I have two posts sitting as rough drafts on my computer right now. One I started back in April, and it is complete, but to call it anything other than rough would be ludicrous. The second, though it tries to deal with the same idea, isn’t a revision so much as it is an essay in its own right. They look at a problem from two separate angles; I would say one of them is thematically coherent if stylistically broken, and probably looks from three or four angles on its own. Both fail as public expressions of observation and subsequent ideation. To an extent, I’d say they fail as private expressions as well. Though I know what I am trying to say, to read these essays is not to read what I am trying to say. Their intended meaning is only discernible because I know the intention behind them.
Maybe that’s okay; hell, maybe that’s the point. This blog was birthed that two writers saw the world and from it crafted a narrative. Those people across the street arguing: I do not know what the argument is about. But I can make up a story. That lonely lady behind the counter at a bookstore: I do not know why she watches me her only customer so closely. But I can make up a story.
These stories provide substantive meaning rather than accidental meaning. These are vaguely philosophical and theological terms, so I will try to clarify. “Who is Michael?” is a tough question to answer. If someone were to ask you that in a large gathering of people, you might point me out in the crowd, red hair and glasses, the scruffy beard growth I’ve let define my jaw line, straight leg boot-cut jeans and a button-down shirt worn untucked. I am for my personal style and physical appearance fairly recognizable. But though it is true I am at the same party, perhaps holding a bottle of porter with my left hand shoved in my pocket, this is not really me. After all, if I am only the observation of my physical self, then you might as well pull out a photo and say “This is Michael.”
My physical appearance is to an extent accidental to who I really am. But if someone asked “who is Michael?” you also would not tell them he is the guy who writes for Indefinite Crisis, is working with an independent print house to get his poetry published and really just wants to teach high school English but is financially hamstrung so hasn’t finished his Bachelor’s degree. Though these things are true as well, they are equally true of Nick (except the whole wanting to teach high school thing); they are not who I am. On the other hand, if I were not any of these things – including the physically defined body – I would not be me.
Accidents are those parts of being that are not essential to a thing’s identity. They are that which we perceive without being what we define. Substance, however, is the core identity, the underlying Michael-stuff that makes me Michael. In the case of human beings, substance and accidents are pretty much inseparable. The most obvious example of this in bodily form comes in our physical sex. I, Michael, cannot be a mother because I cannot bear children. There is a function of the body that in turn defines my intellectualized form. My body has a bearing on what my identity is. On the other hand, I can manipulate my body. If I wanted to be a professional athlete, it would do well for my body fat percentage to be 12% instead of 19% with lean muscle mass; it would also do well if I developed keen reflexes and flexibility. I could teach via repetition the muscle memory of, for example, striking a moving baseball with force and horizontal direction. My body’s form would become accidental to the non-physical identity dictating its behavior.
So a story Nick or I create to define the accidental appearance of a situation is substantive. They are essential to our understanding of the person; they define what the person is. However, these substantive creations are in turn accidents of both personal fancy (we, after all, create the story) and our perception of the persons involved. The people are the substance behind the accidental story, but by putting them in a story they become accidental to the story’s substance. People are, of course, not stories, but mere parts of stories, mechanisms through which stories are expressed.
This recursive property plays crucial rolls in relationships, defining our perception of another person and thus how they react to us. Consider how you perceive your friends. Because you believe certain things about them, you behave a certain way around them, treat them a certain way. Because of this, they in turn perceive your accidental behavior, interpret that behavior into an idea of substance, and respond via behavior. This gives you behavior to perceive, reshaping your idea of who they are and your behavior toward and around them. What one believes is how one acts, and how one acts is what one believes.
This process is thus progressive and infinite. It is ongoing work toward a union of perception and behavior, toward what I present being consistent with what you perceive, where accident and substance become indistinguishable. Problematic, then, is projecting our perception into the future. Since it doesn’t account for shifting accidents of others, it assumes the substance of our understanding is consistent with the substance of another’s understanding, that conclusion based on perception is absolute.
So relationships begin and end on the idea that what we perceive now is going to be what we perceive in the future. I like you, so I will date you to discover…possibly that I still like you, in which case I may marry you, or possibly that I was wrong to begin with and, in fact, I don’t really like you – which isn’t necessarily true, I am merely perceiving something differently now than what is the substance of you and our relationship.
We cannot go back and undo; there is no spell-check in life. There is only one life, and it is the rough draft, imperfect, unrefined, saying what we wanted to say – hopefully – but never quite how we wanted to say it. This is, at long last, a final draft of two posts. You will read it, wonder, perhaps comment, and I will reply. There are no posts sitting as rough drafts on my computer. I leave them here for your perceiving.
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