#TK Find two quotes for the top of the article which allude to the common theme.
Alexander works with buildings. Gendlin works with people. They’re both somewhat marginal figures. They both have “cult followings” and seem to have the capacity to inspire people in ways that touch their lives and souls beyond any specific projects of building or introspecting.
They both appear to have rediscovered some innate ability to perceive phenomena that are hard to see clearly, at first, because they don’t have names, and because they’re concealed by habitual language and socially acquired opinions.
#TK Describe Gendlin’s practice of focusing.
#TK Describe Alexander’s practice of looking.
One way to start the work of comparing Alexander and Gendlin is to note that Alexander’s early and poetic book The Timeless Way of Building centers around the notion of a certain Quality Without a Name, looking at it from various angles using various words that illuminate it while never fully capturing it. This would delight Gendlin, who writes that in the practice of focusing “you need not stop with feelings that seem to come with readymade labels” and that you should “welcome especially those that come without names.”
Maybe what I’m doing now is trying to orient myself around a certain nameless sense of similarity between these two authors, as if they are both pointing towards something nebulous yet distinct which I can’t yet name.
Gendlin writes, to comfort those whose focusing seems initially fruitless and tedious: “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.”
And so it seems appropriate to actually use the practice of focusing to get closer to this unnamed common theme. To begin, I need to prepare my mind and enter a spacious, silent, relaxed mode. The computer screen feels cluttered; I’ll switch to dark mode and hide everything irrelevant.
#TK Alexander quote about computer graphics preventing the proper state of mind for doing architectural design.
Now, I’ll try to put the nameless thing in front of me. Instead of being sucked into it with an urgent anxious need to understand it, I can let it be there as it is, and only then can I start to probe it, relate to it, feel it out.
It seems that before stepping aside like this, I had an urge to devise a conceptual understanding of the theme, some kind of left-brain classification of explicit similarities in the mode of analytic philosophy or scholasticism. But now I feel rather as if inviting Alexander and Gendlin, as human beings, to meet and greet and have a conversation.
It seems to me that they would enjoy each other’s company. They both have a warmness, but combined with a kind of grandfatherly severity, a seriousness of purpose. They see a world that’s torn apart and made ugly by humanity’s ruptured attunement, modernity’s reductive analysis, the imposition of Patterns that fail to cohere and heal. And they have both spent decades developing practices that seem to border on the mystical, outside of mainstream practice, compelled to admit that they have discovered something vital and wholesome and forgotten.
If the mystic approach is to allow for the existence of nameless yet coherent forces and beings, and to sidestep one’s soberly reasonable naturalism in order to gradually contact these things and bring them to clearer presence, then Alexander might be a mystical architect and Gendlin a mystical therapist. But even though it all revolves around mysteries, it’s not quite right to label it mysticism.
Gendlin writes: “One must go to that place where there are not words but only feeling. At first there may be nothing there until a felt sense forms. Then when it forms, it feels pregnant. The felt sense has in it a meaning you can feel, but usually it is not immediately open.”
The feeling of the felt sense has nothing to do with the supernatural, if by supernatural we mean something separate from physical causation, but there are other ways of thinking about the supernatural which do fit the theme.
I am reminded of the book 📙 A Rumor of Angels. Its author, Peter Berger, is a sociologist and a founding figure of the concept “social construction.” He is attuned to how “the plausibility […] of views of reality depends upon the social support these receive.” This book is an attempt to conceive of the supernatural within our world where religion can no longer be taken for granted in the choiceless premodern way.
Instead of defining the supernatural in opposition to natural causality, he writes, “let us look at the ordinary world […] the ‘life-world,’ within which we carry on our ‘normal’ activities.” This world is “natural” because it’s where we typically find ourselves, it’s what we can take for granted in everyday conversation and work. The supernatural is that which takes us out of this domain.
Berger uses the term Signals of Transcendence to mean “phenomena that are to be found within the domain of our ‘natural’ reality but that appear to point beyond that reality.” If our natural domain is circumscribed by language, if we agree with Wittgenstein that “the limit of my language is the limit of my world,” then we can think of felt senses as signals of transcendence.
In this sense, we can say that Gendlin’s focusing is a practice of attending to the supernatural and letting that inform and extend our ordinary life-world. A murky anxiety felt in the throat can be a “supernatural.” It’s a signal that there is more to the world, things beyond language and understanding, which nevertheless are not utterly untouchable. The felt sense is there to be seen and labeled though I can never exhaust the wholeness of what it indicates.
Alexander too orients his whole career around signals of transcendence. The quality without a name, the felt sense of some numinous wholeness in a certain teacup, an iron gate, or a drawing by Matisse.
In the domain of therapeutic introspection, Gendlin’s practice has a clear Telos in the health of the individual, the resolution of straining tensions, the ability to hear the body’s gestalt wisdom. The local health of the individual then expands into social health. Focusing becomes an aspect of dialogue and community.
#TK Describe Gendlin’s last pages of Focusing about pattern-making, a new way of relating to forms, etc. Quotes:
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. In terms of social institutions, that space is empty. (Location 2734)
Nonconformity has always been possible, of course. But those who rejected traditional Patterns often found themselves adrift, lost, without values and standards. Focusing replaces those Patterns with a way of making new Patterns. (Location 2870)
Many people today are struggling with a baffling fact: The old Patterns that are supposed to make life work—and once did—no longer serve. Being a parent today, for example, doesn’t work if we try to do it as our parents did, yet no other form is established for us to follow. We have to make it up as we go along— often learning that what we just did was wrong. (Location 2876)
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. (Location 2893)
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. (Location 2928)
Focusing applies to more than personal problems. Creativity, originality and depth require something like focusing in any field: the capacity to attend to what is not yet verbalized. (Location 2977)
#TK Describe Alexander’s different scales, from tiny details to whole neighborhoods, and his bigger take on mental health and modernity.
#TK Allude to something about the divine.
Somehow Christopher Alexander and Eugene Gendlin seem to have a similar approach. The similarity isn’t entirely clear to me, but I hope to figure it out by writing about it.