Thursday, 19 March 2015

mood, mainly bad

Heidegger tells us that all our comprehending encounters with this or that are framed by mood. Perhaps on some or other understanding of 'mood' that will pass. But isn't there another, everyday, understanding of mood which has it playing a less hegemomic role in the disclosure of our worlds?

Or perhaps we can approach the matter differently. When we say 'Oh, you are in a mood' we are unlikely to mean 'in a good mood'. And when we are talking of good moods, we are unlikely to be speaking of a general state of contentment. Someone who is properly to be said to be in a good mood ('You're in a good mood!') is most often - are they not? - someone who is prone to be in a bad mood but yet is currently of lively disposition. We might say of someone that they always seem to be happy, but it doesn't, I believe, quite do justice to the nuances of 'mood' to say that they always seem to be in a good mood.

So rather than mood being ubiquitous and essential to world disclosure, it is, I think, more usefully understood as existentially unobligatory. A mood, it seems to me, can be understood as follows. Take an emotional or physical state (pain, sadness, anger). Have the subject become 'fused' with this state such that they are no longer aware of it as a passing reaction or adaptation. In this state of fusion the mood becomes the disclosing horizon of their being. (Everyday talk registers this immersion of self in mood in its acknowledgement that we are in moods and states of mind. This is far from the mentalist's suggestion that, 'actually' - whatever that means - moods and states of mind are in us.)

Depressed mood involves a lostness in, if you like an identification with, a feeling. In depression one is now aware of feeling dreadful, but one takes it as one's inevitable true realisation of one's inevitable true predicament. Tiredness, jiltedness, shame, a physical pain, etc.: what might otherwise be these feelings become sublimed from the state of a concrete particular to form the atmosphere which bathes all that can be seen within the horizon. The feelings are quite lost to us, in our moods, in their particularity. In such a state we are closed to the balm of the other and to the particular possibilities of our suffering. 

Hopelessness is, famously, a profoundly important aspect of depression. Hopelessness is not the loss of hope that things can be better; that, in Heideggerese, would be far too 'ontical' a reading of it. Hopelessness, I want to suggest, is the loss of the momentum, the repose and the disruptions of our ordinary travail and leisure - the loss of the state of experiencing feelings both physical and emotional for what they are - not as our lot but as moments, within one's life, of adaptive corporeal reckoning with our boons and losses. (The moments may be enduring. This is not a point about duration; it is a point about non-identification of person and predicament.) Instead we sink into the low mood - of loneliness, perhaps - and now it becomes that inevitable constraining horizon.

A depressive view of hopelessness is that we need to combat it through hope - the hope that 'things can get better'. But really this idea - that individual work must be done to combat depression - risks feeding the monster. We don't, I want to suggest, really have to battle against it. Instead we have to come to notice the tacit identification which is driving it. The point isn't to substitute one self-generated misery for another self-generated optimism; the point is to transcend self-generated moods and to return to what could be called living. We needn't, we can't, think our way out of depression, since the meanings that become available for thinking are so often furnished and constrained by mood itself. Instead we might try: a change of posture, opening your eyes wider, watching a movie that shifts your active identifications, talking with others about their lives, noticing if one is ill and taking care of oneself, dancing, the releasing rhythms of a long walk:  anything that grace-fully lets the light in through mood's fissures. And, alongside that, try: a therapeutic encounter in which, with the balm of ordinary accepting attentive alongside-ness, it becomes possible to bear, feel, suffer, allow, in unsublimed particularised form, the feelings in which we otherwise risk lost, mood-producing, immersion. For mood's most powerful cloudburster is just this: the loving face of the other.