February 23rd, 2021

📝 Eugene Gendlin and Christopher Alexander

Why do I feel a resemblance between this therapist and this architect?

Yesterday, February 22nd, 2021, I thought I would try to use this new public notebook as a place to work on my article about Eugene Gendlin and Christopher Alexander.

Alright then—here are my drafts. You can read them if you want, but they're mostly here for me to use as source material.

What now? How do I take three different takes on a subject and compose a synthesis of them? I feel like I've already spent my time, effort, and caring budget on this project.

It's actually a bit annoying that I care so much about this vague connection between two thinkers, while it also feels like hard work to draw out the resemblance.

That's also because both thinkers are a bit... mysterious? There's a kind of nausea I get when I write about this thing. The whole theme seems so precious, subtle, and possibly pretentious.

I have a feeling that no matter how much I write, I'll never get to the bottom of the thing, only scratch the surface aimlessly, and so all the text I produce amounts to nothing—but this is pessimistic.

In fact, as @sashachapin affirms coachingly, I've been a very good boy writing all these drafts, and quickly too.

Another problem is that I don't know what to call the thing I'm trying to write about.

So far my only handle on it is "the thing that Gendlin and Alexander seem to have in common somehow."

I was attuned to this problem when I wrote the first draft.

Well, so—I don't know what to call the thing? That's an appropriate problem, a problem that's the beating hidden heart of Gendlin's and Alexander's work: how can we address the nameless felt senses that pervade our lives?

In my second draft, I wrote this effusive paragraph:

Gendlin offers consolation to my own project:

Suppose you are interviewing a rather shy person who hasn’t been allowed to say much for some time, perhaps some years. You would not get impatient and yell at the person after five seconds. *

There's a few different strands of this project:

describing Eugene Gendlin's 📙 Focusing;

describing Christopher Alexander's architectural practice;

describing Christopher Alexander's wider aesthetic theory;

showing how Alexander's approach involves the same kind of attunement that Gendlin's method teaches;

exploring both thinkers' critiques of modernity; and

exploring what I think of as the "positive Teleology" of these practices.

I think this last point might be the most interesting. What does it mean?

For Gendlin, the purpose of 📙 Focusing is not just to learn an interesting way to address and describe phenomena. The purpose is therapeutic, which means it aims at health. Not only that, but the method aims to show how the body is already attuned towards health, rightness, life.

It knows the direction. It knows this just as surely as you know which way to move a crooked picture. *

The body has intentions and desires. In a broad and general sense, it wants to go somewhere. It wants to set things straight. It has a directionality, some rudimentary Telos, an urge to cohere, persist, and flourish. Therapy ought to assist this innate yearning rather than impose some external schema. We need to learn to listen to our own perceptions.

Alexander’s practice revolves around moving things around until something clicks, until tensions are resolved and the body feels that the environment is becoming better, more joyful, more free. His work is building but he thinks of it as fundamentally a process of “repairing” the world, iteratively healing the site with Structure-Preserving Transformations that enhance its wholeness.

So this is the theme I felt happiest to discover while writing these drafts, and the one that seems to point, to indicate a path.

With Gendlin, we learn to look in, toward the Felt Sense of the body, untangling inner knots and understanding ourselves.

With Alexander, we learn to look out, toward the environment, enhancing outer Centers and improving the world.

Both point in "the direction of healing and life *".

Alexander's fundamental concern is about relearning how to create living structure, how to stop making a world that's ugly and dead, so the future can be alive.

To create living structure in the environment of our age, and in the future age which stretches before us, we must now find ways of turning society beyond its too-regimented path, and towards paths of design and planning and construction which allow the life of every whole and the life of every part to emerge freely from the processes by which we make the world.

The last section of Gendlin's book 📙 Focusing shows a similar hope, beyond the individual's private psychological healing:

Our structured institutions today offer little opportunity for personal living and speaking. The real living of people is mostly dulled and silent, inside them, alone [...] Focusing is only a piece of an answer. It lets people find their own inner source of direction. It can be a source of new Patterns, devised freshly by each individual [...] A society of Pattern-makers is coming. It cannot help but be a society in which people are also more sensitive to, and intolerant of, social brutalities and oppressions, and more able to act to change them.

I feel like I can leave this project for now.

I've done what I can to sketch some outlines for what I think is not just a single cohesive article but more like a research program.

It's not like I'm moving on from Gendlin and Alexander; they'll always be part of my thinking and writing, in one way or another.

I didn't manage to craft an article to publish, but I did a lot of writing.

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