“I’m so bored. I hate my life.” - Britney Spears

Das Langweilige ist interessant geworden, weil das Interessante angefangen hat langweilig zu werden. – Thomas Mann

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Wednesday, December 05, 2012

adam and william james


Adam has been fed and patted on the back and rubbed on the belly – the ritual of faire le rot. He’s been deposited on his portable foam bed with the  special posture design and the straps to make sure he doesn’t tumble out. He’s in his red pjs now, and as he lolls there, stunned by the milk, his legs kicking, he reminds me – absurdly – of some Cossack general, retiring from the night out at the gypsy camp. It is the round, nearly bare head. And I proceed to the hushing part of the night, which usually lasts from 15 to 30 minutes. It is a great exercise in patience, saying, in various registers and various modulations, hush honey. I intersperse this with tout va bien, Adam. He likes that. I can watch the effect on his face. The big eyes get a little glassier, the eyelids droop. But just as I am congratulating myself, just as he is on the threshold of sleep, he is yanked out of the trance and begins to cry. He seems to be yanked out of sleep by the sleep itself. Like digestion, like hunger, like his parents, constantly holding him and moving him, sleep is a powerful external force. It comes from the outside.
It makes me wonder what doesn’t come from the outside. Where is the interiority in my wee little pea?
In an essay on consciousness in Essays in Radical Empiricism, William James made the radical suggestion that the philosophers and the rational psychologists have put us on the wrong track with their model of consciousness. James announces this with the subtlety of a gunslinger clearing out the saloon:
“I believe that ‘consciousness,’ when once it has evaporated to this estate of pure diaphaneity, is on the point of disappearing altogether. It is the name of a nonentity, and has no right to a place among first principles.”
James proposes, instead, that instead of sitting here with two screens, one outside my body and one inside my mind, there is one screen that forms something like a point at the intersection of two lines of experience. James ends his essay with an account that, perhaps, Adam would agree with:
“Let the case be what it may in others, I am as confident as I am of anything that, in[Pg 37] myself, the stream of thinking (which I recognize emphatically as a phenomenon) is only a careless name for what, when scrutinized, reveals itself to consist chiefly of the stream of my breathing. The ‘I think’ which Kant said must be able to accompany all my objects, is the ‘I breathe’ which actually does accompany them. There are other internal facts besides breathing (intracephalic muscular adjustments, etc., of which I have said a word in my larger Psychology), and these increase the assets of ‘consciousness,’ so far as the latter is subject to immediate perception;[24] but breath, which was ever the original of ‘spirit,’ breath moving outwards, between the glottis and the nostrils, is, I am persuaded, the essence out of which philosophers have constructed the entity known to them as consciousness.”
Adam, perhaps, would make the case that it is not the breath, but the scream. On the first day Adam was born, he was as exhausted as his parents, and he didn’t make a sound as we all slept, an exhausted pod in the hospital room. It worried me a bit, because I expected more sound. We got it the next day.
Now we get it every day. It really isn’t that bad. Myself, I think he needs to exercise his lungs and tire himself out, sometimes. But other people in other apartments intrude into one’s consciousness – that glottal stop and start – and besides, I don’t want Adam to scream too much, because I think that this might not be good for the poor guy. So the screaming is followed by holding, the bouncy bouncy, a pickup in the stream of hush honeys.
Still, I’m not satisfied with James’ account. Who is? And I wonder, walking around holding Adam, about where the interiority is. Is it some small lost thing in a baby? A peephole in a locked door to a dark room?
Well, that is much too dire an image. I am thinking that it is more like a bathtub toy. It bobs on the surface, and is swooped down upon and submerged time and time again, but each time it rises with irresistible force to the top of the surface again. Of course, the surface does not “obey” the toy. Later, the toy will get that illusion, and it will be forever after impossible to disabuse it of that notion, which will go into a whole mythology of responsibility, of “earning” things, of making, of owning. On the other hand, the surface can’t drown the toy. It keeps bobbing up.
And so, between happy burbling, sleep, the satisfactions of sucking, the enormous tragedy of changing  diaper and clothes that fills the whole world, and then abruptly stops, the little toy is, I think, already there. I can feel it in my hands, it is palpable as we pace, bounce, and Adam goes – with a protest or two – back to sleep.  

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