“Or say that the end precedes the begininng
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end
And all is always now.”
–T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets, I
Almost a year after I last took up marshaling words against the vast abyssal Other, I find myself here again. Older, more solitary–different, or resolved, recollected into something I seem to have always been seeing.
There are two different things people mean when they refer to deja vu. The first, which seems to be the general experience, is the sense of having seen or done something before, and any consequences of such a sensory suspicion are typically ignored or not bothered with (one wouldn’t want to be insane now, right?). I used to be interested in the myriad explanations for that feeling, though I never found them quite descriptive of what I meant when I say I’ve had an already-seen, which is the second sense: the suspicion that the current experience is being remembered later.
The first suggests only past, while the second is more contorted. I’m always happy to find another who experiences it the second way, who describes it similar language or, upon hearing mine, nods in pleased consent, the relief that one feels when someone feels the same way too. And more fun when someone uses the self-same words I would choose.
To expand for a moment–there is this sense that time has somehow bent, folded in, that past and future are being experienced at one, and at that moment, one feels somehow right, as if what has just happened was meant to happen in the past or, because it is remembered in the future, had to have happened. Further, there’s this sense that you’ve done something “right,” like you are on a correct path.
Of particular note in this is that strange desire, tendency, reflex– I ascribe meaning immediately to the event, while I don’t normally bother with more mundane or more common events. I immediately find myself taking note of my surroundings, giving more attention to what just happened, what was just said–that is, inscribing in into a tapestry of thought and sense. To use something analogue, it is as if I’ve just hit “record,” ultimately perhaps creating a memory which I will probably access later.
I have come to name such experiences as Other, which has also become my way of understanding the world outside the world I understand, or, to use more religious language, the Divine or the Eternal. But I choose Other specifically because it does not indicate agency–that is, it is not like the christian experience of God or miracles. Rather, experiences of the Other indicate differences in perception, an almost intangible perception. I do not mean extra-perception here, nor do I refer to the “paranormal,” which I find to be a rather embarrassing attempt by rational people to understand what is outside the rational: to paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, it makes no sense to look for a ghost in a laboratory, because ghosts do not particularly like laboratories.
I’ve used Other two ways here. I’m attempting to expound upon something I started in a missive to someone, and found that I really ought to try to explain it better. There is the Other of Lacanian and other psychology and philosophy, which is the subject that is not self, the other person, the abyss behind the material/objective existence of another person. We can guess at what is within the mind of another person, be it a stranger, a lover, or an enemy, but we cannot know. One can get quite good at anticipating the other/Other’s thoughts and feelings, and friendships and loves require such an anticipation. So, too, do certain careers requiring manipulation and coercion, for such is the social intelligence of the propagandist, the advertiser, the dictator.
In this first sense, the Other is an abyss we can only begin to plumb. I have had many loves, and have known lovers and friends deeply, and yet have still been surprised and almost disturbed when I suddenly realize I don’t know why an other did what he just did, uncharacteristic of what I’d grown to understand. This I suspect is usually the result of laziness, or of the same intellectual shorthand we use in order to comfortably live in the world. A familiar chair is stable, and most chairs (by nature of being chairs) are, and so we do not test every chair we sit on. Familiarity is a sort of stability, an assumption that what we know about an other will be generally the same each time. But unlike understanding the nature of “chair,” the Other is an abyss, or a vast sea, fully unfathomable; though we can come to understand and rely upon certain characteristics (a vast sea is full of water and other things, has shorelines and waves; a friend likes certain things, dislikes others, find certain things funny, finds certain things uncomfortable), we cannot fully know it. Part of the joy of a friend is learning of them, exploring their depths, discovering what can be known, and in love this is even greater. But I am not them, and so I cannot fully know them (much less so than one can even quite know oneself.
In the second sense, the Other is uncomprehended, the different, the outside. An uncanny experience is different from the mundane, it is unexpected, fits somewhere outside of comprehension. It is fun for some to attempt to explain the Other, and some of these explanations fit well, though within the experience of the Other most explanations fall away, at least as they occur. Later is when the explanation comes, to fit this event back into a narrative of one’s life where it does not disturb anything. We re-inscribe it into what we already believe to be true, or re-write what we already think to be true in order to fit this new thing into it.
Both Others–An Other and The Other–are the same. Better said, the experience of love for an Other narrates all past and future in order to fit them in, just as the experience of hatred or trauma from an Other colors all memory and future longing. The experience of the Other alters all other experiences and understandings. Or, conversely, both The Other and An Other can be rejected, forgotten, uninscribed. Love requires choice (letting down defenses, choosing to love back, etc.), and it is as easy to choose not to love as it is to love. An Other can be rejected, just as The Other can be rejected, and usually without much real harm to the material existence of the self. What is lost in that rejection, though, is the very point of accepting An Other or The Other.
That is, meaning. Even horrific trauma, once “processed,” creates and is embraced by meaning, just as the loss of love or friendship creates meaning (the ‘better to have loved and lost…’). The material goes on, the body keeps living until is stops, but everything in between, the interior spaces of existence, dreams and hopes and desires and time itself have no narrative, have no meaning.
And somewhere in that gap between our self and The/An Other, is the space of the meaning itself. I suspect this is why it was said “how can you say you love God whom you have not seen, when you do not love your fellow whom you have seen.” This elaborates the last post, almost a year ago. The realm of the Social is the realm of the Real, where meaning is created in the dance between self and Other, where thought, idea and belief become Real, or all that we can know of the Real.