September 8, 2008

"What a narrow ridge of normality we all inhabit, with the abysses of mania and depression yawning to either side."

Oliver Sacks on mania.

IN THE COMMENTS: rhhardin says:
"Yawning'' is boredom.
Ha ha. Makes me think of Seinfeld:
George: I dunno, Jerry something's missing. There's a void, Jerry, there's a void...

Jerry: A deep, yawning chasm...

18 comments:

Brent said...

I don't understand everything about the topic, but I believe the statement.

rhhardin said...

``Yawning'' is boredom.

Crimso said...

"we all"

Not all of us. Some of us live our lives in one or both of those abysses. Straddling that "narrow ridge" would seem like heaven to some of us.

rhhardin said...

Goffman's version is a little more stable

The simplest sociological view of the individual and his self is that he is to himself what his place in an organization defines him to be. When pressed, a sociologist modifies this model by granting certain complications : the self may be not yet formed or may exhibit conflicting dedications. Perhaps we should further complicate the construct by elevating these qualifications to a central place, initially defining the individual, for sociological purposes, as a stance-taking entity, a something that takes up a position somewhere between identificaiton with an organization and opposition to it, and is ready at the slightest pressure to regain its balance by shifting its involvement to either direction. It is thus _against something_ that the self can emerge. This has been appreciated by students of totalitarianism ...

I have argued the same case in regard to total institutions. May this not be the situation, however, in free society, too?

Without something to belong to, we have no stable self, and yet total commitment and attachment to any social unit implies a kind of selflessness. Our sense of being a person can come from being drawn into a wider social unit ; our sense of selfhood can arise through the little ways in which we resist the pull. Our status is backed by the solid buildings of the world, while our sense of personality identity often resides in the cracks.


Goffman _Asylums_ ``The Underlife of a Public Institution'' p.320

That is to say, it's generally a stable self-correcting system, not a precarious balancing act.

There's an immediate application to flame wars.

Ron said...

The narrow rope bridge is the Seinfeld casts' careers; the chasm on either side their post-Seinfeld careers...

"Life is a rope. A rope over an abyss. A dangerous looking forward, a dangerous looking back, but, most importantly, a dangerous looking down!" -- Nietzsche

bill said...
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bill said...

rhhardin said...
``Yawning'' is boredom.


No, it's a reaction to boredom, or being tired, that causes the body to take in extra oxygen in an attempt to pay attention and stay awake.

So someone yawning during your speech may be taken as a compliment rather than an insult. Or they could be deranged as excessive yawning can also be a sign of mental illness.

SteveR said...

We are normally not normal. Or put another way, we may normally be anywhere.

Ron said...

No, wait, m'bad! Not "Life is a rope...", "Man is a rope..."!

No Nietzsche quoting while insufficiently caffeinated!

Ann Althouse said...

"excessive yawning can also be a sign of mental illness"

Hey, I plan to use that in class!

***

Man is a rope, eh? I don't get the image. The rope bridge made sense. What does a rope care if it falls into the abyss?

"Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman--a rope over an abyss. A dangerous across, a dangerous on-the-way, a dangerous looking-back, a dangerous shuddering and stopping. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end: what can be loved in man is that he is an overture
and a going under. I love those who do not know how to live, for they are those who cross over."

Somebody else explain it. It seems apparent that man isn't walking on the rope or the rope bridge, but is himself the rope in that image.

bill said...

A rope is a collection of individually weak strands incapable of supporting a journey. But bound tightly together these strands have great strength. The sum is greater than the parts. Man is a collection of strands -- emotional, physical, spiritual -- fray enough strands and the rope no longer holds its weight and falls into the abyss.

bill said...

Anyway, this all makes sense if you remember that the ropes Nietzsche had access to were probably made from hemp and it was customary to burn the ends.

dbp said...

No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.

bill said...

dbp said...
No shepherd and one herd! Everybody wants the same, everybody is the same: whoever feels different goes voluntarily into a madhouse.


modern version: "I went to your schools, I went to your churches, I went to your institutional learning facilities?! So how can you say I'm crazy"

older version as portrayed in movies such as "Harvey" and "Miracle on 34th Street": Altruism is a sign of dangerous insanity.

chickenlittle said...

@bill:
All I wanted was a pepsi, but she wouldn't give it to me.

bill said...

@chickenlittle: no shit

Derrick said...
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Derrick said...

Interesting interpretation, Bill, but you're kind of missing the point of the rope metaphor. Nietzsche meant by claiming that man is the rope that man himself is the entire journey rather than any single instance -- man is every decision he ever made, not just where it leads him. He clings to life, and so long as he lives, he cannot help but actualize himself. Those who do not know how ot live, that is, those who have overcome the oppression of moral duality, recognize their freedom to choose anything that is physically possible for them -- they no longer feel bound by "right" and "wrong", but in realizing this, they must also face the consequence of this realization: that nobody can choose for them, and that they are fully responsible for the decisions they make.

Nietzsche and the early post-modernist philosophers can be understood much more easily if you read some of the later post-modernist writing, such as Sartre's essays, first.