Saturday, March 3, 2012

More thoughts on intimacy

"Intimacy is a direct experience. It is not a theory, it is not something to be documented, it cannot be photographed; intimacy must be felt. The ability to share our feelings begins with us actually feeling the feeling." --Timothy "Speed" Levitch

The whole idea behind money is that things can be exchanged, one for the other. A second of time for a second of time. A book for a book. A seed for a seed. Wires and plastic and electricity for wires and plastic and electricity. Transaction after transaction we whittle our lives away, exchanging one moment for the next.

Yes, we aim at efficiency of exchange, second for second, word for word, gasoline fumes for gasoline fumes, a cup of coffee for a cup of coffee. Swipe swipe there goes the time, an endless line of credit until it ends, until it ends. youth-youth-youth-age-how long the chain?

But there are times when we wake up and [here's Levitch again] "put aside Wall Street consciousness and see beyond the American dream just for a moment and recognize that the only thing we ever truly pay for is a lack of generosity." Generosity breaks the chain of endless exchange that indirects and redirects experience. It gives without asking and it takes with gratitude. We pay for a lack of generosity with intimacy. The cost exacted for this lack is the exchangeability of experience, the lives that leak away indirectly like credit lines, like money, swipe by swipe, etherial and representational and transactional like all things countable and exchangeable.

Intimacy, on the other hand, what does this mean? It must be felt. It can't be said, only gestured toward. What is a feeling? It is something that cannot be exchanged. A feeling has moment, directness, the feeling of the feeling.

The barb of life's hook, the resistance, the friction, the effort, the pain, the gut, this is the feeling and the matter of life. It can be polished and whittled until it is so smooth and sharp and slick and fungible and abstract that it is nothing at all. We substitute intimacy, the only true currency of the life as experienced, for exchange.

Efficiency can be resisted on behalf of rough intimacy through simple but fuzzy words that resist easy exchange: love, friendship, work, good. What is good?

"Then what is good? [here is Tennessee Williams] The obsessive interest in human affairs, plus a certain amount of compassion and moral conviction, that first made the experience of living something that must be translated into pigment or music or bodily movement or poetry or prose or anything that is dynamic and expressive--that's what good for you if you are at all serious in your aims. ... Purity of heart is the one success worth having. 'In the time of your life -- live!' That time is short and it doesn't return again. It is slipping away while I write this and while you read it and the monosyllable of the clock is Loss loss loss, unless you devote your heart to its opposition."

... bodily movement ... poetry or prose ... purity of heart ... the movement of the clock ... devote your heart ... a certain amount of compassion and moral conviction ...

Devote your heart, beyond exchange.

7 comments:

  1. Thank you Jeff.
    I was having trouble with"purity of heart". What is that? But then I thought back to what you said about generosity. I guess purity of heart means open heart where you give of yourself, your spirit, your time easily without being all tight and hard hearted. I imagine it might even have health benefits to relax and open your heart. Oops, I'm thinking of myself again.

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    1. Hey thanks for the comment, Anonymous poster. Your take sounds good to me! That was a quote from a Tennessee Williams essay "The Catastrophe of Success" where he talks about how he struggled as a writer when everything came too easy and relocate the place of value. It's an essay worth reading -- you can find it here: http://truegoodbeautiful.com/uncategorized/the-catastrophe-of-success-by-tennessee-williams/

      Like you, I'm not really sure what he means by "purity of heart" but I guess it's something like what Emerson called being in touch with the "aboriginal self" -- that place where you are comfortable and strong and doing what you do even if you don't know it will work out or whether others will agree. I guess I find that place in my running most frequently but also in my writing occasionally.

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    2. Oh, and also: generosity is most certainly possible as a self-relation. In fact, a guy like Rousseau thought that self-love had to come before love of the other. He might have been right.

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    3. In the 7:49 comment; it should read, "came too easy and *he had to* relocate..."

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  2. I enjoy reading your musings on running and philosophy, but am troubled this time with your simple interpretation of the purpose of monetary exchanges. Using money as a means of exchange allows me the opportunity of intimate experiences that I may not be able to produce for myself or give to myself.

    My aim in the exchange isn't for something of redundant purpose or trivial purpose, but rather in some way provide for a greater experience than I otherwise could have attained.

    As a teacher, it is hard for me to teach and provide my food, shoes, transportation to races, that enhances me experiences as a runner, with out the use of money exchanges.

    Perhaps it isn't the exchange of money, but rather the perceived value of money that you are suggesting as limiting intimacy....

    Thanks for all your posts....its a pleasure to read..

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  3. Dear Danny,

    Thank you for the critical comment. You are right, I was presenting a pretty simplistic view of money, and I do think that when it is used well it can--and has--enhanced experience. This is why we--yes, me too!--love it.

    I guess I was thinking of two things when I wrote this post. First, an interesting NYT article on the value of "friction" in the economy: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/19/opinion/sunday/the-danger-of-too-much-efficiency.html

    Second, I was thinking about the way in which a run's value operates outside of the money economy. We wouldn't really think of paying for a run, or being paid for a run, and it would seem strange to convert a run to money. I guess that's because a run gives us the direct sort of intimacy I am writing about, in a way that can't be mediated through exchange. It strikes me that almost everything in life that is of ultimate value is difficult to convert into the money system.

    It's true that money can get us into position to have these sorts of experiences. But I think that money can also shield us from experiences, especially if it smooths life down to something without enough friction.

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  4. I enjoyed reading that NYT article (takes me back to college when my landlord had a subscription).

    Yeah, the emotion of the run itself is special. Every now and then I think to myself, "if life was really dire, would I choose to be a barefoot runner? How important/essential is a solid tempo run if I had to do it barefoot?"

    I think your points about the dichotomy of the experience of running and money exchanges are right on; through the lens of modern currencies. I just wanted to add that money exchanges does not necessarily have to be emotion-less, but thats probably a conversation for after a fine supper relaxing with a nice wine. :)

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