Monthly Archives: December 2013

An Emotion Always Falls Someplace Into Two Spectrums

I remember seeing mention someplace of one or more studies concluding that one’s views of their (intentional use of ‘their’ as the genderless singular pronoun) abilities is more accurate when they are depressed.  Depression is an emotion that supports accurate cognition of one’s abilities.  (It attunes one to the actual state of one’s abilities, to use Heidegger’s word.)  At the same time, it tends to suppress or dampen down any action or initiative.

Conversely, one has a less accurate cognition of one’s abilities when they are happy/joyful/exuberantly optimistic.  The actual state of one’s abilities  then gets covered up, hidden to some extent.  At the same time, one’s initiative, the likelihood of their taking action of some sort, increases.

So each of these emotions falls someplace on two spectrums:  the cognition/suppression-of-cognition spectrum, and the spurring-of-action/suppressing-or-dampening-of-action spectrum.

One of the more frustrating discussions I’ve ever had was on the question whether (at least in the case of human beings) cognition requires the emotions.  This discussion was with an otherwise highly intelligent person (I am looking at you, Lijoy) who kept insisting, as if this refuted my argument, that being in an emotional state would lead him to make bad decisions by preventing him from seeing things as they are.  He could see things as they actually were, he said, only when he is in a calm state of mind.

But of course calm is an emotion — one says, after all, that they feel calm. Calm is the emotion that best attunes one to what the situation is with regard to what matters to one.  It also dampens one’s eagerness to take some action right now, this moment, without thinking, so that one moves, not impulsively, not with blind rashness, but deliberately.

The emotions form the basis of cognition by opening up to one this or that aspect of the world or of one’s self — but this doesn’t prevent the emotions from also closing these things from view.  The emotions form the basis of action by motivating one to do this or that (for example, start up a company in a wild burst of entrepreneurial optimism) — but that is not to say they do not also suppress, slow down, or dampen the likelihood of action.  Each emotion falls someplace on the opening-up/hiding-from-view spectrum and someplace on the motivating-action/suppressing-action spectrum.


The Story:  Finished Reyes’ short story BUHAY (LIFE). Now I get it. Ida, the not-very-well-fed 7-year-old girl, trips, and, after the package of noodles she is carrying bursts on the street, the noodles slip (? — nagsampiran — could not find a translation for that word) into the muck of the canal. This is a sad event, of course, but it is also conspicuously not a huge tragedy, not the least because Ida has already eaten half the noodles. The more trivial and less trivial events of Ida’s day are what the story relates directly, but what’s hidden behind these events is a tragedy the outlines of which gradually emerges for the reader, though not for Ida. Ida’s mother, widowed and left impoverished by the extra-judicial killing of her husband by the police, has just resorted to prostitution in order to buy food for Ida and her young brother, Obet, and to buy medicine for Obet, who has fallen sick with a fever. Reyes shows, but does not tell, that, in spite of the medicine she went to desperate extremes to buy, the mother does not think Obet is going to live. Half of Ida’s noodles do her no good; probably the medicine will not do Obet enough good.

The general structure of the story:  BUHAY starts with Ida making these strange movements…then the reader gradually (more slowly for the reader who is just learning Tagalog) realizes she is playing some version of Hide And Seek with Emy, who suddenly emerges from her hiding place. Something overt, and something hidden which emerges. Something overt — Ida knows her mother has just bought a beautiful red dress — something hidden that emerges (though not for Ida) — her mother has just resorted to prostitution. Something overt — the events of a 7-year-old’s day; something hidden that partially comes into Ida’s view but more fully into the reader’s view — the mother’s desperation.

I doubt very much I am saying anything original by pointing out that presenting things this way (not stating the important things directly, but letting them emerge for the reader from the less important, even trivial things)  vastly increases the impact of the story.  To state something directly is to put it in a category …  is to risk wearing away the sharp point of this particular tragedy by rendering it as just one tragedy among countless others.  Not stating it directly increases the chances the story will be kasingkulay ng buhay (equally colored as life itself).

Aristotle’s Katharsis, I suppose:  In one of the Tagalog reviews in GOODREADS of SA AKING PANAHONG, the reviewer noted he started out reading the stories to his mother, but then stopped because she would start sobbing after each one. I am not sure why I am reading these — I start sobbing after each one.