Lawrence Weschler gave a lecture on the topic of convergence as keynote speaker for the Critical Information Conference held at the School of Visual Arts in New York City. At first I was disappointed as it was geared for graduate students, not just an anonymous public; I am a student of Weschler’s thought, but not through a University. The crowd was very attentive so I stopped caring about who was in attendance and it turned out there were several established artists in the room-a good mix of vantage points from my layperson perspective. I am not going to go into much Weschler’s categories of convergences because it is primarily a visual experience. I recommend reading his book Everything That Rises. To name a few:
Accident or Coicidence, Affinity, Co-Causation, Direct Influence, Allusion
One important topic Weschler brought up was giving oneself permission to make convergences, which I translate as cultivating a freewheeling imagination without fear of retribution.
Shortly after the September 11, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center (2004), the poet and musician Leonard Cohen put out an album called Dear Heather. It included a song about the attack and like most every New Yorker I was dealing with the trauma of it for years. I took the title of the album as license the songs were written to me even though Leonard Cohen and I never met. I made a conscious choice that had little to do with everyday realty. The purpose was to develop artistic direction to listen to his album. Here is a poem I came up with. It has been revised several times over the years. My intention of posting it is not to rate if it measures up to his. Sometimes poetry is simply the best way to get a meaning across.
Too much greed, war and famine today,
sadists not voted out a constant betrayal;
someone someplace somewhere once said
when they take away our ability to love
let the revolution begin¹; personal passion,
a kiss between two, does not preclude
refuge, nourishment that music brings;
it is my want of intimacy, love of a refrain,
the courage enough to reciprocate
divinity of the street, precious time on earth.
So what would a psychologist think about my taking over the great Leonard Cohen’s album title as written to me, a little known poet? Fantasy? Paranoia? Megalomania? Or the more optimistic, open-minded ones… Transference? Lucidity? Osmosis?
This leads me to a story about how a writer I know marginally infiltrated my dreams in sort of an evasive way, like, okay, you’re a beautiful person (male) really, but I didn’t sign up for you being a character in a series of powerful dreams over several weeks. This has happened before–artists who I like their work (my perception of their essence) sort of invading my dreams in series to bring to consciousness painful events–those that if blocked hinder self-awareness–bring them to light in a fun, supported way. The drawback is there can be an addiction to this internal process; dreams are deep and mysterious and yet cheap too in that you just whip someone up who in real life could very well reject you, or you might not care for them much either once you got to know them, or maybe you’d get along just fine, but they are simply not put on this earth to assist you with your psychic development in an intense environment, for free. That a sense of humor is needed is precisely why an artist is better to bring along a dream circuit than, say, a clinician in a white coat.
Speaking of clinicians in white coats, I learned a lot about psychological theory in my late twenties by dating a psychoanalyst editor and scholar (not a white coat himself, but he knew a lot about them). Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung are considered the great theorists of our time, although Freud suffered a downfall with the Freud bashers at their heydey in the 1990s. There are several other important psychologists out there to read though. including David P. Celani (alive today), and W. Ronald D. Fairbairn (1889–1964). This is an excerpt of a book Celani wrote about Fairbairn: Fairbairn’s Object Relations Theory in the Clinical Setting.
“The greatest need of a child is to obtain conclusive assurance (a) that he is genuinely loved as a person by his parents, and (b) that his parents genuinely accept his love. It is only in so far as such assurance is forthcoming in a form sufficiently convincing to enable him to depend safely on his real objects that he is able gradually to renounce infantile dependence without misgiving. In the absence of such assurance his relationship to his objects is fraught with too much anxiety over separation to enable him to renounce the attitude of infantile dependence, for such a renunciation would be equivalent in his eyes to forgetting all hope of every obtaining the satisfaction of his unsatisfied emotional needs.’
Ronald Fairbairn did not think libido or drive was the primal source to determine how one develops psychologically, as Freud did; he focused on environmental conditions to determine treatment for mental illnesses. Fairbairn was very focused on maternal care as key to successful child development. Being a mother, I was stunned to discover how much my mother’s behavior as a mother influenced mine; we were very different people as adults and then I thought, well, she must have inherited her mother’s behavior as well and on and on it goes. Then you factor in how women were treated in the home before feminism (not to suggest inequality is solved) and how relations between the sexes influences how we treat children as well in families. These are societal conditions that all families contend with, some more conscious of it than others.
“In the absence of such assurance her relationship to her objects is fraught with too much anxiety over separation to enable her to renounce the attitude of infantile dependence, for such a renunciation would be equivalent in her eyes to forgetting all hope of every obtaining the satisfaction of her unsatisfied emotional needs.”
And here we have the essence of addiction. If mothers inherit their behavior to a large degree from their own mother, and fathers share the burden to as large a degree every step of the way, in whatever imperfect world we live in at the time, most of us raising children while facing many demands, our day to day often in crisis, factor in all the non-nuclear family relationships that arise in the world because divergent family structures work better in certain cultures thank you very much, and the many people who don’t have children, then perhaps “too much anxiety” over separation factors into the universal anxiety of impermanence -that we all die and this life one day ends–that led to Sartre’s famous comeuppance that existentialism precedes essence.
Incidentally, Fairbairn took on Freud’s theories while Freud at a height of influence, but Fairbairn’s theories did not get noticed until after his death. As Celani tells it “one has to marvel at how he took on the psychoanalytic establishment from his near isolation in Scotland without feeling intimidated or overwhelmed.” The theories of Freud and Jung continue to deserve our consideration, but, perhaps more, being neglected by the mainstream, do Fairbairn’s (and then there is Henry Stack Sullivan…who else?) . In his lecture, Weschler conjured up examples of convergences that ranged from the aesthetic to the intellectually confrontational. Sexuality was an underlying theme to his presentation. One of his presentation slides was of a picture of Freud on the left, Jung on the right, a portrait of Weschler in the middle. As I am reading Celani’s book about Fairbairn right now, even though Fairbairn was not mentioned as Weschler spoke about this slide, since Weschler is one of my intellectual mentors, but not in the realm of psychology, suddenly I was offered a fresh layer of insight about why I chose to read about Fairbairn’s theories at this time.
What has stayed with me as exciting about the Critical Information Conference is that graduate students planned the event and chose the speakers. Perhaps Weschler’s approach to convergences is best described as an artistic technique to refresh stale mixes of thought to further human progress. I never felt a part of a literary or intellectual movement listening to Weschler before, but I am wondering post conference, in light of the high caliber audience, if what we have here is a burgeoning school of thought moving across multiple disciplines and locations.
¹I recall seeing a poster with this slogan written on it or something close to it, but I haven’t been able to find it again to recover the name of the artist.