Jesus Presley and the Language of Achievement (1.05.10)
So I came to the academic world as an outsider in every way. As a result, I never came to learn the ways and customs of this world -- its dogmas, unwritten rules, its conventional wisdom, its many preconceptions. I also came to it without ambition or agenda, only sincerity and curiosity. But a person with no ambition and no agenda is always a threat to the establishment. Bear in mind that when I say this, I am not trying to elevate myself to some sort of romantic "outlaw" figure; rather, I am speaking purely generically of certain rules that apply to any established culture.
The psychoanalyst W.R. Bion spoke of it in terms of what he called the "establishment" and the "messiah." The establishment -- by virtue of being one -- eventually becomes sclerotic, predictable, and rule-bound, and loses contact with the original impulse that brought it onto being. This happens in politics, in business, certainly with the Post Office, and even in intimate relationships. A marriage can become stale and predictable, with the two partners taking on utterly predictable roles that then seem to dictate and "contain" them. It is as if they are no longer free, but living within psychic grooves that guide every thought and action. Reality -- O -- is slowly eclipsed, often because we cannot tolerate the intimacy and openness of contact with O. Love dies on the vine.
Now that I'm on the topic, Bion also wrote about how the child functions as the messiah to the couple. The couple wishes for a messiah to save it, and places this hope into the child. Thus, the poorest people in the most abject circumstances always greet the arrival of a new child with a kind of infinite hope. The infant is a sort of psycho-spiritual poultrice that draws us out of ourselves and puts us in touch with the infinite. As I expressed it in my book, they give us "a touch of infanity." They are a means of escape from ourselves, back to ourselves -- who we were before we put on the mask and became a frictional character.
This is interesting, for it shows the dialectical nature of our humanness, which always revolves around the pole of knowledge and infinite mystery -- or O and (k). The reason I place the parentheses around (k) is to evoke this idea of containment and of tentativeness. Whatever little bit of (k) we possess, in the end, it is like two little parentheses in eternity. Or, imagine standing in the ocean and cupping your hands together, measuring the water between them. As we win a bit more (k) from the formless infinite void, the distance between our hands increases. But as compared to the ocean, our (k) is but a drop. And it is always tentative, on pain of being dysfunctional. In other words, the moment knowledge becomes saturated, it no longer performs the function of gaining more knowledge. It cannot be used as a stepping stone to vault one further into O. Rather, it is simply "dead" from the psychic point of view, like a dusty old book taking up space in your liberariam.
In formulating his model of the mind, Bion's entire task was to forge, as he called it, a "language of achievement." In short, he wanted to create a way to "think about thinking" that would spur creative advance into O, rather than merely being some sort of dry academic theory that one could memorize once and for all. This is why I say that Bion was not only one of the greatest psychoanalysts who ever lived, but one of the world's greatest philosophers, even though few people outside a certain subspecialty of psychoanalysis even know his name. Perhaps others have touched on the problems he addressed, but I just haven't heard of them.
Because Bion's is a "language of achievement" -- he is literally attemting to simultaneously formulate and demonstrate his ideas -- different people come away from his writings with quite different conceptions. In other words, Bion does not so much "teach" as "provoke." In my case, I felt that I had understood him perfectly, and yet, when I began reading the secondary literature, I soon realized that others did not necessarily share my understanding, or what Bion called "vertex." The vertex is the point at which an axis meets a surface, in this case, the point at which our (k) intersects O. Thus, in the end, you cannot be a Bionian. Rather, you can only become yourself through his writing. And if this or that aspect of my writing accomplices anycrime like the same thing for this or that Raccoon, then it will have achieved its uplaw purpose.
I am reminded of something that Dr. Grotstein once wrote. He mentioned that he had gone to hear Bion lecture for the first time. Now, from his side of things, Bion never spoke from prepared notes. Rather, he spoke "from O," as it were, meaning that each lecture was an adventure, a sort of fishing expedition in the formless infinite ocean. Let's just see what we can pull out! Grotstein said that he came away from the lecture not really understanding much of what Bion had said, even being a bit perplexed and annoyed. However, before he went to sleep, he furiously jotted down ideas for about five papers he was to eventually write. That is the language of achievement. It does not so much place content into your mind as little "depth charges" that generatively blast away at the existing framework.
Now, perhaps it will not surprise you to know that at this very moment, I am attempting to "write from O," as I always do. I have almost no idea what I have written so far, nor do I have much of an idea of what I am about to say. I'm just "following the music," as a jazzman might say. Does that sound strange? Most of you don't read very carefully, but for those of you who do, we are holding heads together in this very moment, unknowing where any of this is going to lead -- indeed, if it is going to lead anywhere. In the language of King Crimson, it may simply end in a "train wreck," which is the price one must pay for trying to collectively improvise within O. For if there is to be achievment, there must be the possibiliy of failure.
Bion called this open and expectant attitude "faith." Once again, as with "messiah" and "establishment," he is not using the word in any conventional "saturated" way, but in the most abstract way possible. Faith is simply a prerequisite for any generative encounter with O. Can you see why? If we come to O with too many preconceptions, we will merely be taking a plunge into the known, not the unknown. We specifically want to win a bit of (k) from O, not (k) from (k). When we do the latter, we are more or less in the conventional world that extends from cavemen to tenuremen. Obviously, there is nothing fundamentally retarded with that world. Far from it. It only becomes bad when it eclipses O, as in the case of scientism, or materialism, or atheism, or Marxism, which all superimpose an abstract, dead model onto the living O.
And please, I am not suggesting that only ideologies I reject can eclipse O. Far from it. Religion, which is all about the language of achievement, can obviously become as dead, saturated, and "contained" as anything else, mere "churchianity." For example, it is no insult to Judaism to say that Jesus arrived at a time when it had -- apparently -- become overly saturated, sclerotic, and rule-bound, in the same way that Buddha reanimated Hinduism from the outside. In fact, to set aside any possible charges of anti-Semitism, let us just say that the dialectic between Jesus and the "scribes and Pharisees" is there to teach us a more general lesson about the relationship between establishment and messiah.
A Jew can appreciate the underlying lesson no less than a Christian, for it is obviously possible to reduce the infinite Torah to some unmannamade dogma and puny show, when the whole point of Torah is to have a generative and living encounter between the word of God and the mind of man. Torah is a language of achievment par excellence. Oy vey, just consider the many possible interpretations of Genesis, each no less correct than the others so long as it has been genuinely realized and not merely "learned." The other day I was at the park, when I saw what looked like a rabbi and his teenage son sitting together at a picnic table, poring over a Bible together. I intentionally sidled over to try to adam & eavesdrop on the coonversation, for I imagined them wrestling with the text, father encountering the finite infinity of Torah again for the first time through the eyes of his son -- the messiah!
Now, it is equally clear to me that Jesus nearly always spoke the language of achievement. Think about it for a moment. So sophisticated was he that he fully understood the paradox that if he had spoken unambiguously of O, he would be misunderstood. Therefore, he spoke mainly in paradoxables that serve the purpose of vaulting the mind out of its habitual grooves. Thus he was also a messiah in the Bionian sense of saving ourselves from ourselves and providing us with a living language to talk and think about O. Yes, his words are "folly to the Greeks" -- which they must be if they are to bypass our hyper-rational interior Greek patrol.
And this is why sects and schisms are ineveateapple, because the infinite simply cannot be contained by any single container. Naturally, some containers do a better job than others in containing the "fullness of Truth." Nevertheless, it is somewhat analogous to trying to capture the "fullness of music." Whenever this happens -- whenever music becomes overly stale and predictable -- you can always be sure that a "musical rebel" will arrive on the scene to save us.
And this, my friends, is why Elvis may not be God, but he is certainly a messiah.