identifying the monstrous
July 4, 2013, 4:06 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , ,

We generally believe the enemy is ‘out there,’ and dispatch cowboys, armies, posses, swat teams, marines, boys in blue, nerdy scientists —  to get them.

There are lots of examples of blaming the other guy. Religion often emphasizes self perfecting: sanctification in Christianity, enlightenment in Buddhism; which surely lead to divergent paths and a divide across which we cast aspersions. The enemy isn’t us, it’s you lot.

But Pogo Possum- the cute little swamp creature from Okeefenokee – said, “We have seen the enemy and he is us.”

In his excerpt Terry Eagleton tells us that real relationships develop when there is a shared understanding that, like the elephant, the monster is in the room.

Here is Eagleton:

Tragedy is the form that recognizes that if a genuine human community is to be constituted, it can be only on the basis of our shared failure, frailty, and mortality. This is a community of repentance and forgiveness, and it represents everything that is the opposite of the American Dream. This means, in the terms of Jacques Lacan, that the symbolic can be founded only on the Real. Only by acknowledging the monstrous as lying at the very heart of ourselves, rather than projecting it outward onto others, can we establish anything more than a temporary, imaginary relationship with one another, one which is not likely to endure. This means relationships based on the recognition that at the very core of the self lies something profoundly strange to it, which is utterly impersonal and anonymous but closer to us than breathing, at once intimate and alien. This has had many names in Western civilization: God, Language, Desire, the Will, Language, the Unconscious, the Real, and so on.

Terry Eagleton, The Nature of Evil, Tikkun

the centre of all the possible magic and revelation

When the great poets Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes first met, Ted tried to kiss Sylvia and she bit him.  They got married and had a son whom they named Nicholas.  I guess Ted tried to kiss other girls too and Sylvia was very jealous.  When Nicholas was only one, she gassed herself in an oven – horror.

After his mother’s suicide, his father wrote that Nicholas’ eyes –

“Became wet jewels,

The hardest substance of the purest pain

As I fed him in his high white chair”.

Forty seven years later, Nicholas then a scientist living in Alaska, became depressed and took his life.

What an awful story.  It makes me think Nicholas never got over the loss of his mother.  Or that his dad must have treated him callously or abandoned him.


Following is a letter that Ted Hughes wrote to his son after visiting him in Alaska.  In it Hughes offers to his son a sort of primer on how to manage in a life in which relationships are often times quite difficult.   Continue reading

limbic revision
July 21, 2012, 4:09 pm
Filed under: the sweet life, unseen world | Tags: , , ,

If you love me, don’t try to change me, is the instruction we get – and give – when beginning a new relationship.  And then we get together and slowly, inexorably change each other.

Why does this make me think of couples that wear matching Christmas sweaters, and owners that look like their dogs?

Here is the science – and poetry – of it from the Book A General Theory of Love:

In a relationship, one mind revises the other; one heart changes its partner. This astounding legacy of our combined status as mammals and neural beings is limbic revision: the power to remodel the emotional parts of the people we love, as our Attractors [coteries of ingrained information patterns] activate certain limbic pathways, and the brain’s inexorable memory mechanism reinforces them.

Who we are and who we become depends, in part, on whom we love.

A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis; Fari Amini; Richard Lannon

“A primordial area of the brain creates both the capacity and the need for emotional intimacy that all humans share. A General Theory of Love describes the workings of this ancient, pivotal urge and reveals that our nervous systems are not self-contained. Instead, our brains link with those of the people close to us, in a silent rhythm that makes up the very life force of the body. These wordless and powerful ties determine our moods, stabilize and maintain our health and well-being, and change the structure of our brains.”

A General Theory of Love, Thomas Lewis; Fari Amini; Richard Lannon

a revolution of human relationships: outrospection
October 5, 2011, 9:50 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , , , ,


I have decided to do something new with coromandal, namely to use posts to introduce readers to very good sources of information on given topics.

This first post is an introduction to Roman Krznaric’s blog called outrospection.  It is about – as its subtitle makes clear – “empathy and the art of living.”  I have written several posts in coromandal on empathy, mostly in response to the writing of Jeremy Rifkin for whom the issue is a serious preoccupation.

Krznaric describes the purpose of his writing and the potential emancipatory function of empathy in our lives:

is love an elitist guild?
September 11, 2011, 7:38 pm
Filed under: the sweet life | Tags: , , , ,

I recommend Alain de Botton’s twitter page.  Each tweet is pregnant with insight that no doubt comes from years of reading and writing books, particularly on philosophy and society. I’ve assembled some here in no particular order on the theme of family.  Apparently, he’s in the thick of one, and reflecting deeply, which is good news for us.  His ideas tend to upset the apple cart of standard beliefs about relationships and love.

Here’s my take on some of the ideas:  Love is work, it may not look like it to the casual observer, but relationships that look stable have been worked on.  Living in a family is like living in a fish bowl: all foibles on display and assessed.  Our children reflect our worst qualities and embarrass us.  To love, you have to understand how difficult it was to have been loved by your parent.  Real love may come to very few of us.  Love loves beauty and degradation, which confuses us. Love isn’t guaranteed, it’s hard work and often ugly.

Continue reading