there is something perpetually interesting about the desire to be a self, existing prior to and beyond outer relations and networks of activity, and the tension with the need for the outer
I'm thinking about it in connection with the virus event and the Household
just thinking it over with my familiar favorite vocabularies, but it's almost totally banal that we are constituted by our relationships with the "outer world" so much that it's dubious whether an inner–outer distinction even makes sense
when lockdown shuts the doors to the outer world we begin to feel amputated, but of course we are always still hooked up to media, literature, deliveries, video chats, and we fear that without this ecosystem we would collapse into featureless nothingness
this thing is nested and applies to individuals, couples, families, firms, cities, regions, nations
existence is like a current generated by friction, orbits, trade, conflict, movement, habit, aspiration, participation in networks
"we need that which is other"
so Erich Fromm in "The Art of Loving" says:
"If I truly love one Person I love all persons, I love the world, I love life. If I can say to somebody else, 'I love you', I must be able to say 'I love in you everybody, I love through you the world, I love in you also myself.'"
a "nuclear Family" is always insufficient in itself and suffocating if perceived as such
a "self-sufficient homestead" is very clearly an ecological relational participation in an enormous fabric of human and non-human outerness
even humanity as such in the most universal way is suffocating if perceived as a closed system
this is a basic ecological insight and also a foundational religious aspect: "God" is the ultimate other, a relational exterior for the whole universe
so David Abram in 1996 kickstarted ecophenomenology with takes like "We still need that which is other than ourselves and our own creations [...] we are human only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not human."
we can cut and paste various identities there, for example:
"We are a Family only in contact, and conviviality, with what is not our Family."
so from this perspective, a pandemic situation for a city-dweller causes "ontological" restriction beyond mere inconvenience and emotional loneliness
when I can't go out to cafés and libraries and meet others, my identity shrinks and there is a lurking fear of the need to consume myself and my inner circle, like a fear of cannibalism
but then there is also an opposite fear, if you imagine a reverse pandemic where the self and the Inner become somehow toxic, you are anti-curfewed, you must never lose contact with others, never retreat to introverted self-sufficience
Graham Harman's work on object-oriented ontology is interesting to me because of how it relates to these two poles of existence
he fundamentally criticizes the tendency to explain away the Inner reality of beings, to say we are only relational, only participatory, only enmeshed
this tendency he says is ideology in current modes of thinking where we must always emphasize relationality, exteriority, non-identity, and so on
mentioning a self-identity, a coherent subject, a hidden essence, inaccessible depth in things is suspect & somehow reactionary
"the very meaning of a college education is to teach the student that 'everything is connected'"
also the very meaning of Buddhist meditation, it often seems
as a city-dweller in a pandemic I feel amputated from my ümwelt of places and relations
yet I am still here after all
and outside of pandemic situations I am fundamentally able to move to other contexts while persisting in my own self-identity
this is basically how Harman defines an object or a being: something that can potentially be removed from its current context, grafted into another context, and still function, perhaps even function "better"
being completely identified with one's relational context is in a very tangible way a harmful way of thinking for someone who is trapped in a nexus of relations that hurts or abuses them
hence tons of stories about people freeing themselves from their situations in networks of relations in order to flourish elsewhere, a new city, a new job, a new gender, a new religion or lack thereof, etc
of course also tons of stories about people believing their issues to be inherent in their networks, so uprooting themselves only to find the same issues mysteriously recurring everywhere
which is also a way that they exceed their networks, also in their self-immanent problems
in a way the past year has actually clarified our Family's own inner reality as well as our relational embeddedness
for example there's something about selecting & ordering groceries online that really makes explicit and symbolic our "place in the city"
there is a sad fraying aspect of seeing our favorite smaller venues struggle and close
the nearby zero waste shop just closed, and we realize how dear it was to us, how much it played a role in our Family's "being-in-the-world"
my life in this city where I am a recent transplant has been thoroughly mediated by Love for these particular nexuses, a growing subset constellation of places selected from the commercial chaos and imbued with significance & familiarity
I don't know which of them will survive
my long-term vaporware software project "Kosmos" started when me and my brother were living nomadically
we started thinking about it in Groeningen, became philosophical about it in northern Thailand, kept dwelling on it in Stockholm
and in 2020, I was trying to clarify this project while householding with my family in Riga
it's an impulse to map, symbolize, and attune to the constellations of twinkling salient stars that enrich city life, nomad life, household life
a mind map that overlays the city map, for example, or the city itself as a mind map, or the city as the board game superstructure of life
last year the rules changed, so being-in-the-world changed, our minds and lives and families changed in uncanny ways
in Thailand with my brother, living in a small village outside of Nong Khai, we started reading Dreyfus "Being-in-the-World"
that book uses cultural distance-standing practices as an example of the taken-for-granted background aspects of life
the book is a reading of Heidegger, so the fundamental theme is exactly what the past year has been all about:
breakdowns in taken-for-granted background functioning leading to acute and anxious awareness of the life-world and its contingent fragility
the whole city became a "broken hammer" to stare at as our habitual engagements were blocked
we had to reinterpret & reinvent the very nature of social togetherness, just too good an example of Heidegger's view of human nature as creative coping with its own contingency
in my own life I also retreated from the city, and from the Family, down into my basement workshop, trying to create a world down there, trying to create a space for engaging with otherness in the form of tools, wood, and work
I tried to understand how I can be myself both in the basement and in our home, how to reconcile divergent yearnings and aspects of myself, how to use both sides as nourishment for the other, how to cultivate permacultural mutual participation
in our home we tried to work on the structures of our life there: turning the office room into a child-friendly play room, putting up shelves and getting a dining table, generally improving householding practices
during my free time I read about about embodied cognition, ecological situated thinking, and all that stuff, and meanwhile I was (of course, necessarily) involved in projects of real life creative coping, modifying the surrounding environment
the year had a good amount of frustration, sadness, and inertia, but overall we coped well, and I feel like the disruption of normality has also brought some clarity, inspiration, and hope
with 2021 launched and ready, the dark wintery background is still here as usual in January, but the thought of spring is even more vivid, with not only budding trees but a revival of the city and the embodied networks of togetherness that bring us into life
in Eliot's poem "winter kept us warm, covering earth in forgetful snow" and there is a pandemic comfort, freedom from friction, unruffled Internal self-persistence, soothing respite from meshing with the outer and other
this is especially true as an introvert coping with social anxiety, language confusion, ADHD, lack of stable social role, etc etc
but for me, this year's edition of new year's hope seems particularly clear and warranted
last year I also came into Twitter as more than a timid reply guy and you have all been a truly invaluable "city" for me
my thinking has taken place here, like the string figure games Donna Haraway describes playing with her collaborators
like the Feynman quote about the notebook itself being the place where thinking happens, for me Twitter is the thinking process, and 2020 would have been a more barren year without this conviviality
so a philosophical cheer 🥂 to the intertwingling of relationality and self-identity, to generative sprawling networks of sacred units with molten cores, to being always already more than ourselves, and to the possibility of finally being able, somehow, to live with each other!