What World Do You Live In? Part 2

(Read Part 1 first.)


Source: the LAMP at flic.kr/p/ejNXiW

Having read his book, I had expectations about which theological world(s) W. Paul Jones’s Theological Worlds Inventory would place me in. World 3—that of T. S. Eliot’s “hollow men,” of people who feel like they might be wearing a mask over a personal emptiness—had most appealed to me in the book. Immediately on reading about it I felt an overwhelming recognition that I felt when reading about neither World 1 or World 2. (This was itself a bit of a surprise: based on the book’s introduction, World 3 did not look promising.) I had expected World 2 (animated by a conflict between violent chaos and small bastions of peace) to follow it fairly closely, and then World 4 (concerned with personal sin and forgiveness) a bit after. I did not expect to have much in common with World 1 (haunted by the universe’s apparent meaninglessness) or World 5 (characterized by unremitting suffering and endurance).

So while I was not surprised that the Inventory placed me high in World 3, I was surprised that it placed me just as high in World 5. (World 2 followed close, and Worlds 1 and 4 were equally and very far behind.) Indeed, the results are a bit flat and I think there might be problems with the Inventory itself, but on reading the descriptions in the Inventory I’m inclined to agree that I’m just as much an inhabitant of World 5 as World 3. I’ll discuss this in detail toward the end of the post; first, I want to look at the Inventory itself and the reasons I think it has problems.

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Therapy, Trust, and Criticism

[content warning: suicide, mental illness]

[I will warn you now that this does not come with advice, recommendations, or conclusions, despite seeming like such a post. It is wholly a reflection. In the end I think I have nothing to offer my friend, in terms of actionable insight on this issue at least.]

My friend Kafka Beluga,1 who is going through a hard time right now on multiple fronts, is having difficulty trusting her therapist. This difficulty limits the use therapy has for her. I have had two excellent relationships in therapy—one counsellor, one psychiatrist—and I am often worried about people who have trouble with medical professionals. Certainly it seems common enough that people do not take well to therapy; I’ve been trying to think about why I am, as one of the various doctors I’ve seen put it, “a good candidate for therapy.”

The particular value that I got from therapy was not so much in simply being able to talk through my problems—if “talking therapy” has some value, I’ve never seen evidence for it—but in talking through my reactions to things so that the therapist can tell me where I’m being silly. My first therapist, a counsellor in Vancouver, was very helpful in making me see myself in terms I hadn’t thought of before, but my second, a psychiatrist in Toronto, was especially good at dispelling my nonsense.

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From “The Imaginative and the Imaginary”

Not only the most fascinating play of the period, but its greatest prose work (in England), has melancholy for its theme. Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy is an exhaustive analysis of the causes, symptoms, treatment and cure of melancholy, with two enormous appendices on love melancholy and religious melancholy. Burton was an Oxford don, and his chief amusement is said to have been going down to the Isis river and listening to the bargemen swear. The story may be true, or it may have been invented by someone who noticed that the qualities of Burton’s prose, with its vast catalogues, piled-up epithets, Latin tags, allusiveness and exhaustive knowledge of theology and personal hygiene, are essentially the qualities of good swearing. Burton assumes rather than discusses the connexion of melancholy with creative power: being a scholar himself, like Hamlet, he associates it rather with the scholarly temperament, and includes a long digression on the miseries of scholars. On religious melancholy his position is simple: one can best avoid it by sticking to the reasonable middle way of the Church of England, avoiding the neurotic extremes of papist and puritan on either side. But in love there is no reasonable ground to take, for its very essence is illusion.

This comes from Northrop Frye’s “The Imaginative and the Imaginary” in his Fables of Identity: Studies in Poetic Mythology. Frye is considered obsolete in the discipline, but as with almost any critic who has had any popularity or respect in the field at all, he has excellent observations. I rather like the ones above.