Synthesis & coincidence

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Ah, synthesis! The conjoining and combining of objects, ideas, theories, values and systems, arts, media, experiments, research, disciplines, metaphors, symbols, rhythms, patterns, DNA, et (“&”) cetera.

Synthesis can be planned, hypothesized, purposeful–and it can be spontaneous, unexpected, coincidental. There are times when I feel as though the overlapping and intertwining of experiences seems to have been somehow “planned by the cosmos” (or some higher power); but coincidences occur more often than we think, especially when our consciousness is primed to make connections.

I have primed my own brain, recently, to synthesize thinking about aesthetics, neuroscience, the arts, philosophy and consciousness. So it should not surprise me–though it does!–that the books I have recently been reading connect many threads of my thought, including other recent readings. For example, Martha Reineke’s Intimate Domain: Desire, Trauma, and Mimetic Theory is an exploration of family “romance” in psychoanalytic theory that draws on Freud and Girard; but because Reineke uses Girard’s early writings as her basis, she cites Merleau-Ponty and phenomenology quite often. Furthermore, mirror neurons and the place and operations of consciousness appear in her claims and explorations in this (difficult) text. Mirrors and mimesis, minds and spirits…Gabrielle Starr’s Feeling Beauty, which I’ve mentioned in recent posts, examines the art-body-mind connections in neurological domains and mentions, more than in passing, the phenomenological aspects of the experience we term “art.” Arthur Danto’s The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art (1983, though I read it last month) also wove itself into my thinking as I read Starr’s more current book. In addition (oh, there’s always an “in addition” with synthesis), I am re-reading Csikszentmihalyi’s classic, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. The states humans experience when we work hard at challenges we enjoy, such as art-making, are deeply connected to our brains and also rooted in our bodies.

So there is a coming-together, a process not unlike chemical bonding, that all of these texts and ideas produce in my mind. This post is one outcome, I suppose. But there will be others.

~

From Carl Sandburg’s “Tentative (First Model) Definitions of Poetry” (1928): “Poetry is the achievement of the synthesis of hyacinths and biscuits.”

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Change the mind

“The only job of the poet is to destabilize and expand language. This is how poetry changes the world—not by grand ambition or the lauding of critics. It takes the plodding, unending effort of many to alter line by line, phrase by phrase, word by word the way we describe ourselves and everything around us. This is how we change perception. This is how we change the mind.”  —Jaswinder Bolina (in Poetry Foundation: “The Writing Class”  )

Words to mull over. How do we change perception? Is the change of mind correlated with a change in mind–potential alterations of the brain’s structure or synaptic system? If we destabilize language, do we necessarily alter perception?

Although the book is not an easy read, Starr’s Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience offers interdisciplinary research into how the brain may be altered by powerful aesthetic experience, or at any rate, how the brain responds to these experiences in ways that lead some researchers to believe the brain can be changed by art. Not just by those who create art, but by those who encounter it.

I encountered Bolina’s essay (see link above) a week or so after I completed reading Starr’s book, and the consilience–to borrow a scientific term–seemed powerful. The ideas have not yet cohered in my own mind, but perhaps in time I will have more to say on this topic.

Meanwhile, I revel in the juicy possibilities of changing mind through art.

 

 

 

 

The knot of contrariety

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Sometimes, human beings feel contrary: irritable, grumpy, stubborn. It does not matter that we may be well-versed in rational critical thinking, or aware that a Zen approach can offer balance, or that an understanding of the psyche, or studies of consciousness, or even immersion in some sort of spiritual practice might help us to clear whatever baggage happens at this moment to burden us.
We’re just cranky, and for the moment, we feel justified in our contrariety. Here’s Walt Whitman:
I too knitted the old knot of contrariety,
Blabb’d, blush’d, resented, lied, stole, grudg’d,
Had guile, anger, lust, hot wishes I dared not speak,
Was wayward, vain, greedy, shallow, sly, cowardly, malignant;
The wolf, the snake, the hog, not wanting in me,
The cheating look, the frivolous word, the adulterous wish, not wanting,
Refusals, hates, postponements, meanness, laziness, none of these wanting…

~

What appeals to me in the passage above is not so much Whitman’s confession–any of us might admit to others our foibles and our sins–but the extravagant and beautiful mode of his expression: lists, near-synonyms, expansions on meanings, metaphors following the verbs, nouns, and adjectives, “none of these wanting.”

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Hog… [His name is not Walt]

What appeals to me, really, is the way these lines make the litany of our petty evils so beautiful to behold. Perhaps that indicates that the aesthetics of a poem move the purpose beyond mere description and into the realm of art. I will be reading more about this in the coming week as I make my way through the book Feeling Beauty: The Neuroscience of Aesthetic Experience by G. Gabrielle Starr.

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Meanwhile, I am threading my way through the thorny knottiness of everyday life, trying to shed my contrariety as I proceed.

Knotted vines

Knotted vines