10 December 2021

Artists, Agitators, Introspectors

Christopher Lasch
The Revolt of the Elites (1995)
Socialism, as [Oscar] Wilde understood it, was simply another name...for the elimination of drudgery by machines. Wilde had no patience with those who proclaimed the dignity of labor. ... The collectivization of production would liberate the poor from want, but it would also liberate the rich from the burden of managing and defending their property. ... No less than manual labor, the administration of property distracted people from the real business of life.
(p. 231)

Socialism, in Wilde's conception, would not come about through the action of the masses. The masses were too stupefied by drudgery to be capable of emancipating themselves. ... Agitators were the political equivalent of artists: disturbers of the peace, enemies of conformity, rebels against custom. They shared with artists a hatred of authority, a contempt for tradition, and a refusal to court popular favor. Agitators and artists were the supreme embodiment of individualism, wishing only to please themselves.
(p. 232)

This kind of message [Christ as "artist"]...appealed to intellectuals in search of a substitute for religious faiths by then widely regarded as offensive to the modern mind. ... It confirmed artists and intellectuals in their sense of superiority to the common herd. It sanctioned their revolt against convention... By equating social justice with artistic freedom, the religion of art made socialism palatable to intellectuals who might otherwise have been repelled by its materialism. In the heyday of the socialist movement its attraction for intellectuals cannot be adequately explained without considering the way it overlapped with the bohemian critique of the bourgeoisie.
(p. 233)

In the 1960s revolutionary students adopted slogans much closer in spirit to Wilde than to Marx: "All power to the imagination"; "It is forbidden to forbid." The continuing appeal of such ideas, thirty years later, should be obvious to anyone who casts an eye over the academic scene and the media. The postmodern mood, so-called, is defined on the one hand by a disillusionment with grand historical theories or "metanarratives," including Marxism, and by an ideal of personal freedom, on the other hand, that derives in large part from the aesthetic revolt against middle-class culture. The postmodern sensibility rejects much of modernism as well, but it is rooted in the modernist ideal of individuals emancipated from convention, constructing identities for themselves as they choose, leading their own lives (as Oscar Wilde would have said) as if life itself were a work of art.
(p. 234)


Perhaps this last idea does become toxic anytime we are well and truly forbidden to forbid. But so long as a good-faith mediation is sought between the rhetorical extremes of total social control and total individualism, then I do think life can profitably become A Work Of Art, a work-in-progress so to speak, precisely in the sense of those elements of craftsmanship and personal responsibility which Lasch seeks, in his capital-P Political thought, to recover and restore. As artists listen to their works, so we can listen to various feedback from life and recalibrate accordingingly.

This is an individualist conception, to be sure, but it seems to me also a matter of what is conventionally called introspection. Now, if this capacity for introspection is a variable personality trait rather than a learnable skill, that of course makes it rather impolite to prescribe such things for everyone. It may simply be impractical too. Still, I would propose that for the introspective among us, even a fairly drastic
emancipat[ion] from convention
is not so risky, and it may even be a necessary rite of passage; this because of the severity and profundity of introspective realizations made under conditions of true moral confusion.

That kind of introspection is, among other things, the supreme empirical test of any supposed human universals. Following Donald Brown, it is easy to accept that the difference between a universal and a near-universal is negligible for the anthropologist. It cannot be negligible, however, for individuals under individualism, i.e. for those who, without any objection to the preceding, would nonetheless be shocked to find that they themselves conform to every single entry on Brown's widely circulated list. They may never realize any of this, nor even give it a second thought, however, unless they are forced to. And as miserable as many such circumstances of realization can be, the flouting of the edict Know Thyself is a far worse evil for all concerned.

Lasch says that a well-functioning democracy "forces" (he does actually use that word) all citizens to enter debate, and hence that this ideal democracy, therefore, is not "the most efficient but," rather, "the most educational form of government." The same could be said of introspection as a government of the self.


Another variable trait, among capital-A Artists, is the personal investment in and identification with their artworks. In the cases of LeRoi Jones and Harry Partch , recently considered in this space, and no doubt for many, many other writers too, there is even the possibility of the artist's personality, their life, and/or their body itself manifesting on the levels of artistic form, content, and ultimately, meaning. I have previously said enough, I think, about my reservations in the face of various attempts to rationalize such art practices, and I have shared a few relevant counterpoints from comparably visible commentators. But it is Jones himself, oddly enough, who raises in passing a very curious empirical demonstration of the problem when he observes that the folk expression label functions to preclude formal criticism from without.

The understandable reluctance to criticise the oppressed too harshly is only half the story here, for on the microsocial level too, we are allowed to say lots of very mean things about our friends, even to their faces, but not about their parents or children. Particularistic ties are off limits here, whereas universalistic or elective ties, because they have been freely chosen (or, if you insist, the social fiction we are stuck with most of the time is that they have been freely chosen), more properly reflect on the character of the agent in question.

Through all of this thick verbiage, what I hope to make obvious is that the relationship of Jones' folk artist, or of Partch's corporeal artist, to their art, this relationship may be intimate but it is not necessarily introspective, and particularly in Jones' case it almost certainly is not. The relation of artist to artwork is also, quite explicitly in both cases, particularistic rather than universalistic. If it seems absurd to insist upon the latter in all cases, perhaps it is enough merely to run down, in summation of some recent posts, its virtues and implications.

Sennett's meditation on his son's universalistic relationship with the violin is apt here:
It was an education in the "it," whereas the children making graffiti knew only the declarations of the "I."
Lasch, for his part, borrows Hannah Arendt's encapsulation of just what it is about this
education in the "it"
that recommends it on the most basic existential level:
the things of the world have the function of stabilizing human life, and their objectivity lies in the fact that . . . men, their everchanging nature notwithstanding, can retrieve their sameness, that is, their identity, by being related to the same chair and the same table.
This aspect of the Euro-American tradition of instrumental technique is of course totally ignored by Jones, though it cannot possibly have been ignored by his favorite beboppers.

Partch takes aim at abstractionist technicians, accusing their music of
serv[ing] as the testament of the scribes and the pharisees, the press-badge of gratuitous "emcees" at circumcision, the squire of the musicians' union, and an article of merchandise for the minions of the subscription series and for those other more obscure "lovers of music" whose "loving" ears are tuned in only on the cash register.
This is blustery, but it is not unfair. What is hard to believe, though, is that Partch too could be ignorant of the chair-and-table aspect of instrumental technique, since he in fact undertook to live it as few ever have, through a system of his own invention which is very demanding of the technician. And yet, his assertion that
the ancient, lovely, and fearless attitude toward the human body was gone
from the tradition of abstract music because
Musical "morals" denied the human body—through the one agent of the body that they could control,
this seems to me a downright libelous misrepresentation of the centuries-long practices of Western instrumental technique and the various corpora of knowledge that have accumulated around and through them. What it demonstrates, obliquely perhaps but in the last analysis no less cleary, is that his corporeal ideal presupposes the ramification of the body of a desiring subject into the realms of form, content, and meaning; in other words, that mere introspective exploration of the body, out of view and for no reason but to discover one's own conduct of life, this was not enough (and indeed was to be condemned as prudery) if its discoveries were not ultimately conveyed to a receptive audience, served up right on the artistic surface rather than sublimated (or obliterated) somewhere down in the technical depths. In this he was, no less than in his strictly musical accomplishments, very much ahead of his time.


Really, the drama of introspection as against exhibitionism, the difficulty of discovering ourselves without needing to tell anyone and everyone what we have found, the tension of the universalistic and the particularlistic, all of this is just as operative in the realm of abstraction in which I have always located myself as it is in the folk or corporeal arenas. And so, being somewhat the introspective type, it has become unavoidable in recent years to conclude that my own personal investment in my work is far too exhibitionistic, and far too much that of parent-to-child; hallowed analogies both, to be sure, but analogies which nonetheless lay bare a certain unfitness for life under the ideals of democracy which Lasch so brilliantly lays out in his last writings. That realization has not been easy, and as a result it has not yet been fully accepted. But that is the introspective life in a nutshell, and I'm not sure it is available any other way than through a certain artistic outlook on one's own life-in-progress. In any case, that is how I have found my way to it, and contrary to Lasch's gloss above, it has not exactly led me to become an unmoored bohemian despite having had every opportunity to do so.

When Lasch finds only "narcissism" and "survivalism" in the postmodern artist's effacement of the self, I think he has overlooked (strangely enough) the unfitness of the romantic novelist or the representational painter, e.g., for life under his own ideal of democracy. (I have attempted a quick-and-dirty case study on this problem here). The superficial parallels between Jones' Negro Musician, who
did not admit that there was any separation between himself and the agent he had chosen as his means of self-expression,
and Lasch's narrow technical sense of narcissism as the breakdown of the boundary between the self and the outside world, these parallels are, I think, probably spurious, owing to the different levels of analysis on which the writers operate. The more pregnant question is whether Jones' observation that, in early African-American music,
Expression issued from life, and was beauty
describes an attitude which is at all compatible with Lasch's conception of democracy.


Lasch again:
Psychoanalysis served the same purpose in Jung's scheme of things that artistic imagination served in Wilde's. Reformulated so as to overcome Freud's unfortunate preoccupation with sex, it became the means by which to liberate the religious imagination from its enslavement to dying creeds. ...

But I am less interested in Jung's remedy for the spiritual malaise of modernity than in his formulation of the problem and especially in the common assumptions Jung shared even with those who rejected his particular solution. The most important of these assumptions was that the inevitable unfolding of consciousness made it impossible, at least for the educated classes, to return to the childlike security of the past. ... Once the critical habit of mind had been fully assimilated, no one who understood its implications could find any refuge or resting place in premodern systems of thought and belief. It was this experience of disillusionment, more than anything else, that was held to distinguish the artist and the intellectual from unreflective creatures of convention, who distrusted artists and intellectuals precisely because they could not bear to hear the bad news.
(pp. 238-239)

Here Lasch is not defending "unreflective creatures" but rather chiding self-consciously modern "artists and intellectuals" for baselessly ascribing an unreflective posture to the religious and the lower-middle-class. This I find compelling in the abstract. Anecdotally I confess that I don't find it compelling at all. But in any case, I would question whether the assertion of self in the mode of folk, of corporeal[ity], of heroic narrative, of tasteless virtuosity, of public-installation-without-public-sanction, on and on down the list of contemporary art's familiar faux-pas and extending even to a few hitherto unquestioned practices which have dined out on their oldness or their newness for too long, I would question to what degree each of these modes affords or enforces reflective moments in the artist. Then, I would reiterate Lasch's insight that
If we insist on argument as the essence of education, we will defend democracy not as the most efficient but as the most educational form of government, one that extends the circle of debate as widely as possible and thus forces all citizens to articulate their views.
(p. 171)
It is no less urgent to be forced to articulate a view of oneself, that is, to oneself. It is, on the other hand, rarely urgent (and often ill-advised) to go looking anywhere you can find them for people to talk to about what you have found.


Stefan Kac said...

In writing the above, I certainly gave insufficient thought to the philosphical consideration of "introspection" as a basis of knowledge claims, being as I am totally unfamiliar with that discourse.

Now stumbling into a cursory familiarity (see below), it's clear I was really thinking of a certain openness ("As artists listen to their works, so we can listen to various feedback from life..."), less so about whether the "feedback" comes from within or without. In place of "introspection" perhaps "self-awareness" would have sufficed. (Or maybe just "not being a shithead.")

As such, it dawns on me now that my own ideal of "art" has the Laschian corrective baked into it (or such is my own conceit), but that this can't be held against either Lasch's broad argument or his particular quibble with the Wilde Things. He is addressing the world he knows, not an ideal of it.

There is a sign stuck in the ground in the tiny garden in back of my apartment building that says, "Life isn't about finding yourself, it's about creating yourself." This certainly was my outlook from the dawn of self-awareness through my mid-twenties. It has long since ceased to be my outlook, owing equally to life experience and to book lurnun'.

There is a certain loss of naivety and idealism entailed here, painful and irrevocable. Even so, given the great difficulty of really knowing ourselves, it may be that this is little more than a change in verbiage. There is no loss of difficulty or, indeed, excitement in mere self-discovery as against self-creation. If anything is lost here, it is guilt, not excitement.

In any case, I am not here to deny that the belief in self-creation is open to all manner of objections, epistemological and moral alike.

Anyway, some chance discoveries follow below...

Stefan Kac said...

Eric Schwitzgebel
"The Unreliability of Naive Introspection"

"Why, then, do people tend to be so confident in their introspective judgments, especially when queried in a casual and trusting way? Here’s my suspicion: Because no one ever scolds us for getting it wrong about our experience and we never see decisive evidence of error, we become cavalier. This lack of corrective feedback encourages a hypertrophy of confidence."
(p. 260)

The overall thesis of "unreliability" I find believable and well-argued. But can't we actively seek out "corrective feedback"?

e.g. When Professor Lewis
Yusef Lateef,

"The sound of the improvisation seems to tell us what kind of person is improvising,"

the accuracy of the listener
the accuracy of the musician
in such matters,

both of these things could,
in theory,
if we cared to do so,
be put to the test.

we could continue to be
about it.

"Think of the Prince of Wales. Now consider: Was there something it was like to have that
thought? Set aside any visual or auditory imagery you may have had. The question is: Was there something further in your experience, something besides the imagery, something that might qualify as a distinctive phenomenology of thinking?"

(p. 258)

I can't claim to understand precisely what defines "a distinctive phenomenology of thinking ", but I did (me of all people) in fact experience something decisively non-imagistic upon reading these sentences. A few sentences later, an image and name did finally wend their way to consciousness.

This is not the first time I've found myself thinking I have actually experienced some cognitive split between the abstract idea of something and its concrete image or name; perhaps between the firing of the Prince of Wales synapse that even I (of all people) evidently have developed and the firing of some other synapse. This could be strictly a recall problem, and in that case I would be relieved to find the concrete instance having been banished to the closed stacks while the abstraction remains the most immediately available. This would explain my affinity for abstract intellectual work and my disaffinity for details. But I probably have the details wrong here too.

[262] "I sometimes hear the following objection: When we make claims about our phenomenology, we’re making claims about how things appear to us, not about how anything actually is. The claims, thus divorced from reality, can’t be false; and if they’re true, they’re true in a peculiar way that shields them from error. ... It’s tempting, perhaps, to say this: If something appears to appear a certain way, necessarily it appears that way. Therefore, we can’t misjudge appearances, which is to say, phenomenology.

"This reasoning rests on an equivocation between what we might call an
epistemic and a phenomenal sense of “appears”...


"Epistemic uses of “appears” might under certain circumstances be infallible in the sense of the previous section. Maybe, if we assume that they’re sincere and normally caused, their truth conditions will be a subset of their existence conditions—though a story needs to be told
here. But
phenomenal uses of “appears” are by no means similarly infallible. This is evident from the case of weak, nonobvious, or merely purported illusions."

Stefan Kac said...

Lyubomirsky, Kasri, and Zehm
"Dysphoric Rumination Impairs Concentration
on Academic Tasks

[328] "Despite accumulating evidence to the contrary, present-day Western culture still embraces the notion that exploring and focusing on one’s feelings in the face of personal problems and negative moods is valuable and adaptive. By contrast, our three studies extend previous research by testifying to the detrimental consequences of dysphoric rumination for instrumental behavior in academic settings."

Bortolotti and Antrobus
"Costs and benefits of realism and optimism"

"Depressive realism is observed in time perception and in estimates of self-related circumstances, but it does not seem to extend to the prediction of random future events and to estimates of states of affairs concerning other people." (195)

Stefan Kac said...

Mark, Marion, and Hoffman
"Natural selection and veridical perceptions"

re: evolutionary value of true perception,
"truth can fare poorly if information is not free" (504)

analogy to a computer desktop:
"An interface promotes efficient interaction with the computer by hiding its structural and causal complexity, i.e., by hiding the truth. As a strategy for perception, an interface can
dramatically trim the requirements for information and its concomitant costs in time and energy, thus leading to greater fitness. But the key advantage of an interface strategy is that it is not required to model aspects of objective reality; as a result it has more flexibility to model utility, and utility is all that matters in evolution."

"perceptual information is shaped by natural selection to reflect utility, not to depict reality." (513)

"We do not wish to overstate our findings. Our simulations do not find that natural selection always drives truth to extinction. They show instead that natural selection can drive truth to extinction. However, this still calls into question the standard assumption of perceptual researchers that natural selection favors veridical perception." (514)

Stefan Kac said...

Wilson and Dunn
"SELF-KNOWLEDGE: Its Limits, Value, and Potential for Improvement

"There are many areas of research related to self-knowledge,... Self-knowledge has not been a central, organizing topic in empirical psychology, however. There are few courses taught on the topic and few researchers who identify this as the major theme of their research."


"One reason for this state of affairs is that investigations of self-knowledge inexorably lead to thorny questions about the limits of consciousness and the nature of the unconscious mental processes, which most psychologists (until recently) have been loathe to examine. For many years, research psychologists artfully dodged these difficult issues, developing sophisticated theories of the self and personality with nary a mention of the word “unconscious.”"


"Times have changed. ... As research on the limits of conscious awareness has exploded, compelling questions about self-knowledge have begun to be asked."


I really do find this assessment a bit puzzling. The repression of repression! But also, it raises the possibility that psychoanalysis (mentioned only in passing here) cannot have been a total waste of time, even if there could and should have been a more "empirical psychology" to fill the void.

What we got instead may truly have been better than nothing, or it might just be the most seductive fiction and therefore the most damaging. In any case, by the end of this article I found myself wondering if by "empirical psychology" the authors in fact meant laboratory psychology. Which would be quite unfortunate and would pretty much force a concurrent mediation (skeptically of course) with the psychoanalytic diaspora as a necessary corrective.

Stefan Kac said...

(Wilson and Dunn, cont. #1)

"repression" vs. "suppression",
the latter indicating
"cases in which people consciously attempt to remove a thought from awareness or prevent themselves from expressing a thought or attitude"

"A substantial amount of work by Wegner and colleagues indicates that suppression often fails,"
"Some recent evidence suggests that suppression can be successful when people are not under cognitive load."

"What about the second criterion for repression, that the attempt to remove unwanted material from one’s mind is itself unconsciously? [sic] Although there is relatively little empirical support for this tenet,..there is suggestive evidence."

Well okay.

Stefan Kac said...

(Wilson and Dunn, cont. #2)

"A more pervasive limit on self-knowledge, we suggest, is the fact that much of the mind is inaccessible to conscious awareness. ... A new view of unconscious processing has emerged that differs considerably from the Freudian, psychoanalytic version. The mind is viewed as a collection of processing modules that operate efficiently outside of awareness and may have existed before consciousness evolved. ...

"Wilson (2002) referred to these nonconscious processes as the “adaptive un-conscious” and specified three main ways in which they differ from the Freudian unconscious. First, mental processes are unconscious because of the architecture of the mind, rather than because of repression or suppression."

I might do well to cut myself off at this point, having had a few too many in relation to my real interest and ability alike vis-a-vis these particular issues. Perhaps just enough contemporary research finds its way endemically out into the intellectual climate, and perhaps therefore my reading of the classic psychoanalysts has been biased by having at my disposal (quite unfairly) a few more answers to a few of the central questions. Whether for that or for some other reason, I personally would never, ever (ever!) propose that the psychoanalytic unconscious exists because of repression; only that it is where repressed thoughts end up, scattered among who knows what else. What I am I missing here?

"... Second, the unconscious is much more than the repository ofthe primitive, infantile drives and desires discussed by Freud."

Did Freud ever say that the unconscious consists only of these things? Who (else) did say this?

"The mind [rather] operates quite efficiently by relegating to the unconscious “normal” processes of perception, attention, learning, and judgment. Third, the modern approach makes different assumptions about people’s ability to view their unconscious states. Rather than assuming that such states are “recoverable”..., it assumes that a large part of mental functioning is inaccessible to conscious awareness, no matter how much people introspect."

Ditto above. To my knowledge, psychoanalysts have been among the harshest critics of conceits to "introspection." Also, making the "recoverab"-ility of repressed memory into a full-on "criterion" for defining the "unconscious" as against the conscious or the "suppressed", this I find incoherent. Recovery, were that to be truly in evidence, would prove the theory retrospectively, but that's not quite the same thing. What am I missing here? (The stack of books housing Crews et al is still staring at me from across the apartment; I hope to get to it this year, but I have not yet.) (Kilhstrom, the given source for the five-point criteria, undoubtedly has forgotten more about this stuff than most will ever know, and has done a tremendous service to independent scholars by making so much available online.)

Stefan Kac said...

(Wilson and Dunn, cont. #3)

"modern research on unconscious processes paints a simpler picture than models of repression and suppression. Only one of the criteria necessary to demonstrate repression is applicable, namely criterion 4..."

In other words, per "modern research", the theses that
"(1) People are motivated to keep thoughts, feelings, or memories outside of awareness; (2) the attempt to keep material out of awareness is itself an unconscious process; (3) people succeed in removing the undesired material from consciousness;"
these theses are not "applicable"?
(My emphases.)

"There is no need to demonstrate people’s motives for repression or suppression;..."

Okay, so (1), (2) and (3) are not "need"-ed for the purposes of advancing "empirical psychology", which can most parsimoniously prove the existence of an unconscious without them.

("Empirical psychology"? Or laboratory psychology?)

Admittedly, it is the project of "demonstrat-ing people's motives" (that is, artists' motives) which first raised my hackles against psychoanalysis and caused me to dig into it; at which point I found it more nuanced and less crazy than the version that has filtered out into that endemic faux-knowledge stream called the intellectual climate. Nowadays I view art-theorists' periodic dalliances with psychoanalysis through the lens of Kahneman's parable of the IDF interview: "I concluded that the current interview had failed at least in part because it allowed the interviewers to do what they found most interesting, which was to learn about the dynamics of the interviewee's mental life." If we find people's underlying motivations more interesting than their observable actions, our reasons probably are bad ones, not good ones, and we are liable to veer off the rails in any case. The main "bad" reason of course is to engage in "psychologizing," in rationalizing away others' actions when they conflict with our own desires, in showing their reasons to be the bad ones and ours the good ones after all. As with the parable of the interview, what is needed is an epistemology and an ethics which not merely warns against this rationalizing-away but in fact prevents us outright from embarking upon it. And so while "empirical psychology" has rightly moved beyond "behaviorism," I often find myself thinking that a certain staunchly behavior-ist/al outlook on the social world has much to recommend it.

Stefan Kac said...

(Wilson and Dunn, cont. #4)

"When, if ever, do implicit and explicit self-esteem correlate with one another? In contrast to the common intuition that we may unearth our deepest, subconscious self-relevant feelings through thoughtful introspection, explicit self-evaluations are more likely to be concordant with implicit self-esteem when motivation and capacity to engage in deliberation
are lacking"

"The more contemporary view [as against the "archaeological" metaphor of Freud] is that the vast adaptive unconscious is dissociated from conscious awareness and can never be directly viewed via introspection. Introspection reveals the contents of consciousness,... It cannot, however, no matter how deeply people dig, gain direct access to nonconscious mental processes. Instead, people must attempt to infer the nature of these processes, by taking what they know (e.g., their conscious states) and filling in the gaps of what they do not know (their noncon-scious states) by constructing a coherent narrative about themselves (McAdams1993, 2001)."

"One kind of introspection that can go awry is thinking about the reasons why we feel the way we do. There is considerable evidence...that people have limited access to the reasons for their evaluations and that the process of generating reasons can have negative consequences. Analyzing reasons has been shown to lower people’s satisfaction with their choices (Wilson et al. 1993), lower people’s ability to predict their own behavior (Wilson & LaFleur 1995), lower the correlation between people’s expressed feelings and their later behavior (Wilson & Dunn 1986, Wilsonet al. 1984), lower the correlation between people’s evaluations of a product and expert evaluations of it (Wilson & Schooler 1991), and lower the accuracy of sports fans’ predictions about the outcome of basketball games (Halberstadt & Levine1999). Why does analyzing reasons have these effects? Consistent with the idea that introspection is often a constructive process, people do not have complete access to the actual reasons behind their feelings, attitudes, and judgment and thus generate reasons that are consistent with cultural and personal theories and are accessible in memory (Nisbett & Wilson 1977). But, people do not recognize that the reasons they have just generated are incomplete or inaccurate, and thus assume that their attitude is the one implied by these reasons."

"Several studies have purported to find that focusing on how one feels (as opposed to why one feels that way), increases the accessibility of people’s feelings and increases the extent to which these feelings predict people’s subsequent behavior. ... [Conversely] Silvia & Gendolla (2001)...argued that increased self-awareness, induced by focusing one’s attention inward, increases people’s motivation to act consistently with their attitudes, and does not necessarily increase people’s awareness of their feelings."

"Many studies by Pennebaker and colleagues have demonstrated that writing about emotional or traumatic personal experiences has positive effects on health (e.g., Pennebaker et al. 1988), academic performance (e.g., Pennebaker et al. 1990), and job outcomes... Participants are typically instructed to spend 15 to 30 minutes over three to five days writing about important emotional issues."

How about a couple hundred hours a year on an ongoing basis. Would that work?

Stefan Kac said...

(Wilson and Dunn, cont. #5)

"Suggestive evidence...[has been found that] vividly imagining an upcoming situation might allow people to “sample” feelings triggered by their unconscious motives and attitudes."

But, all of this positive side amounting to nothing more than
"constructing a more meaningful, coherent narrative"
so as to
"put the [negative] events behind them and achieve more beneficial outcomes."

Around here we of course would prefer something more substantive.

"Two nuances to the self-perception process [i.e. "inferring our internal states from our behavior"], however, complicate its use as a route to self-knowledge. First, as noted by Wilson (2002), there is an unresolved ambiguity about whether people reveal unconscious states by observing their behavior (which Wilson called self-revelation) or mistakenly infer states that did not exist before (which Wilson called self-fabrication)."

"The self-fabrication possibility holds that people did not previously hold an internal state of which they were unaware, but instead mistakenly inferred the existence of a state that was not actually present."

"most studies on self-perception theory are examples of self-fabrication and not self-revelation. In the typical study, the experimenter subtly induces people to act in a certain way."
this being
"because of methodological constraints. In order to demonstrate self-revelation participants would have to be found who had a specific, nonconscious attitude..., and the conditions under which they inferred the existence of that state studied—a formidable task. It is much easier to induce people to behave in a certain way...and then get them to mistakenly think this behavior reflects a previously existing internal state (self-fabrication)."

"Such a route to self-knowledge ["self-revelation"] is not easy, because people would need to be relatively certain that the behavior in question is driven by an implicit state and not, for example, by some aspect of the situation..., and be able to put aside their explicit theories about how they feel. As noted earlier, people often view their internal states through the lens of their self-narratives, which might make it difficult to notice and remember behaviors that are inconsistent with these narratives."

"A second nuance to self-perception theory concerns people’s awareness of the inference process itself. In order to use the self-perception process as a route to self-knowledge, people would need to do it consciously and deliberately;...

"There is considerable evidence, however, that the self-perception process is itself quick and nonconscious."

"People who believe they are better off than they really are may be able to deal with difficult or frightening situations more effectively." ...holding inflated views of one’s personal characteristics and future prospects may promote positive behavior and successful coping, particularly in situations that might be terrifying or overwhelming if viewed realistically."

Is the "behavior" thus "promoted" always "positive" for the community too, or just for the "person"?

"Whereas holding positive expectations about one’s own capacities and future outcomes may increase motivation, indulging in pure fantasy may undermine motivation. ...positive expectations may help to lay the groundwork
for envisioning and taking steps toward achieving a goal, while fantasizing may impair this process by focusing attention on the outcome rather than the means."

Stefan Kac said...

James W. Pennebaker

"Virtually all forms of psychotherapy - from psychoanalysis to behavioral and cognitive therapies - have been shown to reduce distress and to promote physical and mental well-being. ...the mere act of disclosure is a powerful therapeutic agent that may account for a substantial percentage of the variance in the healing process."

Is writing a symphony "disclosure"? Does the audience have to receive the "disclos-ed"message intact? Or is it enough for the sender merely to "disclose" at them rather than to them?

Here again, "no one ever scolds us for getting it wrong."

"Most studies comparing writing versus talking either into a tape recorder or to a therapist find comparable biological, mood, and cognitive effects."

"Unlike psychotherapy, the writing paradigm does not employ feedback to the participant."

Well, that would seem to settle it.

"Rather, after individuals write about their own experiences, they are asked to place their essays into an anonymous-looking box with the promise that their writing will not be linked to their names. In one study comparing the effects of having students either write on paper that would be handed in to the experimenter or write on a "magic pad" (on which the writing disappears when the person lifts the plastic writing cover), no autonomic or self-report differences were found (Czajka, 1987)."

"The original theory that motivated the first studies on writing was based on the assumption that not talking about important psychological phenomena is a form of inhibition. ...we posited that active inhibition is a form of physiological work. This inhibitory work, which is reflected
in autonomic and central nervous system activity, could be viewed as a long-term low-level stressor...

"Findings to support the inhibition model of psychosomatics are
[however] the evidence that disclosure reduces inhibition and thereby improves health has not materialized."

"in a recent study, students were randomly assigned either to express a traumatic experience using bodily movement, to express a traumatic experience first through movement and then in written form, or to exercise in a prescribed manner for 3 days, 10 min per day. ...only the movement-plus-writing group showed significant improvements... [This suggests that] The mere expression of a trauma is not sufficient. Health gains appear to require translating experiences into language."

And to NOT require an audience. Which is good news for both artists and audiences, I think.

Stefan Kac said...

Kenny and DePaulo
"Do People Know How Others View Them? An Empirical and Theoretical Account "

"We are assuming that the causal direction is from self-perception to metaperception. This is the opposite of what the symbolic interactionists suggest. ...

"First, there are real differences in how different people view one another. ... Generally, different partners did indeed form different impressions of any given subject. This was especially true for how much they liked the subject. Yet, subjects were almost completely oblivious to these differences;...

"second... From study to study, socially anxious individuals thought that others looked askance at them. By contrast, subjects high in need for approval consistently thought that others looked favorably on them."

"Other research also underscores the strength of self-conceptions in shaping social interactions, social perceptions, and the views that people come to hold of one another. Most notably, Swann (e.g., 1984, 1990; Swann & Hill, 1982) has amassed a wealth of data indicating that people work to confirm their self-views, usually successfully."

"If, as we have argued, the views that subjects think that others have of them are derived from observing their own behavior and from their own views of themselves, then are they paying any attention at all to the texture of their partners' behavior? We think that they are. ...when they were asked to assess qualities of their partners, subjects seemed able to attend to the available data and make an evaluation for which there was consensual validation. What they seemed unable to
assess in a differentiated way were the variations in how these different partners saw the subjects themselves."

"we are not suggesting that people's beliefs about how others view them never affect their self-views. If, again and again, an individual is the last to be chosen when captains pick teams,...it would be difficult not to form the impression that others find this person inept...and perhaps more difficult still to remain unscathed by this impression. ...

"Symbolic interactionism is a theory of development as well as a theory of social interaction, and we suspect that its developmental predictions may fare better than the other predictions that we have addressed in this article."

"A developmental perspective may also help to explain why adults sometimes seem so oblivious to the feedback available to them in ongoing social interactions. Perhaps they pay so little attention to that feedback in the present because they paid so much attention to it in the past. As children, perhaps they did look into other people's eyes to see inside their own psyches. Many thousands of looks later, they might have come to develop highly stable self-concepts."

"It may be tempting to conclude that our results apply more to short-term interactions
than to long-term ones. ... Yet, a recent review has indicated that even thin slices of expressive behavior (e.g., under 5 min) can be surprisingly informative.

"Similarly, an intuitively appealing prediction would be that our results will not generalize to people in long-term intimate relationships. However, we just argued in the previous section
that as relationships develop, partners may actually become less attuned to each other's feedback during ongoing social interactions because they think they already know what that feedback will be."

Stefan Kac said...

Daniel M. Haybron
"Do We Know How Happy We Are?
On Some Limits of Affective Introspection and Recall

[395, epigram]

. . . with respect to his own feelings and circumstances, the most ordinary man
or woman has means of knowledge immeasurably surpassing those that can be
possessed by anyone else.

Mill, On Liberty

"“affective ignorance,” or AI. AI can involve two sorts of epistemic failure: ignorance about our past affect (“past-AI”), and ignorance about affects we are currently experiencing (“present-AI”)."

"a growing body of work on “unconscious emotion,” including Wilson’s book, that documents affective processes that putatively occur outside of consciousness; the idea that some of these phenomena actually are conscious, yet fall outside introspective awareness, seems not, for the most part, to have been taken seriously."

"why we might expect the chronically anxious to seem like, and think, they’re happy. ...anxiety may be able to do its job of making us more vigilant and so forth without rational processes being aware of it at all—indeed, with the agent thinking everything’s just fine. If so, then it may be adaptive in many situations to be anxious while believing that one is happy, and more generally presenting oneself as happy. ...

"An interesting further conjecture is that elusiveness should tend
not to attach to affects associated with universal facial expressions like the “basic emotions” of sadness, feeling happy, anger, fear, contempt, disgust, and surprise. Such emotions clearly serve important signaling functions: they try to make themselves known, at least to others. Plausibly, it would be most adaptive for such emotions to be known to their bearers as well. ...

"These remarks are of course speculative. But they are not implausible, and seem consistent with what we know about mood."

"Much has been written in recent decades about a “hedonic treadmill”: we adapt to many changes in our lives, so that we tend eventually to wind up no more or less happy than we were to begin with. ...But given the heavy reliance of these findings on self-report measures, and given the likelihood that adaptation is sometimes at least partly attentional rather than hedonic, these findings may prove to be exaggerated. In short, we may be substantially on an attentional treadmill instead of merely a hedonic one."

"The problem that arises here is not simply that some affects are elusive, or become so through adaptation, but that a given affect can elude some people and not others. And insofar as one is relatively inattentive about one’s affective state, or an undiscerning observer of what one does attend to, one is liable to be comparatively ignorant about the quality of one’s affect."

"Thus judgments of life satisfaction in collectivist cultures have been found to draw less on affective state than judgments in individualistic cultures, and in some countries—like China—may not correlate with negative affect at all (Suh, Diener, et al. 1998). It is hard to believe that people in any culture are that indifferent to how they feel. Perhaps people in countries like China are
simply less astute observers of their inner lives than Americans are, precisely because they assign a lower priority to such matters."

"Consider a study that compared self-reports of emotion with autonomic nervous system (ANS) activity patterns among American and Indonesian (specifically, Minangkabau) subjects after they had been instructed to engage in various emotional expressions such as smiling and frowning (Levenson, Ekman, et al. 1992). The American subjects were much more likely to report experiencing the corresponding emotions, even though ANS profiles were the same between the two groups."

Stefan Kac said...

Haybron, cont.

[416] "Consider that a deep faith in the ability of individuals effectively to seek their own good has provided an important justification for liberal restrictions on the state’s role in promoting good lives. ...“the strongest of all the arguments against the interference of the public with purely personal conduct, is that when it does interfere, the odds are that it interferes wrongly, and in the wrong place”" [Mill, On Liberty]

[417] "And yet, if individuals are prone systematically to botch choices regarding their happiness, or even if this must be considered a serious possibility, then this aspect of liberal thought loses a good deal of its support, specifically the traditional consequentialist arguments like Mill’s that favor it. ...

"Plainly, much more would need to be said actually to undermine consequentialist arguments for liberal strictures on state paternalism. Nor must the defeat of those arguments constitute a defeat of liberalism or open the door for rampant government paternalism, since we could—and would, in my view—have compelling reasons of autonomy for limiting state interventions in our lives. (It seems to me a problem for consequentialism more than liberalism.)"

The last parenthetical bit is rarely articulated but seems to me of the utmost importance, applying as it also must to the "consequentialism" of the Fiscal Conservative, the Democratic Socialist, and the Anarcho-Capitalist. Who is not a "consequentialist" in their political ideology? Can this ever be avoided?

Stefan Kac said...

Schooler, Ariely, and Loewenstein
"The Pursuit and Assessment of Happiness
can be Self-Defeating

[42] "some problems with the Benthamite utility that have not received much attention from economists. ...

"First, people may have only a limited explicit access to the utilities that they derive from experiences. As many writers have commented, maximizing utility in the real world involves a hopelessly complex constrained optimization problem. ...

[43] "Second, when people do attempt to assess their own level of utility, such efforts may adversely affect their well-being—that is, undermine the utility they are attempting to measure. ...

"Third, happiness-seeking may be a self-defeating goal. A variety of lines of psychological research suggest that explicit efforts to maximize one's happiness can undermine the ability to achieve happiness."

[56] re: "findings...consistent with the proposition that the explicit pursuit of happiness can be self-defeating. ...all of the studies that have examined the issue have been correlational in nature,... One interpretation of such findings is that the tendency to pursue happiness leads these individuals to be less happy. However, it is also possible that an initial tendency to be unhappy leads individuals to want to be happy and to select specific goals that, whether effective or ineffective, they believe will promote their own happiness."

(A further excerpt from this paper has been logged here.)

Stefan Kac said...

Otto Rank
Art and Artist
trans. Charles Francis Atkinson

[28] "The creative artist personality is thus the first work of the productive individual, and it remains fundamentally his chief work, since all his other works are partly the repeated expression of this primal creation, partly a justification by dynamism.

"I regard it as the double advantage of this insight into artistic personality-development which is gained from a study of the modern type, not only that it is applicable to the understanding of all cultural genesis, but that, moreover...artistic personality appears to subsist already in the beginning of all artistic production. ...

[29] "E. von Sydow...accepts the view that "the beginning of art lay in its application to the body." ...it is apparently psycho-analysis which led him to this idea. ...[but this] would be a confirmation on their part of a view which is alien to them. For this view of art presupposes a voluntaristic psychology, which in my own case I was only able to reach after passing beyond the libido theory of Freud,...

[30] "... Whatever the meaning of the much-disputed tatooing as the essential expression of body-art may be, it is at least certain that practical objects, such as hardening the skin or the attraction or repulsion of others, do not have a great bearing. ...there is no sort of consensus of opinion as to the real point of this magical painting of the body. ...[but surely] an artistic achievement is also part of the business."

[80] "the question as to wherein the collective element of mythic and epic poetry consists has become a central problem in scientific literary criticism ever since the Romantic period. ... A race or nation appears as the victorious hero of the story, mostly in the figure of an individual champion... In every case the hero and his fate are the main thing, and not the poet, in whom we should take little interest if we did know him. ...
... The individual author of modern times differs from the collective creators of folk-epic, not only through the personal nature of his theme, but also because he himself, his individual ego, is the real hero of his story. ... It is as if the personal artist-ideology, which we have taken as the foundation of modern art, comes in the individual poet to consciousness of itself. Hence the favoured position, the high cultural significance indeed, of the author as censor of morals, philosopher of life, and education of mankind in our world of today. In attaining this position of general responsibility he has, however, left the sphere of pure creativity, which, from now on, he represents only in his ideology. He is now himself the work of art, but as such he can represent either a good or a bad one, according to whether and how he suceeds in shaping his life. ...

"This fact confronts us again when we come to deal with the problem of the individual artist-personality as expressed in the relation between experience and creativity. No single causal relation appears to exist between the two phenomena—certainly not the one favoured by psychography, which purports to explain creativity by experience in general or by special experiences. It seems likely that the reverse is more possible, since the creative will which underlies them both manifests itself more clearly in the created work than in
experience. On the other hand, creativity itself is, of course, a special form of experience and one peculiar to the artist, and all depends in the last resort upon whether the individual is capable of restoring harmony, or at least a temporary balance, between the two forms of experience—artistic and vital—and to what extent he succeeds."


Stefan Kac said...

Louis Menand
The Free World: Art and Thought in the Cold War

"The other thing about American fiction that fascinated the French was what they took to be the elimination of psychology. "Hemingway never enters inside his characters," Sartre wrote. "He describes them always from the outside. The heroes of Hemingway and Caldwell never explain themselves. They act only." ... The American novel seemed to have completely rejected what the modern French novel, and Proust's novel paradigmatically, had made its specialty: introspection and analysis."

"The French thought that American fiction was raw and direct because that was the way Americans are. In American novels, Camus said in 1947, "[m]an is described but never explained";... Sartre thought that le style américain was uncalculated and unreflective, a spontaneous outburst, and that American writers expressed themselves that way because they couldn't help it. ...

"...at the most basic level, the French thought that the influence of film could be seen in the paratactic atomization of action—the
and then, and then, and then narration—of writers like Hemingway and Dos Passos. What we are presented with is a sequence of actions without commentary, like a scene in a film.

"Sartre and Beauvoir's enthusiasm for American fiction went hand in hand with their enthusiasm for American popular culture generally and American movies in particular. ... They hated French films and French fiction. "[W]e loathed the whole idea of
la vie intérieure," said Beauvoir."

François Cusset
trans. Jeff Fort
French Theory: How Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze, &Co. Transformed the Intellectual Life of the United States
(2008, orig. 2003)

"Certain critics even heard in Foucault the distant strains of a patriotic interpretation: Foucault's lexicon was made to resonate with an "American Aesthetics of Liberty," the idea being that Foucault and the United States share "a tradition of ethics
that presents self-stylization as a practice of freedom," in which the self is "assumed to be a work of art" and "the desirability of normatization itself" is ceaselessly questioned—a mostly literary take on the subject amounting overall to a para-Foucauldian ode to pioneering, repressive America and its unexamined myths, one that Foucault the activist would no doubt have found distasteful."