Monday, July 22, 2013

The Absence of Presence

George Carlin in l969
Have you ever had the feeling that someone is not really there? It could be them or you. Either the person in question is quite distant and removed because they are thinking of someone or something else or you are having one of those out of body experiences in which you experience both yourself and others as strangers. This last is almost like amnesia but not quite. Verfremndungseffekt is a term for alienation in the theater coined by Brecht, but it can happen in real life. You know exactly who you and they are. You are simply experiencing one degree of separation, as if you were hovering like a doppleganger right outside the confines of personality. This condition, which we might term, “the absence of presence,” is becoming an increasingly common affect disorder that had been camouflaged by more globalized feelings of alienation (experienced, for example, by baby boomers against the military industrial complex in the 60’s). Ask anybody if they haven’t experienced it at one time or another. George Carlin humorously commented “I’ve adopted a new lifestyle that doesn’t require my presence.” Human beings are social animals and alienation is a social phenomenon, what the sociologist Emile Durkheim described as “anomie,” while “the absence of presence” is a syndrome that has the earmarks of a neuropsych disorder. What is the cure? Followers of Zen or the recovery movement talk about living in the now. “You only have today,” they will tell you and alas, this may be the best and only known analgesic, capable of lessening the disturbing feeling of apartness that comes to those who suffer from “the absence of presence.”

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