I’ve noticed that when I start to write, sometimes there is more than one thing I want to write about. Often, the two or more things are quite different, and it would seem that I would have to choose between them. But what happens is that I feel compelled to find a way to tie the two things together, connect them, even when there is no obvious relationship.
It’s not like this is in my mind. I start writing about one thing and end up writing about both things. The music my fingers seek to play usually has two or more melodies. It seems that a feature of my participating in this integration is my writing while letting go.
The structure of these essays is in some ways more important than the content. The structure can evidence my seeking to guide myself and the reader toward an understanding that seemingly disparate principles or ideas are actually the same.
Great dancers often bridge genres and bring together, for example, contemporary and modern forms. Physicists attempt to bring into single equations patterns evidencing themselves in seemingly separate ways. Some politicians define themselves by their ability to bridge disparate social trends. Often we interpret an experience as being valuable by how elegantly the practitioner of a discipline ties together seemingly uncomplementary forms.
As Hegel proposed and Kuhn made clear, what we can integrate has a lot to do with where we sit in space and time. Each epoch and society struggles with different polarities. Each artist wrestles a different muse.
There is a way that I personally engage in this process that has less to do with what I am integrating than with my act of engaging in the integration process. Writing, I am encouraging a new routine. I am engaging in dance, moving to music, exercising consciousness to experience seamless connection, doing so over and over again in order that I feel personally that we are all connected.
Ideas are opportunities to feel wholes.
I do not sing and I do not dance. Since early childhood doing either brought me an experience of shame, self consciousness and a fear of humiliation. On rare occasions I sing when totally alone, in the car, in pouring rain, when I’m certain no one can hear or see me.
Instead I feel compelled to sing and dance with what I draw or write. All that craving for integration gets channeled into pictures, words and pattern observation.
I’ve just finishing reading Marshall McLuhan’s Understanding Media and am starting Geoffrey Miller’s Spent. Both are focused on patterns in societal transformation, influenced by individual biology. Whereas Understanding Media seeks to communicate through a combination of unique social pattern observations combined with multiple interpretation prose impressions, Spent revels in an almost cynical evolutionary psychological reductionist interpretation of society as a collection of human compulsions to charm one’s way to personal achievement.
McLuhan challenges the reader to treat his communication as literature and draw from it a personal conclusion. Miller suggests that there are only a few reasonable conclusions that one could draw from an evolutionary interpretation of culture–Miller’s focus being that almost always whatever it is we do, it is to have babies.
Whereas McLuhan sees society informed by its avenues of communication, Miller views almost all communication as driven by an individual’s desire to procreate.
It feels to me like two white men having difficulty dancing. Both writers are tapped into the music, but their movement is constrained by a compulsion to make things make sense. McLuhan often seems loathe to come to a firm conclusion, perhaps burdened by a modern reflex to make everybody right. Miller feels constrained by his allegiance to a single, elegant conclusion, the reductionist manifesto, Occam’s razor. Miller writes like he knows that it’s simple, and yet he seems to believe that all the simplicity-inspired connections are arbitrary, the result of sexual selection.
McLuhan dances like an awkward teenager seeking to integrate every nuance of impression. Miller moves in a slow, stately waltz, except he doesn’t have a partner. He’s made his movements so elegant that his partner in love has disappeared, gone searching for subtlety and complexity.
I revere both men’s work. Their passion for integration is that of an artist or mystic. But they, like me, have difficulty dancing. Both men seem to want to give from a distance, avoiding touch, keeping their hands clean. But if our profession or avocation is the integration of ideas, we have to do more than make things make sense.
We have to let go.