I'm tired of the static in my head. I've mostly quit reading political sites, though I still scan the news. Maybe this has something to do with getting older and trying to see some meaning in the arc of my life from birth to death; the endless daily chatter seems increasingly toxic, though perhaps I've just grown more sensitive to it. I've been reading a lot of William James the last month or so and according to this great psychologist, we each create ourselves continuously by the choices we make about what to attend to. Recent research [see Jeffrey Schwartz, The Mind and the Brain] suggests that those choices literally remap our brains, the mind shaping its own physical substrate so to speak. If that is true -- and I think it is -- human beings are presented with an awesome set of potentials, but an equally awesome set of responsibilities. Since we are free to choose and not merely the product of our biology, we are free to choose freedom and compassion and openness, or, to choose strife and conflict and ultimately disaster, both personally and as a culture. I've been a pessimist since I was six years old and learned to include the word "catastrophe" in my prayers ("Protect us against fire, burglars, and other catastrophes and disasters..."), but reading James I feel a great heavy wheel turning in my life, opening an old and nearly forgotten door. Opening.

Author: jd

Joseph Duemer is Professor of Literature Emeritus at Clarkson University in northern New York state. His most recent book of poems is Magical Thinking from Ohio State University Press. Since the mid-1990s he has spent a good deal of time in Vietnam, mostly Hanoi. He lives with his wife Carole & five terriers (four Jack Russells & one Patterdale) on the stony bank of the Raquette River in South Colton.

3 thoughts on “Static”

  1. Tim, I’d begin with The Varieties of Religious Experience, but maybe with the lectures collected under the title Pragmatism. If you want to come in a side door — this is what I did– you could begin with Menand’s The Metaphysical Club (there’s an anthology that goes with it) and Richardson’s really masterful biography of James, In the Maelstrom of American Modernism. Hope that helps. And if you do start reading I’d love to hear back from you what you think.

Comments are closed.