Saturday, July 15, 2006

Unformulated Experience

I've gone missing from poetry for a while, a pretty long while for me. Needed to be away, for various reasons, but mainly the pot has just felt empty. What I'm full of late is, not poetry, but a project exploring the nature of unformulated experience, (a term from psychoanalyst Donnel Stern). Rather than thinking of the unconscious mind as attic space, where unwanted, hated, repressed, discarded parts of experience stay stored away, the unconscious is what one has never been able to experience because it's never been constructed linguistically. The mind being primarily a linguistic organ, we require words to think. We can't make anything conscious or available for reflection without language. People in therapy, whether they realize it or not, are reaching for ways to create new emotional experience rather than to recover it.

The connection with poetry is clear. What people do in therapy is, in some ways, a loose, uncrafted version of what poets do, i.e., create something new through speech. What stops us is the limits on our ability to think and create. Experience becomes restircted to old, familiar linguistic pathways. We may know other possibilities exist but like ultraviolet light we don't have the equipment to experience it directly.

People come to new understanding & experience in therapy (freer understanding and experience) by creating words for it. These experiences may be just out of reach or far out of reach. Even close to awareness they can't make the leap. Speech in therapy is encoded, requires another mind to read between the lines, so to speak. There's a distinct aesthetic to clinical work.

Psychodynamic training plays with theories of the mind, but the effort of learning to listen & grasp elusive qualities of clinical expression is similar to learning to read poetry (and other writing than relies on linguistic devices like associative leaps, word play, imagery, etc). Like being able to understand, appreciate atonal music or contemporary art, it takes exposure and reflection on one's experience of it. Otherwise these things seem crazy and alienating (like some of contemporary poetry...).

I'm going to teach a class on this eventually.


Robert said...

That's really interesting. It reminds me of how a dream is different when you tell it, changed by being put into words. Maybe it's distorted, but maybe it wants to be put into words.

Beverly said...

And like with poetry, something of the dream is gained by putting it into words, and of course, something is forever lost.

Diane K. Martin said...

Yes, very interesting. If I understand what you're saying ("What people do in therapy is, in some ways, a loose, uncrafted version of what poets do, i.e., create something new through speech...."), the difference might be that when we write a poem we are not just trying to understand the "experience" but also create it for the reader--or create something for the reader, because, no doubt, different minds will be differently receptive.

Beverly said...

I don't want to push the analogy too far, but that's true in therapy too. No one comes to therapy to talk to themselves.

The hope is that another mind will be at work too, maybe seeing something you can't (the back of your head, so to speak).

The difference--poets know readers don't read the poem just as they do, that other meanings will be found, but most don't write for that purpose. Then again, some do.

Cliff said...

I really enjoyed your thoughts on this. A class sounds wonderful.
I am particularly taken by your thoughts on linguistic pathways. I am fluent in Mandarin, English and American Sign Language, and in my poetry I am sometimes stuck on a image that is untranslatable from one linguistic medium to another.

Beverly said...

The difficulty with translation is a great example of the power language wields over perception. Some things are not translatable. Thus other people's reality is impossible to enter fully and when there are differences of language and culture the teritory of impossibility grows.

peg said...

This really interests me. Was immediately reminded of someone (poet) talking about her experiences with marriage counseling, saying she decided to enter into because it gave her & partner a language to talk about the problems. Also, Kafka wrote in his journal: "When I say something it immediately and finally loses its importance, when I write it down it loses it too, but sometimes gains a new one."

Beverly said...

I'm sure that's why we (some of us at least) write. Putting an experience (interior or exterior) into the right words seems to relieve something. And then you move the next one?