The Structure of the Subconscious

The “dismissal of conscious knowledge” argument wants to argue for the dismissing of all conscious processing (for our interests) thus: consciousness is really an impasse, it’s a reducing of everything to what we already know, it is a way of forgetting and avoiding disruption, that it was evolved as a powerful way to block stimuli rather than to receive it. The more we think about consciousness, and its original function in nature (as a way of warding off stimuli, increased efficiency), the more we wonder how new ideas can ever enter the brain. Let’s remember that evolution is only interested in linear progress, and consciousness, with its emphasis on focus, may in fact significantly enhance evolutionary specialization, as a kind of “secondary imprinting” besides genetic imprinting. But consciousness is geared towards rapid imprinting and it’s characteristics reflect this function. What we see in animals as “instinct” is not, of course, genetic — behavior is not genetically encodable, generally speaking, it would be like … sculpting a bust with a sledgehammer, I guess… decent metaphors escape me. The “subconscious” (we don’t know what it is yet) is probably not evolutionary at all.

But the subconscious is not merely the penetration of the consciousness, because there has to be some broader structure. If you feel pain, that in itself is not all that interesting — we get into Pavlovian responses or something — but if feeling pain somehow makes you believe in God, then that would be interesting.

The last few entries in this blog is really a pretty good model for the complicated formation of the “subconscious”. I started (“The Dangers of Reading”) with a moment of scarring that penetrated the block of consciousness — but at that instance, I said that Keats was “unreadable”. Many contemporary critics would agree with me. After all Keats died at a very early age, and a lot of his work was written in his early twenties, and there is no genius of poetry like there is in music (ie, Mozart). But the more recent essay (“Review of Hyperion”) generated a great deal of buzz in … my community … it generated a lot of buzz in the prestigious circle of thinkers consisting of me, myself, and I — anyways, I liked it, but it was very much linked to that earlier moment of failure — and perhaps it’s symptomatic that no reference to that earlier entry was made. That’s because the belief and excitement was genuine — I genuinely believed in a breakthrough. Honesty is always linked with blindness. You can’t experience something and know how you experience it at the same time, nor can self-knowledge ever be present to oneself for this reason. You can only reflect on a past moment when when — as Jules Winnfield from Pulp Fiction says — you felt the touch of god, but by the time of reflection the feeling or the euphoria is gone. In any case here would be no excitement at all in understanding Keats if Keats was easy to understand in the first place, and the degree of euphoria felt there was enormous precisely because Keats was so unreadable and it seemed to open up such a vast region.

But the recent essays get at the complexity of the “subconscious” — it is not, of course, some new logic there, but it is a distortion of our life. In our hierarchy of memory, from genetic memory, to conscious memory (which is in fact “instinct”), we append … personal memory and cultural memory, which is in fact implanted in the distortions of consciousness. There is no culture without pain, perhaps.

… this project, assuming it lasts, is still in its infancy, for me.


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