On Selves and Empathy and Virginia Woolf: Melancholy, introspection and reflection on a day before my second son’s thirtieth birthday

Virginia Woolf

I tend towards melancholy on birthdays, and introspection and then, perhaps reflection. On my birthdays but more and more on those of my three sons as well.

I have my reasons.

“What, though, am I”?

“The self emerges from the chaos of dynamically fragmenting memories into consciousness and thence into sentience”, my reflection today as I ponder my second son’s thirtieth birthday tomorrow. Not an original reflection but rather a derivation of Virginia Woolf’s observations in her essay Modern Fiction to the effect that “[t]he self emerges from the chaos of consciousness”, all in the context of what constitutes “the self” in a non-spiritual, neuroscientific sense. Her version was more compact but mine perhaps a bit more reflective.

In Woolf’s sense, at least as I perceive it, the self is so tenuous a coincidental synergy of disparate memories as to constantly threaten to dissolve into the ephemeral. In my mind I visualize memories as interactive quantic phenomena generating resonances as inexplicable as they are unexpected, apparently consistently constant but yet, dynamically obfuscating verity. No wonder Virginia was so consistently stricken with what she apparently perceived as mental problems, one cannot stare into the Gorgon’s face without consequences.

In a lighter mood, a more positive mood, a mood considering, not today’s rampant polarization, but something positive albeit apparently more and more rare, I ask myself, “How then does empathy arise? Is it a sort of resonance between isolated selves? Like the resonance between electrons once united and thence never to be parted regardless of the distances that separate them?”

We humans are a very strange phenomena, “unlikely to survive” a cogent observer might conclude, but still, … here we are. In large groups so hypocritical, so violent, so unworthy of admiration but as individuals and in small groups, so capable of nobility and kindness and love, the inexplicable phenomena I doubt I’ve ever understood but like most of us have always sought.

Melancholy and introspection and reflection on a day before my second son’s thirtieth birthday.
_______

© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2018; all rights reserved. Please feel free to share with appropriate attribution.

Guillermo Calvo Mahé (a sometime poet) is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America (of which he is a citizen). Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies). He can be contacted at guillermo.calvo.mahe@gmail.com and much of his writing is available through his blog at http://www.guillermocalvo.com.

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