Friday, January 04, 2019


In front of me are five books I want to read next.  They're a little intimidating, but maybe if I finish really understanding "The Body in the Mind" by Mark Johnson (1987), I'll be prepared.  Also, I need to keep rereading "Metaphors We Live By" by both George Lakoff and Johnson (1980) which I take to be the book that kicked the whole sequence into being.  I read it in seminary ('78-'82) but didn't really "get it."

Here are the additional four, chronologically.

"Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind" by George Lakoff (1986)

Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and its Challenge to Western Thought"  by George Lakoff and Mark Johnson(1999)

"The Meaning of the Body: Aesthetics of Human Understanding" by Mark Johnson (2007)

"Morality for Humans: Ethical Understanding from the Perspective of Cognitive Science" by Mark Johnson, (2014)

This quote is from Lakoff's "Women, Fire and Dangerous Things".

"What I would not have guessed when I began this book is just how many researchers have found evidence of one sort or another that contradicts objectivist views.  One of the most gratifying aspects of this research has been the discovery that there is a large body of evidence from many fields that supports a view of mind that is centered in the bodily and imaginative capacities of human beings."

Several of my bookshelves groan with books about the physical body as sources of thought and perception, relationship with the ecology, and literary use of the phenomena.  They include work by Susanne Langer and Anne Douglas.  I've never really mastered all this, partly because I get distracted by these ideas in use when thinking about Blackfeet (which is only a marker for Plains people through time), my memories about "cowboy art" from the Sixties which defined a group of aficionadoes, and a body of reports from a group of stigmatized boys considered "at risk" but valiantly facing the odds as they grow and change.  

It was dismaying to realize that the denomination I once thought was the ultimate solution (UUA), since it was supposed to be radically inclusive, was indeed centered on "objectivism" as some call it, or the Enlightenment as others designate it, though the Enlightenment style of thought (the basis of science and logic) is by now so various and penetrative that it's hard to pin down for rebuttal.  Much of our understanding of wealth and privilege, class and status, are rooted and buttressed by science and logic, to the point of being called a religion.  If a religion is a system of beliefs that are thought to be "true", the one access to definitive reality, then I would argue that it is exactly that.  Religion.

Lakoff notes that there has been another system going along underneath, a system of "felt" forces that we will fight and die for, love and hate over, find salvation or damnation in.  That's what's finally beginning to take a form that can be written about, though it's tricky since the ideas are pre-sub-un verbal, operating in the great mass of our bodies below the neck, and circulating among the communities and societies of us without awareness.

We're a little bit in the position of the Greek philosophers who were seized by the old idea that God used Adam's rib as the material for shaping Eve, and therefore all men have one less rib on one side.  Finally someone, probably a child, took the idea seriously enough to pull up his shirt and see that ribs are bilateral -- the same on one side as the other.  I mean, somehow we cannot see our own bodies or put the ideas we "feel" into transmittable words.

Republican terror and Democratic despair are real.  We feel them radiating from the representatives.  We also feel the longing for security and control.  Logic can move us somewhat away from the mindless unmanageability of this stuff, but also we need to find the community purveyance of the "feelings" that cause these blind alleys.

Most of it boils down to resistance to change.  The basis of evolution is NOT the survival of the strongest and most persistent, but the survival of change and assortment, so that someone is always ready for a new condition, predicted or not, that will eliminate the unadaptable.  We're in a time when we can look at living creatures -- animal, vegetable or viral -- according to their DNA, which has provided a huge and almost unbelievable understanding of the planet.  All the hominins, all the trajectories of disease, all the relationships across the generations both born and acquired!  We've always joked about Indians not being from India, moose being called elk in Europe while what they call stags are wapiti here.  Robins in America are thrushes, misnamed after what in Europe is a flycatcher, but also has a red breast.  And so on.

One of the main Objectivist flaws is that they see everything through the filter of what they already know.  To challenge those assumptions is to disrupt their identities.  It makes them crazy to put out stigmatic views about a healthy, lively, beautiful, educated young woman, expecting a scandal over her skillful high school dancing, only to cause her to be praised.  They didn't KNOW that people were different from them.  That's what makes them unsuitable for politics in a democracy. 

But I come at these ideas of Lakoff and Johnson in a much more private and literary way.  I mean, if I go down as deeply as I can in my own psyche and ask what my most basic assumptions about sex might be -- which takes time -- I find myself among the most invested in the sanctity of intimacy, of "felt" love and trust, and not very bodily at all.  In fact, the body stuff seems to me as though it ought to be secret, never shared or even suspected.  The best metaphor for me is that I think sex in me is a flower that only blooms when trustworthily loved and knots up into a bud otherwise.

But paradoxically I talk about it, because sex is one of the big idea levers of our society, even though it depends upon expenses and effort.  I only observe.  I see the uses of violence, violation, ownership, and entrapment, extortion and bribery.  It's far less clear what we know about faithfulness, compassion, generativity as shared children and works.  Plots about the latter don't hold our attention.

Maybe there are clues in these books and the others I intend to plow through until death comes and I merge back into the world, finally unraveled.

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