5.12.2017

The Energetics of Being


Cuteness is a power, an exuding of energy. We can transact with that energy in different ways.

When I was younger and would see a cute thing — say, a kitten or bush baby— I'd grit my teeth as a certain seething would surge through my body. All I wanted to do was take the cat's face and squeeze it, hard. Maybe eat it. It was a painful experience, even if pleasurable. I'd be exhausted afterwards. When I finally owned a cat — o, I miss my Metapuss — my life was nearly destroyed, the cuteness an endless tax on my being. (The cat was no better for it, either.)

We all know this: a cute thing has the power to determine the behavior around it. To wit, poppa bear usually doesn't kill baby bear. That little useless sack of cuteness exudes a power, an energy, that can make a two-ton beast stand down.

Cuteness is a source of energy. It moves and controls bodies. And, the silly brute I was, I didn't know what to do with that stream of energy. I'd gnash my teeth. I'd begin to crawl out of my skin. That stream came to me and, rather than finding it a source of fuel and vitality, it became an exhaustion of my reserves. I could have stored that energy. But instead I expended my energy to fuel its power. Which is absurd! It has enough power.

From one perspective, life is an economy of energy, a constant series of transactions, expenditures, and transferals. Think of food, sex, money, conversations, plants, relationships. We eat and experience different amounts of energy distributed in different ways — sugar, caffeine, protein, fried foods, LSD, and so on. Every meal at once fuels us and demands fuel to digest it. The same goes for human relationships: each person and each exchange involves a different give and take of energy. Some people leave us drained; the best leave us infused. And of course we pander or defer in various ways that exhaust us, regardless of the other person. Now apply this to all things — taking care of plants, what they give and take; music; art; work (which demands so much and gives little in return); and so on.

For Georges Bataille, all of these things — and more — are intertwined into a more General Economy of energy exchange that includes the sun, thinking, cosmic winds, eroticism. Nietzsche played with this idea, too, of course. Life is all transaction of energy. The ethical question for Nietzsche becomes: How do you maximize your energy, your vitality, your life? It's not a matter of a moral right and wrong but a very practical matter of: What saps you? What fuels you — materially and metaphysically?

When I was a kid, I had a subscription to "World" magazine which came with a fold-out poster in each issue. One week it was a bush baby. Oh, man, I loved that thing. With it pinned to the wall, I'd just stare at it. Thinking of it now gives me a certain thrill, almost erotic in nature. Why? Because it was a source of power, a quiet but steady hum of energy that would permeate me, lift me, carry me. And what is life other than this? What more do we want? (I knew a guy, an "art collector," who had a series of Francis Bacon prints hanging in his bedroom. Ask yourself: What kind of being enjoys that exchange of energy upon sleeping and waking every day?)

This is the case of all images. Which is to say, it is the case of all things (pace Bergson who says matter and image are synonyms). Things exude and take in different proportions and with different intensities. This is what life is: an eco-system of energy exchange. On a day to day basis, we give and take. We negotiate energy exchanges. For instance, cuteness is so taxing we partially denude it — we hedge its power — via kitsch. Rather than gritting our teeth, we take a little cute kitten video to help us get through the drain of energy put on us by jobs, traffic, the bombardment of modern life.

Starbucks and kitten videos: this is what keeps us hanging on, just. Without them, capitalism would exhaust all human energy reserves and then there'd be no one to produce and, worse, no one to consume. We think the energy crisis is about fossil fuels. Nope: it's about a fundamental skew in the energy economy that has human energy being depleted at a dizzying pace. This is why we're obsessed with zombies: how can we make the dead productive?

We all know too well the correlations between sex and violence: Make love, we say, not war. What allows us to say this, to make this substitution? They are both modes of energy expenditure. Louis CK does a bit about bros at the club who, after not getting laid, you find afterwards at some pizza place beating up some nerdy passerby.

But off course not all energy expenditures are the same. The great thing about a certain mode of sex is the give and take. Yes, it's an expenditure but the other person gives you energy back creating a beautiful cycle, a transference of this energy for that energy. Violence, on the other hand, tends to be terribly inefficient, all expenditure without return.

Sometimes, this kind of expenditure is necessary. For instance, when I was younger, I'd have an excess of energy, as youths are wont to have, and so would put on some rockin' tunes and dance like crazy in my undies. I'd burn that energy, releasing that excess, allowing my body to relax, to flow more steadily, more evenly. An excess of energy can be quite disruptive (any manic knows this well).

Aging involves, and perhaps is, a decrease in energy production. At first, this is disconcerting, to say the least. What's wrong with me??? my head shrieks in panic. I see this in friends and acquaintances. Why am I so tired? they ask as they hit 44 and are working 50 hour weeks and then hiking on the weekends and worrying about rent and their future and their kids. It's astounding that they don't know what's happening to them. It's astounding, and humiliating, that I didn't know what was happening to me: I was getting older but still expending energy as if I were 27.

I spent much of my life as what Jung might call the clown and I call the jew clown. I'd do shtick relentlessly, pandering to the crowd (even a crowd of one). It nearly killed me.

A key part of the maturation process is adjusting one's energy store and spend. Rather than lean forward in the social, prattling on and doing the jew clown shtick, I now lean back more and more. I let the social unfold as a more collaborative effort, even if that collaboration is failing to produce, is falling quiet, is disintegrating. The benefit of maturity is knowing that this doesn't matter. That all of life is an ebb and flow of energy — and hence there's no need to expend energy to revive the dying fire of a social encounter. There will be more fires. (Or there won't.)

And so now when I see cute things or feel a flood of love from another, I don't go immediately towards expenditure. I don't grit my teeth, do a jig, try to eat the face of the kitten. Rather, I let the energy pervade me, let it flow through me, infusing my cells and soul with vitality. I store up so when it's time to give, I can.

3 comments:

Alexis said...

Your blog is the only thing I’ve found on the internet that I enjoy reading—thanks always.
Do you know this Raymond Carver poem? It came into my mind after I read your post, the ending maybe.


Where Water Comes Together with Other Water

I love creeks and the music they make.
And rills, in glades and meadows, before
they have a chance to become creeks.
I may even love them best of all
for their secrecy. I almost forgot
to say something about the source!
Can anything be more wonderful than a spring?
But the big streams have my heart too.
And the places streams flow into rivers.
The open mouths of rivers where they join the sea.
The places where water comes together
with other water. Those places stand out
in my mind like holy places.
But these coastal rivers!
I love them the way some men love horses
or glamorous women. I have a thing
for this cold swift water.
Just looking at it makes my blood run
and my skin tingle. I could sit
and watch these rivers for hours.
Not one of them like any other.
I'm 45 years old today.
Would anyone believe it if I said
I was once 35?
My heart empty and sere at 35!
Five more years had to pass
before it began to flow again.
I'll take all the time I please this afternoon
before leaving my place alongside this river.
It pleases me, loving rivers.
Loving them all the way back
to their source.
Loving everything that increases me.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Oh, you're kind, as always. Thank you. And this poem: holy moly. That last line! I somehow never crossed paths w/ Carver — so thanks for this, too.

manho valentine said...
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