i. Towards a new conception of pain
We are used to differentiating sharply between our own pain and that of others. The problem of pain, together with that of colour perception, recurs in discussions about knowledge and solipsism; that is, the question whether my sensory perceptions have any meaningful relationship to the sensory perceptions of other people. It’s safe and sensible to assume that individual experiences of, for instance, blue, might greatly differ, as well as have something in common; at minimum, being called blue in each person’s economy of colour. What quality and quantity of blue a person perceives is often not considered a meaningful question in philosophical discourse. The question of pain, however, forces us to make hard decisions about this problem : if and when to take a headache tablet, whether you need medical help, whether you should be allowed prescription pain relief, and so on. In practice, medical and personal decisions are supplemented by referral to a social measure, such as the patient’s ability to work or fulfil duties. Those who must live outside of work and duty, such as persons experiencing severe or chronic or psychiatric pain, the young, elderly and unemployed, are difficult to relate to this ‘normal’ economy of pain. The problem is compounded by the strangely fluid nature of pain which is both profoundly physical in our definition of the term, and affected by an embarrassingly wide and apparently random array of variables, such as ethnicity, education, situation, who is in the room, how you feel about it all and whether you like the nurse that does it. Pain is difficult because it relates to those theoretical paradoxes of self observation, and scientific observation, to our uncertain understanding of the relations between self and other as well as body and mind, on practical and philosophical levels.
In this paper, I am suggesting a general theory of pain as internal vector, a form of inner directedness which faces towards, and at the same time strives away from, a certain place or body position. A single direction, if powerful enough, comes to order its environment. Think of a strong wind in a park, bending palms and shrubs and grass and flags, all varying the line of itself, making itself visible. According to art theorist Ernst Gombrich, the sense of direction or movement is a vital clue for us to ‘recognise’ what we see, i.e., to interpret the sensual impression in a culturally or personally meaningful way (Gombrich, 1979, 10-16 and 300). Pain, because of its strong and uni-directional impact, leaves an identifiable trace on action and thought, especially if you teach yourself to recognise its characteristic pressure to avoid the once-touched stove or memory of the accident. I found that the directedness which pain imposes on thought and physical process can be used as a tool for directing creativity, and thus also, some understanding, healing, and reduction of pain. If I can distance myself enough to see where pain is trying to push me, I gain a foothold; not the stability of philosophical ground, but a temporary chance to gain agency and movement within a larger force which I can neither fully understand or control, like surfing a wave, or tacking against the wind.
The drawings which accompany this text began as records of what can be done with a damaged, and sometimes completely disabled set of drawing hands. Drawing is a very physical art, its appeal built on games of control and loss of control, in body, emotion and mind, which are amplified and traced on paper according to the moods, abilities and disabilities of the drawing hand (Koschatzky, 1981, 10-14). It is recommended that the drawing hand be exercised like an athlete’s body; familiar with athletic techniques, I was trying to draw the hands’ recovery. The resulting images became a semi-conscious artistic-philosophic experiment, somewhat like an exploratory archeological dig. I made up method as I went along, in a constant play between theory, hand and memory. You can think of it as an artistic performance of theory, or a theoretically driven art project. Archaeology begins once the desired object of knowledge has metamorphosed into other matter, become part of ground, or foundations, increasingly visible only as the shape of a jug that’s now the twist of a root and a corona of earth in a different hue. Archaeological method classifies the ground into strata, and findings into eras which relate convincingly to the soils and roots and shards surrounding it. Identity is established as a figure is separated from the matrix of the ground it had long been part of; the object of the find is largely created by method. This artefact of a find, the kind of object made whole again which you can present in a museum is not necessarily the best or only knowledge of the past we have. Yet it provides the imagination something solid and inspiring to work with, it makes debate possible.
Self-observation poses a central paradox of Modern Selfhood. Assuming the single point of view of subjectivity makes ordering the world deceptively simple, until you attempt to analyse the ground you are standing on: then you must fudge, or abandon that ground to look at it. This problem has many metaphors; Foucault speaks of epistemic doubling (1973), Andrew Cutrofello describes a circling of self around itself as made inevitable by a construction as unsolved question, or a wound that cannot be healed (1997, 2). Perhaps moving rapidly and in pain around this paradoxical lack creates its own need for action, a source of strength and movement as well as shape; early Christians and Puritans alike had to learn that Self-Creation both empowers, and potentially hurts body and mind. An outline or material trace of this movement however can create the illusion of stable and solid shape, in art and writing.
This project was undertaken while I was in severe pain from muscular-skeletal damage in spine and hands, exacerbated by arthritic-type inflammation. I was aware of suffering from complex post-traumatic stress syndrome, through I wasn’t sure where it all came from, and how it affected my personal and artistic functioning. My previous research had been in schizophrenia, which is where this hopefully not too confusing method of mixing writings from many academic disciplines with personal observations and political assertions was developed. Schizophrenia seemed too diverse, explosive and liminal -like pain -to discuss it entirely within a single discipline, or even within the framework or voice of what is regarded academically acceptable (see also Carter, 2004, 1-12, ). Pain and mental illness are at home in the strange area where sciences and societies dump their unresolved problems and illogical categories. The terrible human consequences of this abandonment cannot be overemphasised, and are too familiar to require elaboration here. Perhaps being forced to bend loose ends together by the handful might help ignite the odd spark, or at least provide a glimpse of what the neighbours are into. As I have argued elsewhere, it’s hard to think clearly about insanity. Concepts of mental illness are tempting everybody into a maze of medical and biological fact, social attitudes and prejudices, and not least into the personal and almost inevitably fearful emotional oscillation by which most people respond to the idea or personal presence of madness (Krahn, 2004). It’s easy here to mistake emotion for science, and science for emotion, which is why my theoretical work relies much on personal praxis; schizophrenia famously dictates an abstract approach to life anyway. I made this a game, not having much to lose. Madness affects the observer because it repeats the patterns of cultures, and tends to break just where our cultural ideas are at their weakest. I secretly tested my insights, disguised as academic work, and am therefore convinced that much can be learnt from watching where and how selfhood, as we learn it, bends and collapses in my mind. (Sounds worse than it is ñ they never last anyway.)
Research was position-wise a bizarre endeavour, as most texts presume that schizophrenics will never read, never speak in academic discourses about themselves. However impossible, here I was, formally qualified and permitted to speak, and had to make sense of this stuff known about me. I thought about postcolonial theory, and tried to work around the traps set for those speaking from a position deemed unable to speak for itself. In consequence, I speak in a hybrid literary-scientific voice, a bit rough because short of readily available models and institutional support. The position of madness suffers its own ironic doubleness being set at an ironic angle against human interlocutors. My formal failures as well as my intended transgressions can enrage the reasonable well beyond what’s reasonable – somehow, the interlocutor gets touched at an emotional level that’s relevant, and unexpected, which can be scary, as all mirrors are. Theorizing personal experience includes the suggestion to aim for tolerance, and laugh occasionally.
I began work on pain after I working on schizophrenia, feeling that there was something in my self-observations I’d not properly or honestly considered. There was a darkness which I shared with quite a different, and presumedly sane, lot of artists and writers, some link of self-destruction and creativity that I grew convinced had nothing to do with schizophrenia itself. On the contrary I believe that any schizophrenic what hangs around long enough to be studied must have reached for survival every time there was a choice. The movement might look different from the outside, from the other side of the mirror, yet most schizophrenic self harm will reveal itself as a particularly hair-brained attempt to save the world from exploding on closer inspection (cf Krahn, 2004). The pull of darkness I felt didn’t fit, so I looked elsewhere.
Trauma is described in the psychiatric literature as a matter of degrees, and a psychic mechanism which can beset anybody. Ironically, concerning trauma, I was for once in full agreement with conventional psychiatric wisdom (Cf Wheeler, 2004). In philosophical writings about pain, however, I found myself grouped among animals, babies and cases which need to be excluded from general consideration; it mightn’t be philosophically possible for me to even feel pain. I didn’t mind the company, but being denied full human status makes me feel unsafe, and again, makes it tricky for me to argue my case from within the rules. I’ll have to make the odd radical theoretical claim to accommodate my paradoxical position. Sometimes I just state things I have observed without supporting argument, because if I refute every claim that denies my existence this paper will never get written.
ii. Reading Wittgenstein
There is a passage in Wittgenstein’s notebooks concerning self-observation:
Nothing could be more remarkable than seeing a man who thinks he is unobserved performing some quite simple everyday activity. Ö observing a human being from outside in a way that ordinarily we can never observe ourselves; it would be like watching a chapter of biography with our own eyes – surely this would be uncanny and wonderful at the same time. But then we do see this everyday without its making the slightest impression on us! True enough, but we do not see it from that point of view (1980, 4e).
Further on, that point of view is named as ‘seeing life as a work of art created by God’. The work of art takes an object or person out of context, and makes them visible as God’s work of art, that is, a vision of perfection. ‘This is possible because the artist forces us by means of artistic perspective into seeing things the way he wants us to which is the right perspective which is sub species aeterna’, so that the artwork succeeds when it brings out that emotional ‘marvel’ and sublime truth of the beautiful which Wittgenstein’s notebooks never put far from the religious and moral good, and the logically correct. ‘A work of art forces us – as one might say – to see it in the right perspective but, in the absence of art, the object is just a fragment of nature like any other; we may exalt it through our enthusiasm.’ The artist forces a perspective, like the forcing of perspective contained in a photograph, or the emotional pull of a play or film, all instances where the effect of the forced perspective is not necessarily broken if we are aware of being forced. We know to go along with this to create the illusion of fiction, which offers us access to another point of view (cf Iser, 1993, x-xvi). The perspective sub specie aeterna has a practical as well as an ethical and religious dimension. Gombrich reports that if we had to copy an image that intentionally presents ‘impossible perspectives’, such as M C Escher’s images of fantastic architecture, the deception can be undone if we imagine ourselves to be stage designers about to recreate what we see as a stage set (1960, 208). According to Gombrich, the illusion consists in ‘the conviction that there is only one way of interpreting the visual pattern in front of us’ (1960, 210). To consider something as a work of art is also to grasp a cognitive tool which makes it somehow more visible, or rather representable.
Alternatively, Wittgenstein writes, ‘there is a way of capturing the world sub specie aeterni other than through the work of the artist . Thought has such a way – so I believe – it is as though it flies above the world and leaves it as it is – observing it from above’. Thought is described as a movement that begins in a void, without prescribed direction. It must ‘leave the world as it is’, accept what it finds. This is a refusal of structures imposed on perception and thought by means of an ethical imperative such as knowledge, philosophical form or ideology (cf Sass, 2001, 118 ). This detached perspective might enable you, also, to looking at the way you look; the analogy of flight refuses not only the outraged demands of philosophy or politics – it can’t be like this because it must not be- but also remains aware of oneself, scrutinizes personal tendencies, the particular gravity which drives the chain of conclusions into a certain direction which seems to have something to do with the observer (cf. Sass, 2001, 98.).
The simile positions thought mid-air, a space where you can only remain if you keep moving. It releases thought from the limitations of the illusion of a single perspective created in Western art and fiction. (Aboriginal art, for instance not only allows, but emphasises the presence of many perspectives (Watson, 2003)). In European art history, the view from above is associated with spiritual beings and dreams. Viewing things this way can be an attempt to overcome the limitations of your restricted singular position. To observe a landscape ‘leaving it as it is’ means to see something that cannot quite be seen, or remembered, apart from as a part of the process of moving along, structured by the movement of thought which attempts to remain detached from any single perspective, including one’s own. Flight occurs because you will not interfere, not slice the landscape into features assumed to be there.
An emotional reaction to something seen might position you reliably in mental space, just as certain visual illusions can locate you in physical space, appearing only when you stand at the right angle and distance. Perhaps you can map it with drawings. The analogy of flight seems to restrict thought to information intake, and to leave no means of ordering, remembering and especially communicating thought. This, however, assumes that order and communication come later, as another interfering structure to follow, and not something that is part of the movement of flight (McGinn, 194-204). Wittgenstein has likened human language to animal communication; the integral noises we make when doing something. .
iii. Description of the Images
I put tracing paper over an image from Gray’s Anatomy and used an artist’s nib and ink to repeat some of the lines and body parts. I always traced faithfully only what was there. The paper did however get moved around, turned on its back, sideways, upside down, so that my continued tracing of the shapes I saw underneath would combine easily into new combinations and limbs. The lines and curves of Gray’s Anatomy are unified by an exaggerated beauty of lines, it’s catching like a tune. Soon I was trained to see and reproduce lines in the mode of Gray’s Anatomy illustrations, the patterns entered my hands and perceptions, every doodle became a dissection, there’d be veins in the tabletop and muscles working against another in my dreams. I was not happy or well at the time, and in consequence never liked yesterday’s work, which makes it hard to reach some continuity, or even just finish things. The automatic beauty of Gray’s Anatomy would still be there if I turned the paper so that I didn’t much notice yesterday’s work, didn’t get interrupted by self-loathing, but instead treated my own work like another illustration I subjected to linear contortion and decoration.
I couldn’t type or hold pens for long (I’d broken one thumb and torn the tendons of the other). I taught my left hand to draw. With either hand, the pain cost me precision, and I tried to work through the pain, I’d get sick from body shock, or pass out pleasantly on pain medication. I needed to go sideways, approach my work indirectly. I used Buddhist mind training techniques combined with cognitive behavioural biofeedback methods, with reasonable short term success. This made it possible to distance myself enough from the pain to feel it sometimes in the body, sometimes in the mind, as if it could freely switch modes, at least while I maintained special focus. I had suspected that pain and emotion are very directly linked, and extensive dental work showed that pain alone was enough to transport me into different frames of mind; I wasn’t sure how complicated the interaction would be. The sudden onset and emotional neutrality of dental pain showed that I could fly into a rage at the precise moment the anaesthetic wore off. If it was bad enough, I would go psychotic, which can reduce sensitivity to pain immensely; I’d have to relax back into the toothache first to relax myself ultimately out of it. In the bright and hard state I had attained now, I could chose whether to feel the grief or shame of some memory, or the hurting in my hands and spine; I could chose whether to feel the grief or shame of some memory, or the hurting in my hands and spine. To remain distracted from my previous work, I continued to combine shapes guided by the purely aesthetic and conventional, almost doodling along in the manner of Gray’s Anatomy illustrations. Once there was form, emotion and memory and everything else could pour through the channel of me; in return, I gradually could create my own forms because I could continue working on a piece and a series long enough. Ignoring content such as what body part I was actually drawing, I constructed a series of my own at the next level of generality or obfuscation. Abstraction, series and ornament compressed information about the underlying shape while erasing other information from the drawing’s original surface. The shapes in Gray’s Anatomy became like a super Rohrschach test, as if I’d combined chunks of shape and unconscious meaning into larger orders which would have had me run away screaming if I’d paid attention. In this way, I could tack, left and right, body and mind, jumping between different moods and states, but always against the wind.
Memory has many separations; according to medical research, it is state dependent, which means that it’s easier to access memories when you’re in the same state of body, mind and intoxication as when the memory was laid down (Ghoneim, 2004, 10). Gray’s Anatomy’s linear aesthetic- packed semi-conscious associations and repressed memories into parcels without me needing to know too much about it. The parts of me which had somehow been separated by trauma could suddenly communicate- send each other letters and parcels. Superimposition is a suitably crude method to be its own metaphor, a game I played with myself, like writing and editing a text in blunt shapes. Pain became visible in the black ink, the violence of lines and emotions I felt towards them, and in omissions. The vital clue was often missing- a gap prevented meaning in sentences and recognition of faces. Later, once Id understood or remembered more things, I could return to earlier writings and drawings and see what they’d been trying to tell me all along.
The process moved in ebbs and tides of complexity. The person drawing today violently resisted knowledge of yesterday’s person, what had been beautiful had turned repulsive overnight. This wasn’t visible to other people. I just didn’t want to remember the pain, or the intoxication required to get over it. Gray’s Anatomy provided a language of line to connect states, so I could start thinking about what you do when you have opposing perspectives within the one image, an applied problem in seeing aspects, and visual illusions. Gombrich considers ‘the problem of convincing representation’ to be ‘the problem of illusion in art’ (1960, 4). However, ‘[i]llusion is hard to describe or analyze, for though we may be intellectually aware of the fact that any given experience must be an illusion, we cannot, strictly speaking, watch ourselves having an illusion.’ This is because ‘we can switch from one reading to another with increasing rapidity; we will also ‘remember’ the rabbit while we see the duck, but the more closely we watch ourselves, the more certainly we will discover that we cannot experience alternative readings at the same time’ (Gombrich, 1960, 5). I started playing with what occurs between perceptions. If you could stretch the space between illusions enough to stand there for a moment, you could see two different states of yourself at once. This is close to madness, and perhaps philosophy.
When I was drawing while angry, despairing or self-pitying, I noticed that my thoughts would circle pointlessly around themselves, like middle of the night worries, just more violently. If it got bad, the entrapment appeared on the images: a turn of line towards psychotic art, crude lines would deface intricate patterns, anger with mistakes explode into visual effects; or Id feel so helplessly unable to communicate that I’d make the connections there that were too safe, connecting too many levels, reading too much into things. When things get too bad you just want to stroke the lines again and again, like a body, as if they might help me. These states had to be interrupted. The artworks were torn up, made part of something else or stuck out in the rain without any regard to meaning. When I did that with drawings which hurt or upset me, it often instantly reduced pain. I started again on the rain-made shapes, to work in secret on the ‘forgotten’ and ‘erased’ meanings, reaching for the next larger shape which hid inside the drawings I couldn’t bear to see. I stuck to the visual and tactile levels. If that didn’t help, I would add photos, at first like postcards you stick up at work, something cheery and bright to distract you and make you feel safe.
The photographed objects – candlestick, tin dish, handkerchief- were sent from abroad after my grandmother died. Something interesting happened to these objects in the mail. Things normally destroyed were redefined as they were selected for weight and durability over and above their conventional value; now they’re souvenirs, not signs of inherited provincial respectability. The overseas parcels have an uncanny power, as if they open to a void or liminal space at the back which affects the meaning of things. It’s inevitably disappointing to unpack the familiar as exotic. Once I could accept that the parcels were always disappointing, they became fun. I actually like souvenirs. The landscapes were photographed from the car in coastal and rural NSW, often the same road in different weathers. Taking photos on the road resembled my semi-automatic drawing, determined more by the weather and rhythms of travel than intention. Perhaps you reach form by letting something outside interfere with yourself. The constriction of meaning through repetition could be resisted by reaching outside of myself, filling my visual imagination with the hills and words and faces of the new country.
Each interruption created one layer of superimposed interpretation, not unlike being on the road itself. I love the landscapes and the rituals of driving and the people you meet. When we stop, I remembered that I have been to this town before, forgotten until the return. The memories are often, but not always, painful. The remembering itself is absurdly funny, because I repeat myself neatly and unawares, finding myself in the same pub or coffee shop Id visited years before in an ‘unknown’ country town. When I worked the photos into the drawings, I looked for large lines, and turned them into different forms which let some of their previous meanings linger, as if you could see both sides of an illusion, or from inside the illusion. If you repeatedly drive along the same road, the landscape builds up a layer of memories which become expectation and structure, helping you decide, for instance, whether a stretch of road is dry or wet. The superimposed transparencies copy this layering of different states to fit something not yet discovered. Being studded with potentially accessible memories makes the landscape flicker with the heightened waiting you sense just before you recognize something or somebody. It lights up the hills from the inside. The pressure of what you cannot say or think creates intensity as an intense but undefined space, useful for optical or scientific effect: ‘Perhaps what is inexpressible (what I find mysterious and am not able to express) is the background against which whatever I could express has its meaning’ (Wittgenstein, 1980, 16e). On the other hand, the ,at- first alien, and then strangely familiar landscapes of the new country weren’t yet part of my traumatic memory machine. They gave me something to think about and work over which wasn’t yet covered with a veil of nightmares, at least for a while.
Memory has features of a self-organising system (Kohonen, 1989), and associations can become closed and self-reinforcing circuits which severely limit your ability to think. Traumatised memory has the simple brutality of a sledgehammer; if left alone and unsupervised, it self-organizes as a wild growth of fear. Fear works through association, which means the more you avoid, the more it spreads, as you first fear the day you were hit, then the clothes you wore, then their colour, then the kind of feeling you had and so on. Meanwhile, suffering reinforces itself; as the imagination avoids pain, the messages of ‘Don’t go there’ and ‘You are bad’ become easily mixed, one easy ground for delusions of an angry god or self-loathing etc. Many traumatised people try to interrupt this basic mechanism of self-aggravating suffering by means of alcohol and drug abuse or itinerancy. Once the mechanism is out of control, it may be hard to touch anything you have touched before because it takes you back there. It might be better to not remember anything, or be anywhere, you have to stay on the run.
iv. the imagination disciplined as temporal artificial subject, ie, work of art.
The imagination, according to Benjamin’s reading of Freud, is based around the central principle of avoiding pain: ‘The imaginative disfigurement of the constructed object differs from the destructive decay of the empirical in two aspects: first of all, it happens without compulsion, comes from the inside, it is free and therefore painless, even slightly intoxicating. Secondly it never leads to death, but eternalises the demise it caused in an infinite series of transitions (1985).’ This model seemed to fit my experience well. Traumatised memory drives you away from the memories of trauma, so you can guess where you’re not meant to go. If you must keep a secret you don’t even know yourself, you’re in a very confusing hall of mirrors. Now I could link myself across time and states, the drawings led me step by step through a history of traumatizing events until I reached very powerful memories of early childhood sexual abuse, which certainly explained that darkness which had so puzzled me. It felt like solving a puzzle. It opened up my hands, enabling me for the first time in years to re-gain the formal drawing skills I had been taught; explained why I couldn’t stop drawing, and doing so with such a fierce desperation, feeling as if I was on the wrong side of the paper. I’d attack it, slice up the cardboard, smear paint, or be cruelly patient and deliberate, but found no direct means of moving upstream towards the source of this barrier to my thinking and making. Something was being kept away from me. I realized why I had been discouraged from drawing, troubling when I was young enough to rely on others for passing on skills and materials. Not enough demand in a contented little German town for imaginative renderings of hell, seen by a six year old. There was a wave of grief and anger for lost opportunity, for copping it when I just couldn’t do what I was expected or instructed to do, without knowing myself why or how or what it was I lacked or added. But I could draw again now, and even see differently, a great gift, and immense comfort and just fun. There were additional cognitive skills, too; keeping your things and affairs ordered is hard when you’re forced to be in flight from yourself.
Playing with layers of transparencies is a game of memory; the visual effect commonly employed in souvenirs, pens, lighters and books where you remove transparencies to return to the past, or re-create the miracle as you flick the coloured plastic. They suggest their own movement. You can’t help but undress the lady or go back in time, where the illusion is its own undoing – the lady disappoints, the view is laughable, the thrill was in the moment between, achieved only while you turn the page. You can’t stay there, only repeat the covering and uncovering with decreasing intensity. Avishai Margalit distinguishes between re-living the pain of a traumatic emotion, and remembering it as history (2002, 208). It would be good to move into the detached, historical part, but how do you make the jump out of pain into history? The game of fleeing and not fleeing is repeated in the flights from and towards meaning in the drawings. The line is a traditional tool of order and analysis, yet intimately linked to the human body whose movements it records . Julian Bell describes line in art history as a cognitive tool: ‘Whether we think of form as solid shape, external to us, or as our internal concept of it, it remains something that is opposed to passing sensations, to particles of experience. It is one, they are many’ (1999, 84). Interpreting the colours and shades of perception as lines imposes a mode of analysis into bodies and objects, in themselves concepts held together by an idea. Line finds the forms of ideas in the visual, it is ìthe most stable translation of thought that we have’ (Bell, 1999, 87). Gray’s Anatomy intends to teach students how to perceive and reproduce such categories with the help of the line drawn by pen, needle and knife. If you follow the aesthetic structures you’re taught, you’ll know where to make the incision; and if you’re somewhat sensitive to the aesthetic effects, it might help you to mind making that incision less, too.
First you need to know precisely what you’re not remembering. I drew the bandaged hand late one night, just home from a drive, with my left. The right was sore from working the camera. The drawing reminded me of another instance of bandaged hands, which I drew as well. Unlike the accident I was currently disabled by, I had injured both hands systematically and repeatedly in fits of lunatic dejection some years ago when psychiatrically hospitalized. I didn’t mind watching the discolourations and healing like a visual metaphoric movie, and had an excuse to miss occupational therapy. The hands deteriorated while I worked on the images, so I continued out of spite. When I couldn’t hold the pen, I’d attach it to my bandages. Working on these images, I let myself feel old and recent damage to my hands; I watched myself draw and write, I noticed that I wasn’t helping things by grabbing the pen like an angry child and violently marking the paper. I felt how my posture was strangling my spine. I suddenly, also, could try to let go. Mental pain increased in proportion with my attempt to restrain its physical expression. The fat ugly lines and the more delicate controlled lines are physical outcomes of holding the pain in different places. I found that mental pain has infinite disguises, it tries on anything, fear, distraction, self-loathing, temptation or flattery, to make you not go somewhere. This very plasticity and ability to change form might be the most notable feature of mental pain. Deep in the pain I found flickers of memory, and drew them, too, literally drawing them out, switching the pain between hands and mind for plain relief. I’d be stuck with new knowledge and usually deeply upset and uncertain, so I’d put the questions back to the pictures. There is no direct access to healing though I know that for me it usually comes through forgiveness first. There too, however, I found a state not accessible just through wanting it, something needed to push me across that limen, an artificial or external change of weather or mood. The artworks meanwhile forced traces of various states and moods into a unity, thereby creating a virtual temporal subjectivity.
Functioning selfhood allows you to control your moods, either directly or by accessing an enabling physical or social space, such as having a chat, or going to the gym to cheer yourself up. The drawing became such an outside space where I had some measure of agency, where I could both be myself, and step out of myself. The material and artistic elements gave my thinking an additional loop, involving the material, and social world, opening my imagination and body to outside influences which states of distress seemed so keen to exclude. Healing usually demands conversation with the personal demon guarding memory. To wish demons out of existence will multiply them; art is often the record of an engagement with what you’d wish to avoid most. Following Gombrich, art creates perspective by illusion, which means, it connects mind and matter by means of a deceptive sensual effect. As the ancient’s art of memnonics attests, aesthetics are also a cognitive tool, making things easier to order, link with the known, and of course, remember.
Fear and the need to prove myself and the fun of doing it made me add the properly drawn hand in the sleeve and fill the shadow of the hand’s silhouette with psycho-pomps and totem birds and basket weaving. The detailed image shows tools of writing and transmission, which can help jumping states and moving along in ways I haven’t fully worked out yet. The artworks taught me to keep pain suspended in an odd, bright, in-between state for long enough to make new patterns of memory from things I’d glimpsed. I made myself relive the emotion, feeding it whatever new conclusions I could think up. The bright liminal space is psychotic, which is close to, but not identical to madness. In psychosis your cognition is open to violation by fear or desire or circumstance. When you think yourself nothing, you see shapes in everything. It felt like I was reaching for something through water or through the mirror. There might be more pain if I miscalculated where I’d emerge, when I couldn’t cope with what I’d find, or with how I’d look from the other side. I had entered the realm of fiction (cf Iser, XI).
v. the moral aesthetic of healing
Communicating my experiences and ideas to other people, and reducing pain, required moving about, breaking and recreating structures. The structures of memory created within the artworks were solid enough to help me find out about events I could later verify with the usual evidence, and knowledge I could use for healing. Once I knew and could identify why pain would suddenly hit me hard from nowhere, my world became less scary and unpredictable. I could teach myself to hold the pen differently, not hold my shoulders as if anticipating a blow, and begin to think about appropriate physical treatment. This suggests that the temporal subjectivity created within the artwork is strong enough to position another as object; this Other is the history of the self (cf Benjamin, 1920). Memory moves into history here through the practice of healing, which uses memory to change the patterns I had found. The tools of cutting then become the tools of self making, which they have always been. This is why I drew the pen and a knife and the artist’s pen and ink and something halfway between a small computer Allen key and a syringe, the latter two often similar in use regarding the central processing unit. The Selfhood of the artwork, however, needs to leave the private languages of madness to move into a space I cannot name. As mentioned above, this can be a dangerous place if you’re not used to it, especially when it comes to looking at yourself from the outside.
The experiment has taught me that this happens as a consequence of contact with alterity, which in itself can take many forms, from practical involvement with another person to changing my body state or mood to shared social practices such as discipline and aesthetic. The slightly disconcerting thing is that any alterity seems to do the job as well as any other, somehow reducing the meaningfulness of thought. The position of liminality can only be used if you can maintain direction. Past a certain point, this become a paradox of faith, faith in anything, yourself, gods, method, intention, people. I accessed the memory or insight which was hidden by the pain, and I moved the pain into a third space, a way of holding myself which accessed different thinking and feeling about things, inevitably involving a change of attitude which liberated me from the unbreakable circular logic of an angry or depressive or self pitying interpretation of events. ‘Conflict is dissipated in much the same way as is the tension of a spring when you melt the mechanism (or dissolve it in nitric acid)’ (Wittgenstein, 1980, 9e; see also 7e). With each return to that posture I achieved, I could dispel some of the pain. The process replicated in thought what I had learnt from the method of the images. Faith appeared increasingly as a direct inversion of pain, the other side of the optical illusion. Traumatised people feel bad about themselves when they’re in pain, a movement repeated in the paranoid schizophrenic’s persecution by an angry god (Sass, 1992, pp.300). Pain creates its own network of associations in memory to avoid a repetition of whatever caused the pain. This network of Don’t Go There can turn on itself; the mechanism set in place to prevent you from accidentally stumbling across a painful memory might also be re-activated if a similar pain returns, especially if you have many such places. What keeps me from remembering the toothache I had without good reason also might make me feel rotten about myself next time I have a toothache.
The dark web of association that stretches over my world could be made visible. This was possible not despite of but because pain easily crossed barriers between inner, outer, and other; it changed states, but retained identity as relating to a certain complex of memories, body position, feelings and ways of thinking; pain also retains intensity across states. This coherence of pain, that it forms linked and organised units of meaning in body mind and action, enabled me to peel it back on several fronts, dispelling mental pain with body work, locating general pain more precisely in the body through memory, and detecting patterns in my interaction with others; the latter an example of how pain crosses the barrier between self and other.
Drawing fictions into philosophy opens another space where thought can engage with another, as the philosophical text becomes performative as well as engaging imagination and emotion and thus also the body (cf Iser, Xii). Bearing memory in limbs or postures or modes of interaction with others is neither private nor personal, and points towards another site of paradox which Wittgenstein treats at length in Philosophical Investigations. This involves alterity; thought moves ahead as it collides with another person, state of mind or body; moving out of an impasse requires an encounter with something that cannot be controlled or predicted (which also includes, madness). You need trust to reach for this alterity and invite it inside. This also suggests that what might be understood as purely ethical demands, such as the ability to overcome anger, has basic and direct situational advantages for cognitive function and task-directed intelligence. An ideal of trust and forgiveness can be a tool which enhances functioning, just as the aesthetic of line can help me to jump across states and barriers of traumatised memory. This will not come as a surprise in the context of Wittgenstein’s philosophy which explicitly links ethics, aesthetics and truth.
Julian Bell (1998). What is Painting? : Representations and Modern Art (London: Thames and Hudson.
Paul Carter, (2004). Material Thinking. (Melbourne: Melbourne University Press).
Andrew Cutrofello (1997). Imagining Otherwise: Metapsychology and the analytic a posteriori (Evanston: Northwestern University Press).
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E H Gombrich (1979; 2002). The Sense of Order: A study in the psychology of decorative art (London: Phaidon Press).
Henry Gray FRS (1991). Gray’s Anatomy: Descriptive and Surgical (Great Britain: The Promotional Reprint Company Limited).
Michel Foucault (1973). The Order of Things: an Archeology of the Human Sciences. (New York, Vintage).
Wolfgang Iser (1993). The Fictive and the Imaginary: Charting Literary Anthropology. (Baltimore: J Hopkins Press).
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Uli Krahn (2004). ‘Art and Schizophrenia’, in Southerly Vol 64 No 1 (Sydney: Halstead Press)
Avishai Margalit (2002). The Ethics of Memory (Harvard: Harvard University Press)
Marie McGann (1997). Wittgenstein and the ‘Philosophical Investigationsí’ (Routledge, London).
Louis A Sass (1992). Madness and Modernism: Insanity in the light of modernism, literature and thought (New York: Random House).
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Christine Anne Watson (2003). Piercing the Ground: Balgoís Womenís Image making and Relationship to Country (Fremantle: Fremantle Arts Centre Press).
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For medical and practical information on Trauma, see Julia M Whealin. ‘Complex PTSD: A National Center for PTSD fact sheet’, in National Center for PTSD (http://www.ncptsd.org/facts/specific/fs_complex_ptsd.html), viewed 7.12.04.