5 May 2007

The Refinements of Desire

Filed under: Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 1:02 am

People are different from one another; they live in different contexts; they pursue different trajectories. The world itself seems big enough and new enough to absorb unlimited infusions of excellence and differentiation. Why then do people seem to settle into the same kinds of routines, and why does the world seem so… mundane?Partly it’s because people aren’t naturally motivated to achieve either difference or excellence. As biological organisms we’re all genetically motivated to pursue a standard set of desires: food, safety, reproduction, pleasure, affiliation, competence, recognition. Repetition isn’t a death instinct; it’s staying with what works, with procedures that reliably satisfy. From birth we’re socialized into our culture, becoming familiar with the socially acceptable pathways for fulfilling our desires. This matching of biological desires with social channels of fulfillment works pretty well for most people. In fact, it’s surprising that human individuality or culture ever diversified or advanced much beyond our species’ primal circumstances.

At times change is motivated by inadequate or blocked channels for fulfilling desire: natural disasters, tyrannical social structures, individuals with excessive hunger. But there must also be a kind of refinement that the self injects into the basic desires, turning them into pursuits of knowledge and the creation of art and the extension of hospitality to powerless strangers. Otherwise you have to assert that these “higher” motivations drop down on us from some ideal world, infused into selves from outside themselves. Though that too is possible.

Are acts of discovery and creation the expression of desire or its fulfillment? Is it enough to paint a painting, or must the painting persist in the world after its completion and be seen by others? The doing, the separation of creation from self, its entry into the world, its injection into others’ awareness — each has its satisfactions. These refined transformative desires to discover and create probably aren’t the spontaneous unimpeded outflow of subpersonal instincts. The self has to add something to the flow of desire as it passes through. It’s not necessarily a sublimation or an ascetic denial of pleasure; rather, the self contributes its own desires to the flow coming up from underneath, shaping and intensifying it.

The self can block the flows of desire, or it can pass the desires through unalloyed, seeking their satisfaction through the most straightforward means and the simplest outlets. Or the self can notice the desires as they pass through, hold onto them awhile, reflect on them, subject them to experimentation, play with them, work on them, recreate them. Now the world looks different too. Some of the transformed desires find satisfaction where before there had been none. Other transformed desires find no fulfillments in the world, and so the self must create them too. Still others are blocked by the contours of the world and the forces that shape it. Then there is either change or frustration.



  1. A dear friend that is now deceased – a psychologist who now would have been over 80 years old – very flamboyant and colourful person – said that all change is dependant upon unreasonable people. He showed me how to be unreasonable. It does work when used with wisdom. Not to adapt to the world but adapting the world to me. That sounds egoistic, but it need not be. If I look at my inner needs and sorrows, I’m looking at the world. I can be like a barometer.


    Comment by Odile — 9 May 2007 @ 7:50 pm

  2. If I look at my inner needs and sorrows, I’m looking at the world. I can be like a barometer. Yes, I believe that the inner world is energized to seek connections with the outer world. Needs correspond to things in the world that meet those needs; sorrows, to desires unfulfilled in the world. Unreasonable people don’t accept the world as inevitable. I’m currently wrestling with whether the world can be changed into something else, or whether the world already contains within itself a whole host of alternate worlds that I need to become aware of.


    Comment by ktismatics — 9 May 2007 @ 11:05 pm

  3. It’s funny that the word recreation in French means a rest in the learning day.


    Comment by Odile — 10 May 2007 @ 2:11 pm

  4. Yes, it’s strange. Maybe by resting you re-create yourself?


    Comment by ktismatics — 10 May 2007 @ 2:59 pm

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.

%d bloggers like this: