing his companion to another friend.
I work for a company marketing solar panels. The woman selling solar panels seemed reasonably enthusiastic about her job, and I imagine the Chief Financial Officer feels fairly successful. To me, though, these job descriptions sounded much more unhappy than happy. The people around me make their livings in ways very different from this.
I am surrounded mostly by teachers and musicians, with a few others thrown in: a visual artist, a musical instrument repairman, a couple of editors, a couple of recording engineers, a couple of owners of small clubs. These people have all devoted their lives to activities they find inherently fulfilling. There is a fundamental difference between making a living by doing something you care about, and doing something for the sake of making money. In order to make a living, most people have to find a place for themselves in the money-making economy.
That means that most people are destined to spend possibly the largest part of their lives devoted to a practice that is not inherently fulfilling and undertaken as something freely chosen for its own sake, but is undertaken out of necessity.
Indeed, many people may find great satisfaction in such work, for myriad reasons. My point, rather, is that it is sad that, by and large, these are all the options we have to choose from. Our culture has proudly advertised itself as a society of choice, and this is the notion that is typically rolled out to justify our economic system.
It looks to me, though, like this is an economy in which most people have had realistic choices about ways of freely making a living eliminated, and they are instead forced to subordinate the bulk of their lives to the necessity of money-making.
The kitchen counter was particularly intense in its clutter, and it took a moment of gathering psychological fortitude to dive into cleaning up. What struck me as the difficulty in cleaning this stuff up and something similarly is true of packing up the house when moving was the disorganized character of the mess.
This situation was especially emblematized to me by the crumpled up bags on the counter bags that had formerly contained potato chips, wine bottles, etc. When partyers had extracted their comestibles from the bags, they had scrunched the bags up with their hands possibly a practice and a gesture that they found satisfying in itself, as people sometimes enjoy crushing their empty beer cans. The reason I noticed the bags was that, in gathering up the paper ones for recycling, I noticed how much less space they took up when I folded them up neatly, compared to how much space they occupied in their crumpled state.
Uncrumpling the bags and folding them neatly was actually a moderately pleasing activity, different in gesture but probably roughly equivalent in level of emotional payoff to that experienced by the original crumplers.
I also noticed how much easier it would have been to fold the bags neatly in the first place i. No doubt there are plenty of circumstances in which a crumpling attitude is better than a folding attitude. Last night was a party, after all, so self-controlled orderliness is probably less fitting to that event that messy spontaneity. Some other situations are not like this, though.
When situations are challenging and stressful, we feel a sense of pressure, and we want that pressure to be released and the situation to be over. Such rash actions, however, generally fit quite poorly with high pressure situations. The pressure is typically there because the situation is important and because the issues are complex. What such situations typically call for is precisely the opposite of messy spontaneity: they call for self-controlled orderliness.
Interpersonal conflict, always an arena of highly charged emotions, is a prime site for this mismatch of call and response. What we get left with then, in addition to the original problem that needed sorting out, is something that first needs to be uncrumpled before it can be folded up properly. And, like the paper bag, it never folds as well after having been crumpled as it would have when it was still a fresh surface.
We Need to Talk. We do go through our days wrapped up in myriad affairs that occupy our attention, our problem-solving skills, our emotions and more, and it seems that that should supply material to share with someone else, someone close.
And it does seem true that people get into bad relationships with their partners, developing habits of withdrawal and silence rather than sharing. But, I thought, there is another answer to the question asked in that song.
How can such a thing happen? Perhaps, after a difficult day, we want to be petted and amused rather than being called upon to be lively and engaging. The other night, I went to a party at the home of friends whom I like very much. Further, the other guests at the party were also people I like very much and whose company I welcome. And, yet further and more importantly still, I went in the company of someone very dear to me.
Human Experience: Philosophy, Neurosis, and the Elements of Everyday Life
Start your review of Human Experience: Philosophy, Neurosis, and the Elements of Everyday Life Write a review Aug 30, Arjun Ravichandran rated it it was amazing This book, despite its slimness, is a great big hunk of deepness. The author brilliantly synthesizes existentialist phenomenology drawing mainly from Heidegger in its emphasis on the fundamentally interpretative nature of human life, as well as Merleau-Ponty with regards to the inescapable ontology of our embodiment with Hegel in its central thesis of conflict being crucial for development as well as Freud, the book being an examination of human neurosis after all. The author, showing a clear This book, despite its slimness, is a great big hunk of deepness. Instead, the author argues, neurosis is fundamental to the human condition itself, an early construction of identity based on our initial introduction to intersubjectivity, which guarantees our entry into the social world, which is in fact, our world simpliciter.
John Russon 1 Interpretation Challenging Traditional Prejudices What could be more obvious than that there is a world outside us and that we must make choices about how to deal with it? When we think about our place in the world, this is almost always what we imagine. Is it so obvious though? Is this the proper way to describe our situation? We can be a bit more precise.
Human Experience: Philosophy, Neurosis, and the Elements of Everyday Life
What we should, but often do not, recognize, is that the same situation is true of sex. Sex, like love, is a way of comporting oneself with another, and it is enacted through a complex web of different attitudes and practices. Once again, there is no necessary or sufficient condition for sex: in particular, it is not reducible to genital contact, nor is genital contact automatically sex. A body enters our field of experience, and the whole environment is transformed: a new order of meaning overlays the world, a new order in which my body and that of the other are suddenly highlighted in a magical, magnetic way. Erotic experience takes us out of the ordinary, and we experience the opening up of a world beyond the everyday, a charged world where the very fabric of things takes on a new, exciting texture, a bodily texture in which we find ourselves bodily implicated. Erotic experience is first a kind of calling, a beckoning from one body to another.
Amazon Music Stream millions of songs. The adult others with whom we develop signiicant relationships can offer us an intersubjective environment that can support a different form of living—a different narrative—than that summoned forth by the family environment. ComiXology Thousands of Digital Comics. Ships from and sold by Amazon. Get to Know Us.