December 10, 2006

William James

In much-quoted-out-of-context phrase, William James (Henry's brother, a great figure in pragmatic philosophy as well as psychology, and a supervisor of some really bizarre undergraduate research by Gertrude Stein) has written of the "blooming, buzzing confusion" of being Elliot. His sense of infancy as a muddle -- and later on, Piaget went much further down that road -- is slowly falling by the wayside. More and more, we are discovering just how structured babies' minds are (take that, Lacan), and how early. I'll quote some of the research onto the blog sometime. But for now, here is James from that ol' 19th century. With the tools he had, he was good. And a good writer, too.

The law is that all things fuse that can fuse, and nothing separates except what must. What makes impressions separate we have to study in this chapter. Although they separate easier if they come in through distinct nerves, yet distinct nerves are not an unconditional ground of their discrimination, as we shall presently see. The baby, assailed by eyes, ears, nose, skin, and entrails at once, feels it all as one great blooming, buzzing confusion; and to the very end of life, our location of all things in one space is due to the fact that the original extents or bignesses of all the sensations which came to our notice at once, coalesced together into one and the same space. There is no other reason than this why "the hand I touch and see coincides spatially with the hand I immediately feel."

We're now in the habit of asking Elliot, when he is querulous, what part of his Con-Fusion is causing him the trouble? Skin? Entrails? (Which end?) We haven't told him about Melanie Klein yet, because I think that would only confuse things further.


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