Thinking Psychoanalytically: Can This Survive in the 21st Century? Part 1:The Context: Warning! Our Short-Term Society Can Seriously Damage Our Health.

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Freud’s couch.

‘In the sphere of psychotherapy, short-term, standardized treatments and contracts are becoming the norm, which greatly appeals to insurance companies.’ (Vernaeghe)

Is our twenty-first century world itself becoming short-term and standardized?

As we have seen in previous posts, ours has become a culture which frequently  demands immediate gratification and quick results. This will, inevitably, have long term deleterious effects.

Here are two important examples:

1.In the NHS

‘Fast-track counselling’ or ‘call centre therapy‘, as it has been described, has been introduced into the NHS, to cope with the increasing demand for help with depression and anxiety. The IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies) offers some 30 minute telephone and online consultations of CBT  and also individual and group therapy.

Research conducted in 2018 resulted in some criticism of this service:

‘The results suggest that only the tip of the iceberg fully recovers from their disorder (9.2%) whether or not they were treated before or after a personal injury claim. There is a pressing need to re-examine the modus operandi of the service.’

Journal of Health Psychology

Dr Elizabeth Cotton(2018) laments the poor quality of this service according to her research, with too few sessions offered and a rigid model of CBT used.

2. Regarding Our Planet

Crucially, our planet may also suffer from this short-term -and short-sighted- approach:

‘While short-term thinking is not surprising, it can be problematic. In his 2004 book A Short History of Progress, Ronald Wright describes human beings in today’s world as running 21st century software on 50,000-year-old hardware. The results can be catastrophic. For example, our inability to properly consider long-term risks or opportunities in combination with our short-term focus explains the four decades of inaction in dealing with climate change. We did not respond to the proverbial hand moving in slow-motion towards our face before it was nearly too late.’

Feike Sybesma,

Future generations will inevitably have to endure the results of this lack of consideration and forward thinking in terms of the risks of climate change.

3. Consumerism and This Throwaway Culture.

In 2018, we live in a society that is led by materialism and  consumerism. Influences which shape contemporary life are, for example, the celebrity culture, with its ‘must-have’ fashions, image-consciousness and status symbols and the huge shopping centres that are everywhere and often resemble places of worship.

In terms of beauty, the fake and the false is prized over the natural (nails, hair extensions, eyelashes, breasts etc.)

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Image: The  Trafford Centre.  Wikimedia Commons

Ours is a society which regards the disposable, the throwaway, as the norm. Rather than wash items, we use disposables, such as paper cups, face-wipes, paper towels, tissues. Rather than repair, we discard and replace, without thinking.

Food is packed in layers of plastic and cardboard which create more rubbish. The oceans are polluted with waste plastic and microfibres, harming animals and the environment.

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  ‘Trash Mountain.’ Woodley Wonderworks. Flickr.

Goods are deliberately not made to be durable, so that they will have to be discarded and new ones purchased. Often repair costs exceed that of buying new. Repair shops are disappearing from the high street.

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‘e-Waste.’ Curtis Palmer. Flickr.

Cheap and poorly made fashions can be changed quickly, so that people will buy new clothes regularly. Imported plastic shoes replace leather ones. Obsolescence and future failure are built in to many digital and electrical goods. Furniture is seldom passed down through the generations, as it used to be. Younger generations mostly seem to prefer IKEA to antiques.

All these factors- fast- track therapy, short-term thinking about climate change, fast food, the throwaway culture, all these embody the current lack of long term thinking, which is reflected in so many aspects of contemporary society.

In Freud’s Day…..

How were Freud’s ways of thinking different? In total contrast, Sigmund Freud collected treasured antiquities, objects to keep and value, full of meaning and history. He was passionate about archaeology. Such artefacts are the opposite of disposable; they are to keep, to cherish and preserve, for centuries.

They represent connectivity with the past, things that have been entombed and retrieved, that can, like buried memories, give us clues as to how the past affects the present. This is long-term thinking.

Frued’s choice of such artefacts  reflected his approach to his life and work:

‘Like archaeology, psychoanalysis is an exercise in sifting through the fragments of the past.’ (Freud Museum)

When people lay on his couch, they knew they were mostly in this for the long term, perhaps several years. This was no quick fix, but a deep, meaningful exploration and analysis of a person’s internal world.

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    Some of Freud’s artefacts

Next week’s post asks: Can Psychoanalytic thinking fit into today’s short term culture?

What do you think of today’s short-term and throwaway culture? Let me know in the comments below!

Thinking and Acting

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Are thinking and acting separate facilities and can they function independently? Does the one precede the other or are they interlinked, even blended? Should we think or act first?

Is thought in itself an action?

Some might say it is, for when we think, our minds are often described as ‘active.’ Asimov said ‘Writing, to me, is thinking with my fingers.’ Similarly, Michelangelo stated that ‘A man paints with his brains, not with his hands.’

However, some people, such as Goethe, regard thought and action as separate entities. He felt that ‘thinking is easy, acting is difficult and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.’ He obviously did not regard the two as part of a smooth continuum.

Shakespeare’s Hamlet thought similarly, although he regarded thought and conscience as negative manifestations of fear. For him, thinking robs him of the courage to act, leaving him a coward:

‘Thus conscience does make cowards of us all,
And thus the native hue of resolution
Is sicklied o’er with the pale cast of thought,
And enterprises of great pith and moment
With this regard their currents turn awry,
And lose the name of action.’

(Hamlet, Act 3 scene 1 83-88)

This is not an uncommon way of seeing thinking, one which regards action as creative and heroic and thought as stultifying and weak:

‘Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It’s self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.’
(Ray Bradbury)

‘Dance first. Think later. It’s the natural order.’
(Samuel Beckett)

However, in an interesting paper called Creative Action in Mind, Peter Carruthers makes the point that thought may not always accompany, or indeed precede, action. For example, when a person mirrors another’s physical actions during a conversation, they often do so without conscious thought or planning.

The trumpeter Miles Davis said ‘I’ll play it first and tell you what it is later.’
Carruthers highlights ‘act-first accounts of creativity,’ such as jazz improvisations. These sometimes surprise even their musical creator; Carruthers refers to the book by Berliner entitled Thinking in Jazz:The Infinite Art of Improvisation , which highlights the fact that there is often no planning or thought preceding spontaneous acts of musical creativity:

‘So when a jazz improviser is surprised by the sequence of notes that he hears himself play, that is evidence that he didn’t have a prior expectation (whether conscious or unconscious) that he would play a sequence of notes of that sort. And that means that he had not formulated a creative thought in advance of performing the creative action. ‘

I do take issue , though, with the above statement about ‘conscious or unconscious ‘expectation.’ Surely an expectation is, by its very nature ‘conscious’? The unconscious represents the part of our mind of which we are largely unaware; therefore I do not think we can actually have an ‘unconscious expectation,’ as Berliner implies.

What we can have is unconscious brain activity. This might involve us being surprised by what suddenly surfaces into consciousness, such as memories, dreams and, yes, musical improvisations. Thus the jazz improvisor mentioned above may, in fact, to my mind, have a store of unconscious musical sequences, garnered from a multiplicity of past experiences, that might pop out and surprise him at any moment. Berliner’s above-mentioned ‘evidence’ is therefore a little shaky.

It is possible to think and act simultaneously. This is amply illustrated in Donald Schon’s book  The Reflective Practitioner: How Professionals Think in Action .

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He uses the term reflection-in-action to describe a process whereby people think and know about their work whilst they are actually doing it. He also calls it knowing-in practice. This is a considerable skill, honed through intelligence and experience.

It is something we all do, not only at work, but in our everyday lives:

Phrases like “thinking on your feet,” “keeping your wits about you,” and “learning by doing” suggest not only that we can think about doing, but we can think about doing something while doing it.

In fact, thought and action can be, and are, creative partners. Buddha said ‘with our thoughts we make the world,’ and ‘what we think, we become.’ He saw the creative power of thought as crucial to constructive action, a parts of the same process.

Many see thought as necessarily preceding action. Beethoven carried his thoughts in his head ‘ for a long time, often for a very long time, before writing them down.’ Freud said that ‘Thought is action in rehearsal.’

This ‘rehearsal’ time is regarded by others as crucial. Scientific research by Dr Stephen Fleming reveals that, often, the quick-fire decisions that are encouraged in our current society, do, in fact, mean that we might sometimes increase our chances of getting it wrong. In an article in Aeon in 2014 entitled ‘Hesitate!‘ he states:

‘The agonising feeling of conflict between two options is not necessarily a bad thing: it is the brain’s way of slowing things down….

When people do come to speedy conclusions, there is less opportunity to gather and assess the necessary evidence to form a good decision. The ‘neural flip-flopping’  between options is regarded as ‘the brain’s weighing of evidence for and against decision………..We should allow some indecision into our lives.’

It is a pity that Shakespeare’s Hamlet could not have known of these findings. Then he might have felt less cowardly in relation to his indecisiveness and he might have seen his hesitation as a constructive mechanism.

However, the play would have been far less attractive to the audience and much less of a tragedy.

 

Deconstructing Hospitality: Just How Welcoming Are We? Part 3.

“You’re probably surprised to find us so inhospitable,” said the man, “but hospitality isn’t a custom here, and we don’t need any visitors.”

‘If this quotation from Kafka’s Castle seems strange to us, it is because we cannot believe that there is a culture, a society or “a form of social connection without a principle of hospitality. But what is left of this principle of hospitality today, or ethics in general, when fences are erected at the borders, or even “hospitality” itself is considered a crime?’

(Gerasimos Kakoliris)

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How hospitable are you? Let us know how you feel about this subject in the comments box below.

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‘Trump’s Wall.’

Being hospitable has traditionally been seen as a noble quality, an indicator of a generous and civilised culture. However, this image of hospitality has been eroded and, in our contemporary society, the forbidding face of exclusion, racism and inhospitable attitudes is showing itself.

What is lacking in all this is the quality of empathy. Much of this approach entails a ‘failure of empathy,’ discussed in a previous post. Instead, an ‘us and them’ attitude often prevails.

Newspaper headlines such as the following reflect this:

WHEN IN ROME’ All immigrants must be forced to take language classes if they don’t speak English on arrival in UK, MPs say’ (The Sun 5.1.17)

Britain’s migration revolution: Home Secretary Sajid Javid unveils the biggest immigration reform for decades – vowing to end EU free movement, give no preference to European workers and insist that firms try to hire Brits first (Daily Mail 1.10.18)

Strong border control is a moral obligation

TELEGRAPH VIEW 28.12.18

 

 

Obviously, as history shows, such attitudes are age-old. As if in prophetic response to this Derrida asks:

 

‘That is where the question of hospitality begins: must we ask the foreigner to understand us, to speak our language, in all the senses of this term, in all its possible extensions, before being able and so as to be able to welcome him into our country? If he was already speaking our language, with all that that implies, if we already shared everything that is shared with a language, would the foreigner still be a foreigner and could we speak of asylum or hospitality in regard to him?’ (Derrida)

 

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Should we realistically expect immigrants who do not speak English to learn our language when they arrive? If so, is this because we cannot abide people who are not like us? Perhaps there is a sense that speaking our language would  make immigrants more like ‘us’, more understandable, less ‘other?’

Yet can we ever ‘understand’ how hard it might be for some to arrive in a new country with a ‘strange’ culture and have to learn a foreign way of speaking? If we have not experienced being a refugee, can we even imagine how awful it would be to feel so dispossessed?

Arrested refugees - Fylakio Detetntion Center, Thrace, Evros, Greece.

Wikimedia Commons

In the U.S., immigrants were assaulted because they were overheard speaking their own language.

It may, indeed, ideally be easier in some ways if immigrants were able to speak English. However, there are so many other pressures on immigrants; the complexities and commitment of language learning may be unmanageable and unrealistic. Perhaps we could find it within ourselves to welcome distressed and traumatised people here without imposing further stipulations on them.

However, even the most hospitable people will have limits. Derrida postulates an extreme position in his deconstruction of the notion of hospitality:

‘… absolute hospitality requires that I open up my home and that I give not only to the foreigner (provided with a family name, with the social status of being a foreigner, etc.), but to the absolute, unknown, anonymous other, and that I give place to them, that I let them come, that I let them arrive, and take place in the place I offer them, without asking of them either reciprocity (entering into a pact) or even their names.’

Derrida knows that this is degree of hospitality, this total altruism, is an impossibility, yet he believes he has defined pure hospitality in its full meaning and this is important.

His deconstruction of the term down to its ‘purest’ form makes us think; he does not offer solutions, he is aware there are no answers to this paradoxical issue, but perhaps it might encourage us to stretch previous hardened boundaries.

He is aware that it is impossible to offer hospitality without it involving even a modicum of power and control. We cannot truly and totally anonymously or altruistically give to another, but his deconstruction reminds us that perhaps we might be able to try harder:

 

Conditional hospitality is not ‘true’ hospitality because it is given only on expectation of a return or offered out of decorum and therefore without responsibility. Unconditional hospitality, which is the ‘truest’ hospitality, is at the same time impossible because in practice one can always be more generous, more welcoming and give more of oneself and one’s home until there is complete self-effacement.

 

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Global Justice Now. GJN Banner. Flickr.

Could you open up your home and offer hospitality to a stranger or have you already done so? Please share your views and experiences in the comments below. Thanks! Linda.

Can We Ever Understand Another’s Thoughts?

“The heart of another is a dark forest, always, no matter how close it has been to one’s own.”
Willa Cather

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‘The Nut Gatherers (1882) W.A. Bougereau

 

A previous post  mentioned the poet Tyutchev’s words: ‘A thought once spoken is a lie.’ Today’s post will develop this theme.

It would appear that the poet is saying that there is absolutely no way in which we can ever speak the truth of our thoughts; it is as though there is some mechanism in the uttering process which automatically gives the lie to our words.

Can this really be so? Should we resist sharing our thoughts because they can never really be communicated in their true and honest form? Is disclosing our thoughts, then, a futile act? Furthermore, if we were able to share our thoughts truthfully, would another person be able to really understand them?

This last question brings to mind the views of the writer Janet Malcolm in a book entitled Psychoanalysis: The Impossible Profession:

‘…we cannot know each other.  We must grope around for each other through a dense thicket of absent others. We cannot see each other plain.’

Malcolm categorically states that there is no hope of ever achieving a clear view of others, whilst the poet has warned us of the impossibility of ever sharing our thoughts in a real and true way, and of them being understood by others. These opinions leave us with an impossibility, for they abandon us, trapping us within a universal, self-created tragedy that condemns us to eternal solitude. Are we really so confined within our own minds, so isolated with our thoughts?

The answer is yes and no. These writers may ultimately be right in their assertions. Obviously, it is impossible to understand totally another’s thoughts and to speak the truth unconditionally. However, these gloomy outlooks might be mitigated a little if we accept that we cannot achieve absolute understanding of self and other. We can only try express our thoughts honestly, with due consideration and discretion. We can only attempt to understand another’s thoughts and being.

With open and flexible thinking, challenging our assumptions and our subjectivities, it is likely that we will move in the direction of perceiving reality about self and other. We can then value this extraordinary journey, whilst being fully aware that we will never reach its endpoint. (Although, in another, more spiritual dimension, it is possible to experience a sense of ‘becoming other.’ This intimate encounter with ‘the other’ will be further explored in a future blog post.)

In The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie supports this more optimistic attitude through his character Jumpi Joshi, the poet. These views contrast strikingly with those of the afore-mentioned writers:

‘Language is courage: the ability to conceive a thought, to speak it, and by doing so to make it true.’

Is  Jumpi Joshi, then, saying that the thoughts we give words to are the truth, not lies? I think that he is; however, in order to understand and interpret his comment, we need to examine what is meant by ‘truth’.

In an essay intriguingly entitled ‘“It was so it was not so:” The Clash of Language in Salman Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses,’ Terri Beth Miller highlights the fact that there are many kinds of truth reflected in the book:

‘What emerges from this cacophony of cultural discourses–theological, nationalistic, sociological–is a theory of humanity, and of language, that embodies no singular attribute, neither purity nor evil, neither God nor Satan, neither truth nor lie, but rather contains all such attributes, all of the time. ‘

Truth is complex, not simple and this complexity is a part of the human condition. It differs from person to person. There is no absolute truth, there is a rich tapestry of many different truths. Perhaps understanding another’s thoughts involves being able to hold several different truths in mind at the same time.

Julian Baggini’s book A Short History of Truth: Consolations for a Post-Truth World details the many different kinds of truth that exist. In this illuminating quotation, he speaks of ‘relative truth’ :

‘The relativist impulse is by and large a noble one. It is opposed to the ownership of truth by one, usually privileged group; the crowding out of alternative perspectives; the simplification of complex reality. But none of this requires us to give up on truth. Indeed, it should require us to treasure it even more, because if none of these different ways of seeing and knowing is true in anything more than a personal or parochial way, why care about any of them? If what is true for me is not true for you then either one of us is wrong, or both of us have only one hand on the truth and need each other’s help to see the whole of it. The panoply of legitimate perspectives should not therefore lead to the fragmentation of truth. Rather we should bring as many of these perspectives together as possible to create a fuller vision of reality.’

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How might this ‘fuller version of reality’ be created? Perhaps through a combination of common sense, some judgement, intuition and clear vision?

There is definitely need, as Baggini says, to be open to the existence of many different kinds of truths : ‘One of the problems we face is not the absence of truth, but its overabundance. Competing eternal truths underpin many conflicts and divisions.’

William James supports this opinion when he says that ‘The greatest enemy of any one of our truths may be the rest of our truths.’

Additionally, the statement of Marcus Aurelius provides considerable clarity: ‘Everything we hear is an opinion, not a fact. Everything we see is a perspective, not the truth.’ This view is echoed by Gustave Flaubert who said: ‘There is no truth. There is only perception.’

These views alert us to the fact that the concept of truth is complex and our understanding of others need to be informed by this. It surely provides us with a creative antidote to the view that we could never understand another’s thoughts. We might not, as Malcolm says, be able to ‘see each other plain.’ But what actually is ‘plain’?

In spite of the fact that we might never be able to completely experience another’s way of thinking and seeing the world, we may still strive to understand their thoughts in an empathic way. Speaking one’s thoughts and having their true meanings, in all their multifarious forms, understood by another, can be a creative and collaborative experience, leading to a real meeting of minds.

Can we ever know another person? Do leave your thoughts on this below. I’d love to hear what you think. Thanks!

Letting in The Other: What does Hospitality Have in Common with Poetry? Part 2: Thinking, Difference and Empathy.

‘I do not ask the wounded person how he feels, I myself become
the wounded person.’

Walt Whitman. Leaves of Grass.

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The Good Samaritan. Ronald Rae. Wikimedia Commons

This second post of three represents a temporary focus on hospitality and poetry; however, these concepts are also highly relevant to psychotherapy. In therapy, allowing another person in to one’s inner world and showing empathy are crucial.

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How can a person let another into their world if they feel no empathy towards them? This holds true for both poetry and hospitality, It would be difficult to offer hospitality to another without having empathy for that person.

The poet also needs empathy in order to describe the spectrum of the human condition with which the reader can identify. The poet needs to see the self in the other, to recognise human commonalities.

At this point we can fruitfully refer back to a previous post; here, we have seen that the poet can contain and express difficult feelings for us.

In his book The Poetry Pharmacy  , William Sieghart takes this concept of poetry as containment even further; he actually prescribes certain poems for a variety of problems. What a delightful concept!

 

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He comments in the book:

‘Suffering is the access point to poetry for a lot of people: that’s when they open their ears, hearts and minds. Being there with the right words for someone in that moment- when something’s happened, when they’re in need- is a great comfort…..’

(Sieghart)

This quotation highlights graphically the theme of this post: the hospitality of the poetic endeavour. The words ‘access’ and ‘open’ emphasise the act of entering into another’s world. The quote continues to bear witness to the fact that poetry, like hospitality,  is about giving and receiving. In this case, poetry is seen as a balm, a comforter, very like the offer of succour or a room for the night when in dire need of accommodation.

Both poetry and hospitality involve feelings and emotions.  I think this is what Derrida was referring to when he spoke of hospitality being poetic.

In the poetry extract below, see how Wordsworth becomes a kind of host, offering hospitality and kinship in terms of openness to other voices and into thoughts and feelings.

Through verse, the poet allows an emotional bonding, a connection, a kind of interaction with the ‘guest’, the reader. It is also a prime example of the poet’s recognition of the universality human experience, his knowledge of the ‘self in the other,’ mentioned above:

For I have learned
To look on nature, not as in the hour
Of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes
The still sad music of humanity,
Nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power
To chasten and subdue.—And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns,
And the round ocean and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man:
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of all thought,
And rolls through all things.

 

Wordsworth

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Van Gogh. Enclosed field with setting sun.

Thus the meaning of hospitality can be extended, to describe the poet’s attitude, as well as that of the hospitable host. By means of emotional and linguistic fluency, poetry can demonstrate a willingness to be vulnerable and let others into that vulnerability, allowing the poet to be seen and recognised, sharing perspectives.

Both poetry and hospitality are reflective, thoughtful. The invitation is to share in something inner. Poetry offers us a special kind of nourishment, it gives us ‘food for thought.’

Hospitality has connections with both poetry and with thought. Without a particular kind of thinking, we will not be able to host others into our own physical, psychic or poetic space. We will be unable to think in terms of the other, to think ourselves into the other’s skin. This might be called empathy, but it might involve more than that.

It entails something more poetic, a transcendent quality that is related to the idea of becoming other. It is a celebration of difference.

‘1. Let brotherly love continue. 2 Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. 3 Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them; and those who are ill-treated, since you also are in the body.’ Hebrews 13:1-3

Acknowledging this and identifying the fact that the ‘stranger’ is not only outside of ourselves, but also within is crucial. The process of trying to becoming one with all aspects of the self, rather than scapegoating others, is surely the most creative way of thinking:

‘If this elephant of mind is held on all sides
by the cord of mindfulness,
All fear disappears and happiness comes.
All enemies: all the tigers, lions, bears,
serpents, elephants…
and all the keepers of hell; the demons and the horrors,
All of these are contained by the attention of your mind,
and by the calming of that mind are calmed,
Because from the mind are derived all fears and unmeasurable
sorrows.’

Shantideva.

 

 

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Image: Peter Clarkson. Unsplash.

The Importance of Early Experience and Social Relationships in the Development of Thinking

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‘The Bee sucks the sweets from wild thyme & marjoram; now it is honey & neither marjoram nor thyme.’

Ralph Waldo Emerson

The metaphor of the bee producing honey expresses much in relation to how human beings absorb and take in what they need from others. What we have learned from other people becomes our own through a psychological process called internalisation. It involves a kind of transformation of others’ ways of being, taken into the very fabric of ourselves. From our earliest beginnings, we have introjected, assimilated into our personalities, aspects of those around us. From this process we come to produce for ourselves authentic thoughts; these originate from the stimulation of others as we learn from their incentives and encouragement.

The psychoanalytic theory of object relations suggests that our early experiences of those who look after us are paramount in terms of future development. The term ‘object’ is a little misleading, as it actually refers to a person. For example, a parent is usually a ‘primary object.’ The perceptions we have of these early relationships and their internal representations, will colour and shape our future lives and relationships.

Ways of thinking about ourselves develop from early experience with our primary caregivers. The responsiveness of the other person to the child, the way in which the child’s image is mirrored and reflected in the mother’s eyes, crucially influence the child’s self image. A significant other who is not empathic, who cannot attune to the child’s needs, will not be able to help that child develop a sense of self that is cohesive and sustaining. The way the mother thinks about her child will form and affect the manner in which the child thinks about herself:

‘The mother gazes at the baby in her arms, and the baby gazes at his mother’s face and finds himself therein… provided that the mother is really looking at the unique, small, helpless being and not projecting her own expectations, fears, and plans for the child. In that case, the child would find not himself in his mother’s face, but rather the mother’s own projections. This child would remain without a mirror, and for the rest of his life would be seeking this mirror in vain.’
D.W. Winnicott

Thoughts do not evolve out of seclusion; interaction with others is essential in relation to the formation of thoughts.  In Thinking in Literature, Anthony Uhlmann points that, according to Spinoza:

‘Thought itself involves, or is, the relation between elements; the ratios which measure and identify things as networks of relations.’

Thus the thinking process itself involves making links and connections; in etymological terms, the words relation, ratio, rationale, reckoning, reason, reasoning and thought are all connected, all come from the same root.

In his book The Cradle of Thought, Peter Hobson suggests that it was ‘social engagement’ that originally produced thought in early human beings and that the development of thought in the infant mirrors the beginnings of thought in the history of the human being:

‘Before language , there was something else – more basic, in a way more primitive, and with unequalled power in its formative potential, that propelled us into language. Something that could evolve in tiny steps, but suddenly gave rise to the thinking processes that revolutionised mental life. Something that (unfortunately) no fossil remains can show us. That something else was social engagement with each other. The links that can join one person’s mind with the mind of someone else – especially, to begin with emotional links – are the very links that draw us into thought. To put it crudely: the foundations of thinking were laid at the point when ancestral primates began to connect with each other emotionally in the same way that human babies connect with their caregivers.’

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The importance of social relationships in relation to thinking is thus paramount; Hobson also describes how infants develop their thinking processes in response to others and he emphasizes the importance of what occurs ‘between people’:

‘The roots of thought are embedded here, in what happens by virtue of one individual’s experience of someone else.’

This connectedness with others is significant throughout our lives. As adults, we continue to be influenced by the thoughts and feelings of those around us. Indeed it is important that we are affected by other people, in terms of our own self-development.

The psychoanalyst Heinz Kohut developed the model of self-psychology, seeing significant others in early life as self-objects, who could provide empathic sustainment for the development of the self. Although the need to depend on others for one’s sense of self does decrease during adulthood , in his work The Restoration Of The Self, Kohut emphasised that fact that adults do continue to use others as self-objects throughout their lives.

As adults, we can continue our psychological development, then, through interactions with others who inspire us. Hopefully having internalised some good-enough self objects during childhood, we can continue to make new connections which stimulate and motivate us.

We can develop our thinking and continue to gain self-esteem from others in adulthood, such as our spouse, partner, therapist, work colleagues, friends, educators. What we need, throughout the life cycle, is other people who can respond to us with understanding and care:

‘Man can no more survive psychologically in a psychological milieu that does not respond empathetically to him, than he can survive physically in an atmosphere that contains no oxygen.’

Heinz Kohut.

 

Letting in The Other: What does Hospitality Have in Common with Poetry? Part 1.

‘An act of hospitality can only be poetic.’ Jacques Derrida.

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Image: Unsplash. Artem Bali.

Do you have a special poem that seems to invite you in and stays with you? If you do, please tell us about it in the comments at the end of this post. Thank you, Linda.

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How does hospitality connect with poetry and what can we learn from this connection?

They may at first seem quite different ideas and we might wonder what Derrida, in the quotation above, meant by linking them.
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The statement ‘An act of hospitality can only be poetic’ might initially seem to be a conundrum; it can have many interpretations. Derrida makes us work hard as readers, grasping at meaning and trying to understand.

However, when you really think about it, there are many links between the two concepts. What are these links?

First, both poetry and hospitality invite you in to their world. They do so in an emotional way. Poems attract you in through the power and beauty of their language, their offer of a story, word-pictures, their creativity. Hospitality involves an invitation, a loving offer to enter into, to share, to experience.

Hospitality and poetry offer a kind of service to others and aim to meet some of their needs. They are giving a gift to another, of their time, their consideration, their feelings.

Both take us, the stranger, into their world, one that it different from our own. Both ask us to see that world from their point of view and open themselves up to us, to show us who they are. There is a way in revealed to us; the one shows us a place unlatched, unbarred, maybe a country allowing entry, passage. The other is a poetic path to disclosure, a letting drop of boundaries, a release, a declaration of the poet’s inner feelings, impressions and thoughts.

This representation of an opening of things might perhaps take the form of a door, a perimeter, a soup kitchen, an opinion, an idea.

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Old door of secret room in Church of

Saint Martin in Třebíč.

By Jiří Sedláček – Frettie – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=12189688

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Both hospitality and poetry necessitate an understanding of another’s needs and we can feel grateful for both. They involve an offering of the self, and reflect our personality and our world view. Sometimes it might seem as though that world view goes against reason and possibility; it might come across as implausible and unrealistic to us.

Poets and those offering their hospitality allow another person into the depths of their soul, their inner world, no matter how eccentric, unconventional or bizarre that might appear to the other.

Both are involved in a relationship with the other. Hospitality signifies a considered letting in of the other, a beckoning, a reflective, generous, non-hierarchical act of admittance, perhaps to a home or country. That home might be very odd to the incoming stranger, yet it has been offered without regard for the manner in which it is received.

Poetry represents an opening up through words, a welcoming in of the other to one’s world, of other voices, other ideas.

Poetry and hospitality each need another person to receive and accept the offer to ‘enter’ into their world.

These are the first lines of two beautiful poems and they, quite literately invite us in.

‘Let us go then, you and I,

When the evening is spread out against the sky’  (T.S. Eliot)

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‘Come live with me and be my love,

And we will all the pleasures prove,’ (Marlowe)

What wonderful invitations!

Poetry can still be inviting even when the hospitality is not quite so evident:

What draws us in is the identification with the poet, the descriptions, the lyricism, the beauty of the lines.  This still applies even when the subject is trivial:

 

This Is Just To Say

I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox
and which
you were probably
saving
for breakfast
Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold

 

The poet is making a confession. He has eaten the plums. We are very much invited into his private world. We can identify with his desire to devour them, even though they were not his. We can almost taste them, so vivid is his description.

We can also identify with the guilt of being unable to resist what was not his to eat. Along with the guilt is a modicum of humour, of mischief, to which we can all relate. The tone- and the title – of the poem imply that the poet knows he will be forgiven for his transgression.

Our attention is captured by the unusual, and perhaps eccentric nature of the subject matter; snaffling someone’s plums from the fridge! The boundaries of the poetic are stretched here into a rather eccentric subject for a poem. Yet the poem is still strikingly effective.

We are offered hospitality by the poet in two ways: he invites us into his kitchen, into the trivia of his life. Simultaneously we witness his rather embarrassed state of mind.

This post continues next week, with a further look at hospitality in the light of empathy, poetic thinking and the celebration of difference.

Don’t forget, if  you have a special poem that seems to invite you in and stays with you, please tell us about it in the comments below.

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(Alan Sheffield. Chilean Black Plums. Flickr.)