📰 The Politics of Experience
Full Title: The Politics of Experience
Bertrand Russell once remarked that the stars are in one's brain.
The stars as I perceive them are no more or less in my brain than the stars as I imagine them. I do not imagine them to be in my head, any more than I see them in my head.
The relation of experience to behaviour is not that of inner to
outer. My experience is not inside my head. My experience of this
room is out there in the room.
Can human beings be Persons today? Can a man be his actual self with another man or woman? Before we can ask such an optimistic question as "What is a personal relationship?", we have to ask if a personal relationship is possible, or, are persons possible in our present situation? We are concerned with the possibility of man. This question can be asked only through its facets. Is love possible? Is freedom possible?
Whether or not all, or some, or no human beings are persons, I wish to define a Person in a twofold way: in terms of experience, as a centre of orientation of the objective universe; and in terms of behaviour, as the origin of actions.
It is tempting and facile to regard "Person" as only separate objects in space, who can be studied as any other natural objects can be studied. But just as Kierkegaard remarked that one will never find consciousness by looking down a microscope at brain cells or anything else, so one will never find persons by studying persons as though they
were only objects.
The relevance of Freud to our time is largely his insight and, to a very considerable extent, his demonstration that the ordinary person is a shrivelled, desiccated fragment of what a Person can be.
Many of us do not know, or even believe, that every night we enter
zones of reality in which we forget our waking life as regularly
as we forget our dreams when we awake.
Many who are aware of phantasy believe that phantasy is the farthest
that experience goes under "normal" circumstances. Beyond that
are simply "pathological" zones of hallucinations, phantasmagoric
This state of affairs represents an almost unbelievable devastation
of our experience. Then there is empty chatter about maturity,
love, joy, peace.
The condition of alienations of being asleep, of being unconscious,
of being out of one's mind, is the condition of the normal man.
Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves and to become absurd, and thus to be normal.
Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal
men in the last fifty years.
Our behaviour is a function of our experience. We act according
to the way we see things.
If our experience is destroyed, our behaviour will be destructive.
If we are stripped of experience, we are stripped of our deeds;
and if our deeds are, so to say, taken out of our hands like toys
from the hands of children, we are bereft of our humanity. We
cannot be deceived. Men can and do destroy the humanity of other
men, and the condition of this possibility is that we are interdependent.
We are not self-contained monads producing no effects on each
other except our reflections. We are both acted upon, changed
for good or ill, by other men; and we are agents who act upon
others to affect them in different ways. Each of us is the other
to the others. Man is a patient-agent, agent-patient, interexperiencing
and interacting with his fellows.
Yet if nothing else, each time a new baby is born there is a possibility of reprieve. Each child is a new being, a potential prophet, a new spiritual prince, a new spark of light, precipitated into
the outer darkness. Who are we to decide that it is hopeless?
Our first way of experiencing
the world is largely what psychoanalysts have called phantasy.
This modality has its own validity, its own rationality.
For most of our social life, we largely gloss over this underlying
phantasy level of our relationship.
Phantasy is a particular way of relating to the world. It is part
of, sometimes the essential part of, the meaning or sense (le
sens: Merleau-Ponty) implicit in action.
There seems to be no agent more effective than another person
in bringing a world for oneself alive, or, by a glance, a gesture,
or a remark, shrivelling up the reality in which one is lodged.
The physical environment unremittingly offers us possibilities
of experience, or curtails them. The fundamental human significance
of architecture stems from this. The glory of Athens, as Pericles
so lucidly stated, and the horror of so many features of the modern
megalopolis is that the former enhanced and the latter constricts
Nothing, as experience, arises as absence of someone or something.
No friends, no relationships, no pleasure, no meaning in life,
no ideas, no mirth, no money. As applied to parts of the body
- no breast, no penis, no good or bad contents - emptiness. The
list is, in principle, endless. Take anything, and imagine its
We are afraid to approach the fathomless and bottomless groundlessness
What is called a poem is compounded perhaps of communication,
invention, fecundation, discovery, production, creation. Through
all the contention of intentions and motives a miracle has occurred.
There is something new under the sun; being has emerged from non-being;
a spring has bubbled out of a rock.
The experience of being the actual medium for a continual process
of creation takes one past all depression or persecution or vain
glory, past, even, chaos or emptiness, into the very mystery of
that continual flip of non-being into being, and can be the occasion
of that great liberation when one makes the transition from being
afraid of nothing, to the realisation that there is nothing to
If there are no meanings, no values, no source of sustenance or
help, then man, as creator, must invent, conjure up meanings and
values, sustenance and succour out of nothing. He is a magician.
Words in a poem, sounds in movement, rhythm in space, attempt
to recapture personal meaning in personal time and space from
out of the sights and sounds of a depersonalised, dehumanised
world. They are bridgeheads into alien territory. They are acts
of insurrection. Their source is from the Silence at the centre
of each of us. Wherever and whenever such a whorl of patterned
sound or space is established in the external world, the power
that it contains generates new lines of forces whose effects are
felt for centuries.