Eternal Sunshine of the Spotted Mind
December 20, 2006
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So I was in my favourite coffee shop this morning – not writing this time, but trying to puzzle my way through a somewhat intricate theoretical argument. Reading complex texts, for me, involves something like a miniature version of the process I go through when I write: I step back from the text frequently to rotate concepts around in my mind, trying to get a better feel for their contours and for how they fit together with other concepts, whether from the text I’m reading, or from other theoretical approaches. I keep doing this until I get a solid grasp for something like the generative principles of an approach. The ideal (which I rarely reach) is to get the sort of inside-out view of a theoretical approach that allows me to inhabit it sufficiently to understand how the approach would address particular questions – whether the text, in practice, addresses those questions or not.
While I’m rotating concepts around in this way, I’m very disconnected from what is happening around me. Part of me is aware of my surroundings on some level – if needed, I can sort of replay what’s been happening while I was thinking about something else, but this takes a bit of time to do, and has the shadowy quality of a half-recalled memory. Normally, this doesn’t particularly matter, because I don’t generally read complex texts in settings where I would need to be aware of anything else.
Today, though, I was gazing into nowhere in this coffee shop and, as I resolved the concept I had been working on and slowly woke back up to my environment, I realised that someone I knew was watching me. I started fumbling for memories of how long this might have been going on, and wasn’t reassured by what I could dimly recall… ;-P Embarrassed, I began mumbling something about having been in another world, when they interrupted with: “You look very serene and meditative – I wish I could be like that…” I find this interpretation for some reason incredibly funny… Maybe it’s the implied extrapolation from transient action to persistent being? At any rate… back to reading – in a more… private setting…