02/02 Journal Entry

The key to creative success is not an ironclad spirit, or the brutish strength of a well-trained will, but only and very simply, an intense aversion to boredom. To be bored is to open oneself up to a world of possibilities, to let the spotlight of spontaneous interest hover over the contents of a boundless imagination. And wherever it comes to rest, boredom then fulfills its task, and there is always something stimulating to be found. That is the intuition of the creative person: to allow oneself to be bored, to sit with the boredom, to bear it, then to deploy one’s faculties in the playful transformation of whatever comes to mind thereafter.


Erikson considered the child’s first conflict to be trust vs mistrust. But what does it really mean for an infant to ‘learn to trust’? The caretaker attends to the child: they soothe them, they satisfy their needs, they assure them of comfort and security. The child comes to understand that there is something in the world which can make this guarantee. The child thereby learns that their own negative reactions are tamable: that they can be managed, at a time when the child’s own emotional and cognitive faculties aren’t yet up for the task.

To trust, then, is to believe that a pacification of the spirit is possible. That is the basic trust that separates the hopeless neurotic from the intrepid voyager through life. The voyager suffers much along their twists and turns, but never does he lose his faith in the ideal of tranquility, which serves as his guiding star. And death itself becomes its ultimate guarantee, whereas to the neurotic it is only the final shriek in a cacophonous symphony.


One hundred students flip a coin ten times. They sit down if their coin lands on tails. After ten iterations the laws of statistics prove faithful and one student remains standing. Then people clamor around him and speak amazingly of the odds which were overcome and of the miraculousness of his act, and he adds to this spectacle by speaking amazingly of his sixth sense and the triumph of intuition. What a wondrous thing the world becomes, when we put on blinders and restrict our sight to what catches our immediate attention.


Would you like a helpful learning strategy? Whatever information you’re being taught, imagine yourself in a situation which requires you to use it. If you’re being taught shades of blue, imagine yourself consulting with homeowners about the ideal color of their nursery. If you’re being taught the anatomy of the large intestine, imagine yourself talking a layperson through the duration of a colonoscopy. To put yourself in such situations is to shift from a merely assimilative mode of learning into an accommodative one, for you must always accommodate the information into your ability to communicate. You will know that you’ve gotten the trick right when you find yourself posing questions to your teacher that you wouldn’t have thought to ask before: the question is needed to fully accommodate the information, whereas it would have been unnecessary in the assimilative mode.


One observation about Professor Johnson’s teaching style, which undoubtedly contributes to his success as an lecturer, is that he makes a habit of meta-communicating to his students. That is to say, he doesn’t just teach, introduce topics, cover material, etc — he also talks about what he’s about to teach, about to introduce, about to cover, etc. Once you’ve noticed it, you can’t stop hearing it: he follows this routine with such precision that we’re left to wonder whether he took it up from a mentor or previous professor.

And in our Evidence-Based class, the term meta-communication also came up in our reading about repairing therapeutic ruptures. The therapist is expected to talk about the ongoing communication with the client, in order to identify what happened to cause the rupture. Only by being absolutely explicit about the rupture is the therapist able to heal it.

This dimension of therapy was referred by Lacan as ‘meta-language’, and he denied that it could exist. That is to say, he denied that there was any perspective that could be taken ‘outside’ the language of the therapy room, and therefore by extension, outside the transference. In my own clinical experience, I have shared moments with clients in which we talk about the transference, sometimes in great depth, depending on the psychological-mindedness of the client. But I know that even these conversations are nested in transferential dynamics themselves, and in such moments, I remember Lacan’s adage.


The most harmful and stifling idea a child can develop is that learning is embarrassing. All learning implies a lack of knowledge, and it becomes explicit when the child seeks instruction. But when this exposition of ignorance becomes an object of anxiety, the child closes up, introjects, and withdraws, for fear of revealing a perceived weakness. The joy of learning is smothered by the fear of not knowing. And yet not to know is the foundation of learning, and therefore the foundation of a special kind of joy. The child should be taught to celebrate their ignorance, and not to be ashamed of it, because it is always the first condition of a process of growth.


Why do the Semitic cultures equate writing with commitment, and even take this metaphor to its extreme by calling divine fate a ‘prescription’ (مكتوب)? The answer is to be found in their material culture, which reserved writing only for cases of liturgical texts or commerce, and thereby transformed it into a speech-act. To write was to declare, whether it was the declaration of faith or a declaration of loans to be paid (and we note that both came together in their word for religion, دين). How far we have come from this conception of writing, when most of a student’s time is spent transcribing notes from lecture slides, themselves copied from a textbook, itself filled with either the most inane descriptions or pointless abstract philosophizing. Writing is an action, but to write is no longer a kind of act.

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