31 October 2012


Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 9:29 am


29 October 2012

The Big Five

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 2:19 pm

Who are you? Here’s a quick-and-dirty “Big Five” personality inventory that will answer your question:

Big Five Personality Test

Though I’ve not read the primary sources, it’s my understanding that the Five Factor Model has received stronger empirical support than alternative formulations. The Big Five are conveniently summarized as the acronym OCEAN:

Last week when I completed the questionnaire I discovered that I’m extremely open and extremely disagreeable. I disagree with that assessment, but I’ll keep an open mind about it.

[Cartoon cribbed from the Beings Akin blog, Definitions page.]

26 October 2012


Filed under: Fiction, Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 1:15 pm

Demonstration of Manhattan CrawlSpace [An Aid Toward Developing One’s Own Subjective CrawlSpace]

This is Chapter One, Book I of Patrick Mullins’ Illegal Dances of New York City. For me the word “crawlspace” is always occupied by John Wayne Gacy, who must be evicted before anything else can open up. A resident of my home town, the Killer Clown disposed of the bodies of more than two dozen of his young male victims in the crawlspace under his house. A parody tribute to Gacy made the airwaves back then, sung to the Pink Floyd tune: “All in all it’s just a-nother kid in the crawl.” But then there’s the persistent and repeated tendency of my fictional characters to head underground, to excavate, to dig tunnels and trenches, to look for some way out… maybe they could use some tips, some inspiration.

The CrawlSpace search is all about anger not knowing where it’s supposed to go. Even when CrawlSpace is found, some more is needed, and felt to be so immediately. It is hidden but not static, which is why it’s so addictive once you’ve had a taste of it. You also really do need it, because new threats to it are developed daily.

Well yes, a safe place to discharge one’s anger would be a valuable resource. Rage depositories are under constant threat, says Patrick — I think this is largely because there are other non-angry people who occupy these places, and so the anger tends to flow toward them. Most people don’t like being the lightning rod for anger discharge, and so they leave. And then where does the anger go? Onto oneself? Fuck that.

9/11 — Patrick saw it unfold. Some claim that the televised images were a kind of violence porn, a spectacular CrawlSpace release valve for the pent-up anger of a whole nation, as if the disaster had been staged for that very purpose. But, Patrick insists, you really had to be there:

Seeing the real physical form of this image was a real escape, despite the pain and subsequent paralyzing trauma such horror caused, into safe CrawlSpace past the television and computer — because even the real form of this image was both dependent and independent of the Era of Media Spectacle.

So what aid for carving out CrawlSpace is being extended here? Ambulance-chasing? Staged Ballardian car crashes? Or can one only hope to take subjective advantage of disasters when they happen to occur?

Patrick laments the disappearance of cabaret in NYC. I’d not thought of cabaret as a place where anger is supposed to go, but I could be wrong. Maybe there’s an aggression to the live performance that I’m not crediting — certainly that was true of the old rock clubs. Maybe cabaret is precisely the sort of demimonde onto which a CrawlSpace enters after the anger is discharged.

You can get CrawlSpace from watching The Sopranos. The characters always need it, and they, like Bill Clinton, show you how to get it by lying. If that is the only way to get it, by all means lie. ‘We’re talkin’ survival,’ as the low-brows say, or the even more horrid ‘you gotta do whatcha gotta do.’

Do TV shows affect behavior? Only if you let them, if you treat them as instructional videos. But back to lying — I’m not sure if the lie is itself a place for anger to go, or if it’s the structure one erects over the CrawlSpace, disguising it and keeping it out of sight like those brownstone facades hiding the emergency stairways and air vents in the NYC subway system. Climb down the lie into the anger; climb up from the anger into the lie.

CrawlSpace was found by employing the drug-dealer and addict W., with whom he was living at the time…

The important lesson here isn’t the drugs or the living arrangement, although being able to exert influence over another for one’s own purposes is kind of like having unpaid CrawlSpace excavation laborers. In this story W. serves as a kind of henchman, arranging at Patrick’s behest a subtly orchestrated disruption of an irritatingly commercial performance event in which he was the featured performer. Got it.

That is enough Global CrawlSpace Manhattan for now. Examples Dept., that is.

Evidently it wasn’t enough.

CrawlSpace by appropriating a gift sent to one in hatred. Instead of sending it back, the point is to realize it has impersonal real value like money and so one should go ahead and steal it by just keeping it and making no reciprocal gesture.

An example in the breach: the divorcee who refuses the cheating spouse’s alimony payments, which would have provided the added bonus of revenge in addition to the money.

Havaiti as CrawlSpace. It’s nice when the CrawlSpace occasionally intersects with the lavish.

Polynesia — isn’t this more an escape from the anger-producing aspects of life, a place for the anger to dissipate rather than a place to express it? But then again I’ve never been there.

Central Park CrawlSpace… Central Park has a remarkably tainted quality throughout, produced in large part by human and canine urination done at random… There are dark colours in the Park that have been building up their malignancy over many years… those who row in the green-scum ponds, near reeds where horrible rats dwell.

What value has this taintedness in the context of anger depositories? I have been there, though not recently, and I was aware of the taint. Probably I was too much of a tourist to get it, or not sufficiently attuned to the Park’s juxtaposed illegal hustling which leads to the occasional arrest. So too must the juxtaposition infuse the Painted CrawlSpace — a giant hydrangea, modeled on a real one in NYC, painted after a fight.

Sex becomes more prominent, and loses all of its guilt associations in a way you never thought possible. There are moments of giddiness when fucking loses all trace of guilt and regains all its inimitable charisma.

Did Patrick know this painter; was he the one with whom the painter fought, the inspiration for gaudy artifice? Yes, clearly so, eventually. Like Polynesia, is guiltless sex an escape from anger or a place to put it?

In 2006, he felt as if he’d escaped from the elevator car in the World Trade Center on 9/11 into CrawlSpace that was the still open space of lobby of the North Tower and was lying on his back, all primitive bulges, another of those raging bulls — those entities that ‘tell the truth’ and are richly praised for it after they’ve been fully dispensed with, punished politely. In such cases, all efforts have to be made toward avoiding martyrdom, because this is a society favourite and does not actually bring forth guilt, but assuages it, according to degree of shallowness.

Too much context to summarize, but we do have a thematic convergence here, bringing Chapter One full circle.

13 October 2012

Putting Sleepiness in the Air

Filed under: Psychology — ktismatics @ 3:57 pm

An exceptionally perspicacious therapist with whom I have worked for several years once told me that her first analysis, which lasted 3 years, came to grief when her analyst appealed to projective identification to explain the fact that he fell asleep during one of her sessions with him. Shortly before the session, her brother had begged her to commit suicide with him and she was, as she put it, in a state of crisis, blubbering, and not at her most articulate. In the midst of this, she noticed that her analyst seemed to be asleep but figured he might just be looking down at his notes. When his head slumped over to the side and he awoke with a jolt and a loud snore, there was no longer any doubt in her mind that he had dozed off. He tried to act as if nothing had happened and asked her what she was thinking,. “That you’re tired?” she offered, mortified and shocked. He admitted that he was tired but proffered, “You are putting sleepiness in the air.” He explained that she had unconsciously wanted him to abandon her and had thus made it happen.

The fact that this explanation did not at all tally with her own experience of the session and of the analysis did not lead her to break off the analysis immediately — she wondered about her own unconscious intentions and tried to explore them in future sessions. But whenever she brought them up, her analyst changed the subject and seemed unwilling to work through the incident. It was this, combined with some erratic countertransference reactions on his part involving him missing sessions, that led her to leave the analysis and find someone else to work with. Had he simply acknowledged his own tiredness or sleep deprivation, apologized for nodding off, and perhaps even rescheduled the session, none of that probably would have happened. It seems that it was the very existence of a theoretical concept like projective identification in his bag of psychoanalytic tricks that allowed him to deny his responsibility for falling asleep and to attribute the “sleepiness making” to his analysand — more stubbornly than many would have, no doubt, but with the blessing of the likes of Bion who characterized one of his patients as speaking “in a drowsy manner calculated to put the analyst to sleep.”

Such moves on analysts’ parts incline analysands to believe that their doctors are nuttier than they themselves are and would do well to have their heads examined by other doctors who are not such fruitcakes.

– Bruce Fink, Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique, 2007

10 October 2012

Chalk Talk

Filed under: Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 9:49 am

Here’s a paragraph in Bruce Fink’s book on psychoanalytic technique that I read on the plane yesterday. In his chapter on interpreting, Fink recounts an episode from his practice — an episode with which some of us in the blog world are familiar as recounted by the analysand.

One of my analysands told me that he had noticed he was no longer putting so much pressure on his chalk when writing on the blackboard that it would break, which he had been wont to do for some time when standing in front of his class (much to his embarrassment). This change apparently occurred after I had rearranged a few of his words, saying something like “pressure at the board” (referring to pressure he had felt as a child when called on by teachers to perform at the blackboard, and to pressure he was putting on himself to fail for a whole variety of reasons). He had not given my phrase any thought at the time but realized a couple of weeks later that he was no longer breaking chalk, even though he was not making any special effort to ease up and did not know why he had stopped. Although this is just a micro-symptom, it points to the fact that the analysand need not even become conscious of what had been unconscious for a symptom to disappear, as long as enough of it is verbalized by the analyst, the analysand, or the two together building on each other’s words. It also points to the fact that the analyst need not know that what she has said has had an effect — I would not have known if the analysand himself had not told me a few weeks later.

The analyst’s implicit interpretation — that the analysand was feeling too much pressure, putting too much pressure on himself — seems pretty straightforward. As I recall, though I’d have to check the original source to be sure, the analysand’s self-interpretation was much more convoluted than this. Presumably he arrived at his own understanding only after his behavior had already changed and he’d stopped breaking chalk.

7 October 2012

Against Empathy

Filed under: First Lines, Psychology — ktismatics @ 11:03 am

The psychoanalyst’s first task is to listen and to listen carefully. Although this has been emphasized by many authors, there are surprisingly few good listeners in the psychotherapeutic world. Why is that? …When someone tells us a story, we think of similar stories (or more extreme stories) we ourselves could tell in turn. We start thinking about things that have happened to us that allow us to “relate to” the other person’s experience, to “know” what it must have been like, or at least to imagine how we ourselves would have felt had we been in the other person’s shoes.

In other words, our usual way of listening is centered to a great degree on ourselves — our own similar life experiences, our own similar feelings, our own perspectives. When we can locate experiences, feelings, and perspectives of our own that resemble the other person’s, we believe that we “relate to” that person. We say things like “I know what you mean,” Yeah,” “I hear you,” “I feel for you,” or “I feel your pain” (perhaps less often “I feel your joy”). As such moments, we feel sympathy, empathy, or pity for this other who seems like us; “That must have been painful (or wonderful) for you,” we say, imagining the pain (or joy) we ourselves would have experienced in such a situation.

When we are unable to locate experiences, feelings, or perspectives that resemble the other person’s, we have the sense that we do not understand that person — indeed, we may find the person strange, if not obtuse or irrational. When someone does not operate in the same way that we do or does not react to situations as we do, we are often baffled, incredulous, or even dumbfounded. We are inclined, in the latter situation, to try to correct the other’s perspectives, to persuade him to see things the way we see them and to feel what we ourselves would feel were we in such a predicament. In more extreme cases, we simply become judgmental. How could anyone, we ask ourselves, believe such a thing or act or feel that way?

Most simply stated, our usual way of listening overlooks or rejects the otherness of the other. We rarely listen to what makes a story as told by another person unique, specific to that person alone; we quickly assimilate it to other stories that we have heard others tell about themselves, or that we could tell about ourselves, overlooking the differences between the story being told and the ones with which we are already familiar. We rush to gloss over the differences and make the stories similar if not identical. In our haste to identify with the other, to have something in common with him, we forcibly equate stories that are often incommensurate, reducing what we are hearing to what we already know. What we find most difficult to hear is what is utterly new and different: thoughts, experiences, and emotions that are quite foreign to our own and even to any we have thus far learned about.

It is often believed that we human beings share many of the same feelings and reactions to the world, which is what allows us to more or less understand each other and constitutes the foundation of our shared humanity… I would propose that the more closely we consider any two people’s thoughts and feelings in a particular situation, the more we are forced to realize that there are greater differences than similarities between them — we are far more different than we tend to think!…

In effect, we can understand precious little of someone’s experience by relating it or assimilating it to our own experience. We may be inclined to think that we can overcome this problem by acquiring much more extensive experience of life… We ourselves may fall into the trap of thinking that we simply need to broaden our horizons, travel far and wide, and learn about other peoples, languages, religions, classes, and cultures in order to better understand a wider variety of analysands. However, if acquiring a fuller knowledge of the world is in fact helpful, it is probably not so much because we have come to understand “how the other half lives” or how other people truly operate, but because we have stopped comparing everyone with ourselves to the same degree…

If our attempts to “understand” ineluctably lead us to reduce what another person is saying to what we think we already know (indeed, that could serve as a pretty fair definition of understanding in general), one of the first steps we must take is to stop trying to understand so quickly.

– Bruce Fink, Fundamentals of Psychoanalytic Technique: A Lacanian Approach for Practitioners (2007), pages 1-4

5 October 2012

Standard of the Breed by Steppling, 1988

Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 2:10 pm

JACK:  I haven’t been feeling well, I can’t sleep.

REESE stands, says nothing.

You want to see the dogs?

JACK stands…

They’re exceptional, a beautiful litter, just beautiful.

They stare at each other.

They’re very big, noble — these are the best pups I’ve produced, the best, these pups stand up against anyone, anywhere. I love this litter, I love them.

JACK stops, a little short of breath — not feeling well.

When I was in Long Beach I was living in this apartment and Margaret was supporting the both of us. Do you know what happened to Margaret? [pause] Margaret left one day for New Orleans, she went to her sister’s house in fucking New Orleans. She took the car, which was my car, and she drove. And I called her sister, I called every day — but she never talked to me, so I don’t know… [long pause] I don’t recall much of L.A., I don’t recall a whole lot about that period of my life, I don’t care about it — I’m not interested at all, I’m not concerned, it doesn’t matter to me, it’s part of the past, someone else, somewhere else. I never think about it, about the person I was — I never give it a moment’s thought.

JACK is wheezing a little and sits down.

REESE:  Who is this girl inside, Jack?

JACK stares at the ground. Silence.

Cassie? Who is this girl, this Cassie?

JACK:  She just left her husband, left him asleep at the Sands. I don’t know him, never met him. She left him though, asleep in bed — left him there — dreaming — Huh? Dreaming in room 418, the Sands, Las Vegas.

Lights fade out.

*  *  *

John Steppling has a blog here.

3 October 2012

Walkabout by Roeg, 1971

Filed under: Movies — ktismatics @ 2:36 pm

1 October 2012

Partners My Ass

Filed under: Fiction, Ktismata, Psychology — ktismatics @ 1:47 pm

If we take on the idea of mimesis as world-creating alongside its meaning as world-reflecting, our idea of what we do as readers and audience members can change. In this case, we don’t just respond to fiction (as might be implied by the idea of reader response), or receive it (as might be implied by reception studies), or appreciate it (as in art appreciation), or seek its correct interpretation (as seems sometimes to be suggested by the New Critics). We create our own version of the piece of fiction, our own dreams, our own enactment. We run a simulation on our own minds. As partners with the writer, we create a version based on our own experience of how the world appears on the surface and of how we might understand its deeper properties.

– Keith Oatley, Such Stuff as Dreams: The Psychology of Fiction (2011), p. 18

See, this is what happens when you get too caught up in one particular psychological construct.

When I look around me, I’m looking at a 3-D simulation of the room generated by my brain. But it’s still a simulation of the room itself. That’s what the brain’s simulation-making perceptual apparatus is for: to generate a reliably accurate visual representation of what’s out there in the world.

When I try to understand someone else’s motivations in a particular circumstance, I might run a simulation of the other person so as to understand how I might respond if I were in his shoes, how I might feel, what I might think, what I might have in mind to do next, and so on. But my simulation of the other person is not the same as that person, nor do I become the other person by running a simulation of him. The simulation is a tool to help me understand the other person.

When I read a novel I run simulations. I can create a mental and emotional simulation of the fictional world in which the fictional characters are acting. But my simulation of that fictional world isn’t the same thing as the world as depicted in the novel; it’s a tool to help me understand that fictional world. In simulating the characters in the story, walking in their fictional shoes, I do it not in order to become the characters, but to understand them.

We create our own version of the piece of fiction… as partners with the writer

Don’t flatter yourself. If you read fiction, then be satisfied with understanding, responding, receiving, interpreting, and simulating it. If you want to create fiction, then write something.

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