Time, Space, and the Subconsciousness

I think that we have the subconscious all wrong. We view the subconscious as the mystical origin of things, but we actually have everything backwards. The subconscious is actually the origin that is placed there afterwards. That’s the outline of the argument I want to make anyways, an argument that I am not too confident on. Basically, I want to talk about the formation of the subconsciousness, which in fact occurs during consciousness.

Well, the situation here is sort of like the difference between wake and sleep. Our dreams are based on the events of teh previous day, they seem to give a mystical holism to what we experience in a fragmentary way in waking life. The question that Keats poses at the end of Ode to a Nightingale is worth mentioning here: “Fled is that music — do I wake or sleep?”

— Keats speaks of the undecidability of wake or sleep. Now, wake or sleep is an opposition we are familiar with, there are many ways of conceiving of it. I have here in my notes the opposition between “threshold and encounter”: wakefulness corresponds to the feeling of standing on a threshold, of looking out towards something and being on the verge of taking a step, while sleep corresponds to the “encounter” — something that we feel, something that seems to match what we are waiting for. Maybe, desire and fulfillment. But the opposition that I’m most interested in is the present and the past: the present corresponds to wakefulness, the past corresponds to dream. And here, Keats speaks of a moment when he is uncertain as to where he is: “Do I wake or sleep?” I am before something, caught at a threshold: I was not able to follow the nightingale, who now flees over the valley. I recall the first four stanzas poised as a standing at and a rejection of various cliches or transport, a taking up / dismissing which dramatizes the threshold. And yet, at this very moment, I am also caught in a dreamlike world. I, paradoxically enough, encounter the threshold.

The line that interests me about Wordsworth’s Boy of Winander is that line about “enter unawares” — how the elements of waking life enter unawares into the dream life — the very thing we are interested in, the formation of the subconscious. What’s odd here is that, temporally, wakefulness precedes sleep, but yet, in another sense, dream precedes wakefulness — to be more precise, at the moment of action, we do not think through, we rely on our subconscious — and we know, well enough, that the subconscious is really the key to our happiness — I mean, there is some truth to the adadge that money can’t buy happiness, because happiness comes from a sense of belonging, which is why love brings happiness. (The real question is actually whether happiness is really worth it) —

Then, sometimes, in that silence, while he hung
Listening, a gentle shock of mild surprise
Has carried far into his heart the voice
Of mountain-torrents; or the visible scene
Would enter unawares into his mind
With all its solemn imagery, its rocks,
Its woods, and that uncertain heaven received
Into the bosom of the steady lake.

There are actually a few things I want to talk about: “the error of desire”, “the uncanny”, “the infernal wheel”.

I halt here, because I am aware that I don’t simply want to give a straightfoward account of the formation of the subconscious, precisely because such an account is based on desire. This is how Freud originally conceived of dreams — as wish fulfillment — and this is also actually the argument given in that essay about paranoia (“The Danger of Reading”) — that dreams are a response to the pain of being at a threshold or of the feeling of fragmentation there. But this is actually not the case, the dream is actually more “logical” than that — which is another way, really, of saying that the subconsciousness really doesn’t exist. The present that fades into the past leaves us with a kind of image of history, so that the paradoxical “encounter with the threshold” is actually a retrospective postulate — as though I had encountered something. The subconscious is purely narrative, purely speculative — in the final analysis it is, indeed, merely memory activation, which is what gives it a sense of naturalness or belongingness. But we actually want to exclude consciousness from this —

I mean, this might sound confusing, but we don’t simply want to say, yes, all that we do is simply determininistic memory activation, which is indeed true on some level, but this would give a totalizing view of the subconscious — there would be nothing that isn’t subconscious. … well, yes, we can never think and see at the same time, and this is our experience… our present always fades into the past, and this disjunction is really what we call the subconscious. So, in that sense, yes, everything is subconscious, the subconscious is simply our lack inability to control, it is a consequence of the passage of time. But there is also the sense of being before something (in the non-temproal sense … and maybe also the temporal one), which we called, “the threshold”, being before a threshold: and this is the moment when time seems to stop, even if it doesn’t. If the subconsciousness is temporal, than the consciousness would be spatial.

… the infernal wheel refers to the construction of our reality based on these two .. vectors, if you will. We’ve long recognized, being a “ball of hate”, that what’s despisable is not the form being constucted but the very construction itself. Which really means that we are talking here, somehow, about the stopping of time, about some uncanny moment, and not so much about reprogramming.

TBC: OTN’s “Forlorn”


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