#60 Welcoming the strange
On apologizing all the time for being where you actually are which is never where you want to be
I’ve been reading a crap ton of philosophy, and just like how when I read a lot of Joan Didion I start writing flat run-on sentences or how when I read Sam Irby I use an excess of All Caps: when I read philosophy I tend to write clinically and use very unnecessary words. Sorry in advance.
One of you sent me this (very short) LinkedIn post from Bayo Akomolafe. It’s worth reading in full—it’s short, I’ve read it about ten times—but if you don’t, the gist of it is that things fall apart in order to be apart. Things do not fall apart so they can reconstitute themselves into something better than before, into improvement or reward or an end worth the means. The mess is just the mess; the pain is just the pain; the shit is just the shit.
But in our culture of self-optimization and self-as-project, it’s almost impossible to not try and turn every negative or unwanted or messy experience into some kind of vehicle of learning, or growth opportunity, or what happens right before the miracle. It cannot only be a huge fucking mess. You can’t only be all apart and non-functional.
Whatever terrible thing it is, whatever endless and horrible phase you’re moving through, it’s only as valid as what it eventually produces at some future state when you’re a future version of yourself. A mess, a dissolution, a disintegration, an endless period of in-between, a surviving, a total failing: these are not actual inhabited spaces, but waiting rooms.
This might explain why, perhaps, having been in an endless period of in-between (a word in of itself that implies a non-existence or a not-counting existence), I feel the need to make sure and console people about my apartness, to reassure them: It’s just a phase; I won’t always be this much of a mess; I’ve been going through this non-ordinary thing; something about cocoons.
I am telling them, This is not the real me. The real me, in my real life, would never [insert everything I am and am doing currently that I find incompatible with version of myself I approve of and hope one day to be [again]].
The other night at a book event in Brooklyn, my first life coach came to say hi (I hadn’t talked to her since 2015 or 2016). I was trying to explain to her why I hadn’t returned her texts or made plans to meet or been an available kind of person for the past few years that she’s been trying to get in touch, and I said something about how “I’ve been in the middle of some transitions” or some handwavey thing meant to make clear my life has been in some exceptional cycle, and that I’m on my way to becoming the person I was but probably better, that in the near future (I’m not sure when, but soon; very soon) I’ll be the kind of person who doesn’t have to apologize for being the kind of person I am. The person on the other side of this, the real me, would never just be unreachable for years and years.
I do this with people regularly. I promise a different version of myself that will be available at some future point constantly.
[We wait for her to emerge.]
As you’ll see below in the recommendations, the past few weeks I’ve gone a little hard on Byung-Chul Han, a still-alive South Korean German philosopher who’s written over twenty books. Without wading into philosophical concepts (or going beyond my ability to interpret them), one of Han’s arguments (per his book The Burnout Society) is that we’ve1 moved from a disciplinarian society (one ruled by the threat of external discipline, as outlined by Foucault, but think prisons, capital punishment) to an achievement society, where instead of being policed by some external oppressor or figure, we’re policed by our own selves through our endless quest to self improve and self optimize and self control, and through our hyper-sharing of that journey, and our hyper-comparison to others (on the same journey).
If we are never good enough and become an endless project that needs constant maintenance and fussing; if we are never actualized, satisfied, or even okay but always working diligently toward some promised end, some there there; if we are deeply aware of the distance between our ideal self and what we actually are, working to close that gap…the argument goes you don’t need an external threat to keep someone in line and adhering to cultural norms, because that person is busy doing the disciplining themselves.
There is no external punisher. There is self-punishment. We are sorry all the time for everything we have failed to become. We will try so much harder. We know, we know.
In that LinkedIn post, Bayo says: “In an open-ended world, the anthropocentrism of positivity obscures the pressingly urgent ways things fall apart - not to get back up again, but to be apart…the expectation that we are entitled to confident futures and convenient closures diminishes our capacities to welcome the strange.”
There’s a point I’m trying to make with all this that’s on the tip of my tongue and not fully formed. It’s something about being what we actually are instead of believing the only life worth living is the one that never actually comes, but that we’re working toward (diligently). It’s something about how we actually welcome, and fully inhabit, the strange.
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13 Things Right Now
What is achievement society, what is pumpkin spiced weed, what happens when you listen to just one album on repeat instead of your Discover Weekly playlist; more.
Byung-Chul Han: I was made aware of his work through my favorite podcast, Philosophize This! (ep.188, “Achievement society and the rise of narcissism, depression and anxiety”; ep.189, “Everything that connects us is slowly disappearing”). Then I read three of his (short) books (The Palliative Society, The Burnout Society, The Transparency Society, each of which are firm recommends for nerds). I don’t have the formed ideas yet to explain what it is about his arguments that hit so hard, but exposing myself to his thinking has fundamentally shifted certain beliefs I held (for instance, how performing transparency actually contributes to collective control). So far, he checks all my boxes (addiction, technology, attention, overwork, culture, productivity, capitalism, …).
One of the things I’ve been trying to do recently as a way to resist the over-saturation and endless barrage of information—which I have been feeling the acute effects of (mentally, physically, spiritually, creatively, intellectually, existentially, etc.)—is to go deep on a few things instead of shallow on everything. For instance: Listening to one Thelonious Monk album on repeat; reading one book about the history of Palestine and Israel2 instead of every news update or social media post; being okay with the fact that there are many things to pay attention to but it’s impossible to pay attention to all of them and accepting that I’m going to be dumb or uninformed about very many things. I’ve also stopped looking at social media3, reading the NYT front page every morning, and starting tomorrow I’m experimenting with putting my phone in a kitchen safe from 9 P.M. to 9 A.M. every day. Drastic? Yes. Necessary? Yes.
Related: Why the Internet isn’t fun anymore
Related: Why culture has come to a standstill (“Everything is recorded, nothing is remembered.”)
💊📱🍺: Could Ozempic take down Big Alcohol; where are the cocaine and meth treatments; cannabis surpasses alcohol at sobriety checkpoints; pumpkin spice weed; my beautiful friend and literary sister, Courtney Maum, on whether or not to consciously uncouple from wine.
This essay on loneliness, relapse, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s death was haunting and so on the money for me re: loneliness: “The challenge, maybe it’s an imperative, is to find ways to save ourselves collectively, to throw off the ‘pretense of self-sufficiency’ and confess, without shame or recrimination, that we need one another.” Let’s normalize the fact that we all need each other, desperately, but we’re trapped in a system that has us believing to admit so is a kind of failure; a shame. We are lonely people who are not supposed to admit our loneliness.
(I’m lonely; not all the time, but enough. I’m getting more comfortable with saying this and not tying it to some pathology about myself. )
This essay by Jane Elliott, “Russell Brand, Sobriety and the Reborn Man”
put words to a thing I 100% understand and have experienced but haven’t been able to put words to. “Brand also allegedly committed sexual violence, in sobriety, over years, including against a woman he met in AA. And the very fact of ‘working a programme’ arguably makes that sort of behaviour easier to enact, by giving men like Brand an aura of self-awareness and the language of self-critique.”
Related: Dick Lit. (If I had a dollar for every man I’ve dated who loves Infinite Jest.)
Vaster Wilds by Lauren Groff was phenomenal
Finally: I started trail running a little compulsively after my ayahuasca retreat (some people call this forest bathing) and then somehow ended up committing to a 1/2 marathon that’s three weeks from today and this has all changed my life entirely; here is a picture.
It’s hard to pinpoint who the we is in his work; it could just the “growing tip” of culture, but I want include here that this is clearly not applicable to all individuals across all culture; jt’s a general comment on overculture
I look for about ten minutes a week now; not 100% “never looking again” but it’s drastically different than 2017 levels!