Sunday, October 4, 2020

Dear Tim Parks; A Working Missive While Reading (out of my mind) Out of My Head

Funny, I thought the title of this book was 'out of my mind.' How could I forget that 'head' is the right term here. I have a vague intention to write you, Dear Tim. As always, I fear that along the way to writing, which means along the way to completing your book, I will lose whatever threads have been energized along my read.

Sometimes it feels helpful to take notes, even though I may not ever read them. I rarely read what I write here, and so of course, there are still more rare responses. So I hardly expect one. But I am virtually certain that you would never read a missive (from a stranger) as long as this one promises to be. 

I am most grateful for your meditation on meditation, something I have never really set myself toward, though now I might. I also have trouble sleeping through the night, and have only tried tea or reading or sometimes completing a movie. That now feels almost entirely counterproductive, because of course - if we wish ever to sleep - we must detach from those wakeful conscious activities. But still those things work, sometimes.

I have never learned to write so well as you do. In any field, my language is sloppy, which must mean imprecise. I would like to say that this is simply because I have attempted too much breadth. My depth has suffered therefore. 

I honor the extremes to which you have gone, in the realm of younger partner, kayaks, and of course your writing. I do read the NYRB, but alas your name has never stood out. Until, under Covid, I chance upon a Zoom-ish meeting to hear yourself and Riccardo Manzotti speak about consciousness.

Now as, in my generalist way, consciousness interests me very much, I was excited enough to participate that I put the event in my iPhone calendar. Never has so much sense been made, to my mind. I wrote you soon after, and you were kind enough to provide Manzotti's email. You distanced yourself somewhat from this fascination, and deferred all questions to Riccardo.

But in many ways, I find your take the more interesting. We are about the same age. I had a young partner once, when I was much younger myself. But my social recessiveness was rather more like your take on the embarrassing tea urn in Germany than your bold squiring of someone likely younger than your daughter, if you have one. In my case, my inamorata was taken as the oldest of three young daughters. It was vaguely mortifying. Your daughters would be grown.

And the kayaking and meditating take a kind of guts - or is it simply determination? that I don't have. I am scared away from too much depth in any subject, since it can only promise to take away too much of my attention, which I would like to keep focused on the bigger picture.

Still, yesterday, I gave away my old SCUBA tank to a dive shop after my ex who bought a new house, dug it out of her garage and needed me to deal with it. Then there was my wooden sailboat, older than I am/was aboard which I had more business dying than to live. And of course Chinese, classical and modern, which is a deeper dive than anyone can know ahead of time.

Anyhow I pound away rather noisily on a very quiet laptop now, very concerned that cursive writing (and reading) has dropped from among the expected competencies of youth. And one retains only so much with age. I am still more concerned about the death of motor-memory which comprises true literacy in Chinese. This I feel a a very personal loss. 

The computer transcribes the sounds, even as the netspeak in China goes so wild that I may as well be trying to ride a dragon as to follow it. I'm just not sure what I think of all the tradeoffs. How can so much code be required to say something so yellow. Or is it purple?

To me, the pursuit of understanding - or is it comprehension? - of the mind is perfectly of a piece with the expectation that the capitalist system for organizing our economy will inevitably lead to the triumph of human agency on the planet. Meaning, of course, that to me the triumph of human agency is equivalent to the death of the planet. We are advancing in our metastasis (a funny word for such a dynamic process, don't you think?). 

The dissolution of the subject/object dichotomy is of a piece, in other words, with the dissolution of the various senses for terms such as 'merit' or 'work-ethic' or 'competency' or especially 'agency.' My life is mostly a roll of dice, and I think I like it that way just fine. Right now, I am subject to a house that my callow daughter and her still more callow husband bought in all innocence (redundant all over again, eh?). He may think that I impose my will, when it is the house which instructs me what must be done next.

I have experienced too much what happens when I attempt to impose my will on recalcitrant reality. And yet I remain a survivor and ace troubleshooter, enjoying the responsive life, though it has never been very remunerative. My life.

The overlays to our more primitive and emotive brain stem still do not remove us from the soup of evolution's processes. These are motivated, I would say, by that same love that eaters of magic mushrooms - or meditators - might experience beneath the overlays of language and Cartesian solidity of the sort now cemented into place by time dictatorship and the computer-mediated word and especially the relativity corrected GPS coordinates.

One has to travel - this is not time travel - to the ancient beginnings of Chinese, perhaps, to see the flaw in neo neo neo Platonism with quite enough contrast to help one out of it. 

Well anyhow, I suppose that's enough for now. I am something like halfway through your book, which I find to be rather more complete than Manzotti's (I can't afford his more technical tome, so I remain at the Dummy's level). I like your inclusion of language. I like your honesty and your modesty. 

I think that Manzotti is nearly entirely right. But he won't pay attention (either?) to my insistence that emotion is also real and not lodged inside our head, nor as epiphenomena of the perceptually spread mind.

I shall continue to persist, which is a very funny locution, but there you go! Feelings are the stuff of which the fiction of agency is made.


Ryan Clark said...

I just don't see how Manzotti's view even remotely fits into anything like a physicalist framework... 🤔

Lex said...

Not sure what you mean by physicalist. His version of mind depends on brain only as a switchboard of sorts, while the mind is abroad among the physical objects of our perception. Memory is a repeating loop of those perceptions, organized by the attractors of generalization where you don't always have to remember each lion to have a lion on the mind. There are no representations in the mind. It all seems quite physicalist to me (without knowing what that word really means)