The Dialectic of Experience

ImageIt is often easier to describe tendencies of any kind through dichotomies. This can be useful; isolating something in order to understand it in itself is a tool that can and should be utilized, but only insofar as the walls of that isolation can be dissolved and topics at hand related back to the whole. When discussing experience, it is valuable to distinguish between the objective and the subjective, but it if ultimately a limitation if we do not extend our analysis to the ways in which the objective and subjective are constantly changing, interweaving, and presenting itself in a totality.

Subjective experience provides a framework for the undefined. When you feel something is unique, or cannot be shared by others, or maybe those around you feel it in that moment, or across time and place, but certainly not everyone does, that is subjective. It is what we see that cannot be made sense of, except in its own right. Those who weigh too heavy on objective truth will say that subjectivity is not real, not valid – skeptical of everything, even their own experience. Those who weigh too heavy on the subjective get lost without anchor to or acknowledgement of other people’s worlds, detached from their own material habitat, as displayed by the most wandering of post-modernists or convinced idealists.

Subjective experience must be a truth – to say you could not have experienced something that just happened before your eyes is a reflection of the sort of denial pathology that dominant objective culture radiates. But to say you experienced something is not the same as saying it is important. Not everything we experience is important, or even noteworthy. If the world we inhabit plays around with our senses, then insignificant phenomena is just as common as significant. Our critical faculties to relate these experiences to our own lives, personally and collectively, help develop the wisdom needed to distinguish between them.

Insignificant is a limiting term in itself, as it retains the idea that an experience must be useful beyond itself. This is not true, as the world wonders us in ways that we don’t need to think too much about, but rather simply be amazed by. The point of this category is to convey the common mistake of phenomena fetishization. We could turn every subjective experience into a dogmatic ideology, but it does not mean that we should, or that it even made sense in the first place.

What we can retain from our experiences are the themes that exist between them. And balancing those experiences, creating something new and fruitful, with our material world, is how we gain a contextual understanding of the experiences, and how much weight they have for us.

The objective world, by itself, displays functionality. Understanding the functions of arrangements or complexities remains valuable as we learn to replicate those functions, be critical of them, or elaborate upon them. The objective world is also a material world that we share. Objectivity means asking, “What about this context do we all have in common?” The result of focusing simply on the objective, creating a tunnel vision of sorts, renders a world lifeless. Chronic objective perspective generates, as we’ve seen, morality that seems across the board, expectations that, when turned sour, justify grave attempts of state repression and nationalist “cleansing” backed by “objective scientific research”.

But that some things have toxic extremes hardly invalidates what’s at core. Every tendency of the human mind, or activity of human bodies, has a source that is real and human, and inversely, each of those tendencies have many toxic manifestations. The task would be to understand what conditions create toxicity, and what value can be found underneath the toxic, and what intentions and conditions must be created to prevent the toxic manifestation. To the question of subjective and objective perception, this means incorporating both. Exploring them individually, yet allowing a returning, a reintegration of concepts and outlooks, creating a balanced or whole state of recognizance.

It is, of course, the dialectic of all experience that creates a living world before our eyes, with the understanding of how we fit in it all. Struggle is born of this dialectic. The understanding of our physical needs is met through objective reasoning as our emotive drive, passion, and inspiration indicates a subjective, phenomenal experiencing of the world.  And ultimately, these things aren’t felt exclusively or independently as much as they, almost confusingly, intertwine and fluctuate beyond immediate recognition. When we experience present being-in-the-world, we’re talking about the total of human perception, in a particular moment. In that present moment, I’m thinking, creating intangible currents of thought, yet it reflects the place I am in at that moment, or the place I was in a memory, or somewhere I anticipate being. I’m navigating my physical world, following paths, climbing over fallen trunks, operating a motor vehicle along predetermined highway systems. The music I hear is intangible, yet its source is physical and is produced by tangible complexities. In reality, there are no lines drawn between these categories; they are articulated separately for observable purposes, but exist indiscernibly fluid.

A dialectical approach in this sense might be more a question of psychological development. The human mind fluctuates between internal and external foci, and subjectivity and objectivity likewise. By adulthood, we are faced with the task of reconciling these differences both in our personal lives and in the way we see the world, including our political analyses or ideas. Reading between the lines, remaining critical yet open, and considering the almost guaranteed nuance of every context, may create a less reactionary, more magical and simultaneously grounded perception of the world in which we play, generate, and destroy.


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