Here I go again: weaving together a composite of disparate yet, in my opinion, deeply analogous threads of thoughts. The coherence of the crescent idea therein might turn out to be less solid than leaky but then I guess it’s all the better. The creative potency that imprecise logic may harbour is not simply exciting or oddly intriguing; it might even guide the rational, interpretive faculty of the mind. (As usual, I have a way of getting high-falutin while intending to write about something rather trivial, but anyway…) Let me start right away with the idea of reducing stress through the possession of an enhanced sense of control and predictability. I will quote Robert Sapolsky at length here. The renowned biologist writes the following in his acclaimed book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers:
Awhile back some researchers got an utterly mad idea, the thought of frothing lunatics. Why not give the painkillers to the patients and let them decide when they need medication? You can just imagine the apoplexy that mainstream medicine had over that one—patients will overdose, become addicts, you can’t let patients do that. It was tried with cancer patients and postsurgical patients, and it turned out that the patients did just fine when they selfmedicated. In fact, the total amount of painkillers consumed decreased. Why should consumption go down? Because when you are lying there in bed, in pain, uncertain of the time, uncertain if the nurse has heard your call or will have time to respond, uncertain of everything, you are asking for painkillers not only to stop the pain but also to stop the uncertainty. Reinstitute control and predictability, give the patient the knowledge that the medication is there for the instant that the pain becomes too severe, and the pain often becomes far more manageable … In other studies, different variables of control were manipulated. Almost unanimously, these studies show that a moderate increase in control produces all the salutary effects just described; in a few studies, physiological measures were even taken, showing changes like reductions in glucocorticoid levels or improved immune function. The forms that increased control could take were many. In one study, the baseline group was left alone, while the experimental group was organized into a residents’ council that made decisions about life in the nursing home. In the latter group, health improved and individuals showed more voluntary participation in social activities. In another study, residents in a nursing home were being involuntarily moved to a different residence because of the financial collapse of the first institution. The baseline group was moved in the normal manner, while the experimental group was given extensive lectures on the new home and given control of a wide variety of issues connected with the move (the day of the move, the decor of the room they would live in, and so on). When the move occurred, there were far fewer medical complications for the latter group. The infantilizing effects of loss of control were shown explicitly in another study in which residents were given a variety of tasks to do. When the staff present encouraged them, performance improved; when the staff present helped them, performance declined (p. 396-398).
It is especially this last sentence that I would like to highlight. Situations that infantilize people, that is, render them passive and exposed to the vicissitudes of particular circumstances, engender a sense of dependence and hence a sense of vulnerability. Without a sense of agency and autonomy the mind, feeling uninvolved, becomes hysterical. In general, a sense of agency, of relevance, influence and activity are all an essential part of a healthily balanced mind. And with this I leap to the next strand of thought by juxtaposing or collating this principle of the active vs. passive dynamics of participation with the more creative domains of the mind.
According to the famous minimalist credo in the art of literary craft: ’’the less is more’’. Aside from the witty (and quite understandable) rebuff (i.e.: more is more) there is an important message behind this statement. Sparse depiction favors an activated faculty of imagination. In other words, minimal composition animates the mind by eliciting rich fictional textures through the modest use of utterly concrete but highly suggestive imagery. Thus, the minimalist author relies on the eager mind of the reader. Now, although I do not particularly subscribe to the idea that ’the less is more’ I do believe that any gesture or form of expression that purports to be an effective and significant (significative) one needs to rely on certain facilitative techniques as much as it can. An expression is ’meaningful’ to the extent that it makes some kind of a difference to the (mind of the) one who perceives, receives it. And an expression makes a difference only if its recipients actively participate in the assemblage of that meaningful difference. Let me clarify/delve further.
A masseur animates the energies of one’s body by applying a sequence of pressures that open energy blocks captured in tense muscles and thus readjust the balance in its (the energy’s) flow. A good writer does something similar in the imaginative, mental sphere. And this is true in many other domains of the human mind, even in such trivial instances as everyday conversation. Meaningful conversation, I would claim, is based on a facilitative resonance of direct engagement. As already implied in the foregoing propositions, the word ’meaningful’ does not simply refer to the idea that something makes some kind of sense to somebody. Rather, it refers to the performative dimension of an expression/behavior that the individual participates in.
In art as in psychotherapy expression is best articulated when it does not impose or I should say coerce meaning but rather prepares and sets the insight in motion through the use of suggestive yet concrete imagery and description. In other words, a good artist and a powerful therapist is a catalyst of sorts who makes the predominantly passive pole of interaction (the spectator/reader, the patient) a primarily active one: the viewer becomes a participant in the performative enactment of the artwork; the patient becomes the source of insight. (On a sidenote, in education too, after the elementary grades I think students should be less instructed than empowered to inquire. Receptive passivity should gradually give place to participatory engagement with available resources of knowledge.) To repeat, expression is best when it is evocative: cajoling and guiding the understanding beam of attention indirectly, not forcefeeding but eliciting meaning.
Admittedly, this ideal cannot be more than a guiding principle but it should be an imperative there is no question about it, for forcefed meaning is never truly meaningful. One way to state this imperative could go like this: in our expressions and behaviors we need to empower one another and by empowering one another disinhibit all the different ways of expressions and behavior we harbour within our selves. In order to practice the art of appropriation: we need to apply the right chain of evocative pressures/impressive expressions at the right places in the right order and tone and temporal distribution.