I finally got round to uploading my undergraduate dissertation

(aka I worked out how to embed .PDF files to wordpress.)

People usually have no idea what it means to study Philosophy at undergraduate level, aside from “a lot of essay writing” which is true, but what I enjoyed most about it was developing ideas and understanding. My final year dissertation was an absolute passion project and the thing I am most proud of — a philosophical (phenomenological) enquiry into the psychiatric symptom(s) of depersonalisation and derealisation (which are most commonly experienced during prolonged depression, anxiety, and trauma) and was an exploration of, more broadly, how the perception of the self undergoes an “existential shift” in experiences of illness.

I included my research proposal too so you can see the initial idea and, hopefully, how it evolved. My final year module ‘Philosophy and Mortality’ is 100% the reason I walked away from Nottingham with a First Class degree. I’m really proud of a few of my third year essays, so I’ll probably upload a few more soon.

I’ll be your mirror

I think a lot about projection and pedestals, and devotion vs delusion. In a culture of fanaticism and glorification, I think it’s crucial to critically assess these things as much as possible, for they are often habits we’ve unwittingly learned: from popular media, from books and art and film and songs. Today we are living in a post-Romanticism period, our society littered with leftover remnants of the most beautiful (and unrealistic) cultural movement in history. I think a lot about how Romanticism still informs our wider understanding and perception of romantic love: obsessive and tragic attachment is a distinctive feature of the movement and, in some of the most significant works (think The Sorrows of Young Werther, Wuthering Heights, Manfred), nine times out of ten, someone (often our brooding hero, expiring for love, or the object of their unrequited or unfulfilled desire) dies.

I will probably write a more in-depth post at some point about all of this, but needless to say, I try to be super conscious of the shit I project onto others through our zeitgeist’s subconscious lens of ‘post-Romanticism’ — feeling in extremes, excessive sentimentalism, idealising and romanticising unhealthy or abusive behaviours, suicidal ideation, placing unfair and unattainable expectations onto others in the name of love… We are all victims of past painters and poets.

“The most outlandish people can be the stimulus for love. […] A most mediocre person can be the object of a love which is wild, extravagant, and beautiful as the poison lilies of the swamp. A good man may be the stimulus for a love both violent and debased, or a jabbering madman may bring about in the soul of someone a tender and simple idyll. Therefore, the value and quality of any love is determined solely by the lover himself. It is for this reason that most of us would rather love than be loved. Almost everyone wants to be the lover. And the curt truth is that, in a deep secret way, the state of being beloved is intolerable to many.”

The Ballad of the Sad Cafe, Carlson McCullers

Is attraction (and repellence for that matter) ever anything more than projection on some level? I’m convinced the more damaged you are, the more prone you are to perceiving individuals through a prism of your own unmet needs — whether that leads to idealisation or devaluation or both.

If everyone you meet is a mirror, how can you begin to discern the illusion you’ve created from the reality of who they actually are?

Stay critical,

xo, c

Living with thoughts of death

I dread the day that the monotonous equilibrium of those every day and simplistic certainties I take for granted — health, safety, the comfort of hearing my mother trudging down the stairs every morning, the expectant sound of gravel crunching under my sister’s tyres as she arrives home from work every day at 6pm — is jerked into cold, cataclysmic suspension.

Nestled in the pseudo-cocoon of ignorance and denial,

Pried open by a all at once distant and familiar sinister irony:

Time, fate, life, death.

I fool myself into thinking it’s a long way off, bury my head in the sand, try not to think about it, immersed in and distracted by the solace of structure and routine. Yet in the back of my mind it’s always there, silent and shrouded but lurking around every corner; the unwelcome guest at every family meal, inescapable as a shadow in the noon day sun. An ever-present reminder burrowing into the fine lines upon my grandmother’s face; the disquieting implication behind stiffing limbs, muscle tremors, and the passage of time: none of this will last.

Sometimes I look at the people I love — focus on their faces until my eyes sting, willing my retinas to burn their image into sacrosanct memory — every pore, scar, freckle, discolouration, stray hair. Saving the image for the day I absolutely know exists, somewhere in the lottery of the future, predetermined, pre-penned into every new calendar I buy.

I understand now why humans find so much comfort in conventionality, why they invent tradition, embrace familiarity: these things are merely weapons against that faceless, sinister fact closing in a little further each day we are alive, which promises but one thing; to disrupt beyond reparation everything about an existence we thought we once knew.

It circles. It stalks from afar. I feel it even in my happiest moments; a pang of dysphoria, the subtle dread of certainty. One day I will hug my mother for the last time. I stand in my garden. Take in the space I currently occupy. One day it will no longer be mine. I breathe, oxygen facilitated by trees who will outlive me. We are all nature’s tenants, I think to myself as I leave imprints in the grass of a thousand former footprints.

Constantly bracing, constantly preparing. For the horror I know, I know, I know — beyond all earthly comprehension — awaits.

Heidegger, in his magnum opus Being and Time, called this existential orientation “Being-towards-death” — he argued the only way to live authentically is to constantly acknowledge our own death. Sound morbid? Welcome to existentialism . I wrote my 10,000 word undergraduate thesis on it. I’m fun at parties, I swear.

Emily Dickinson, and some thoughts on Grief

Emily Dickinson wrote the above poem during a period of immense personal and collective grief while the English Civil War raged around her.

“What is that inextinguishable flame that goes on flickering in the bleak, dark chamber of our being when something of vital importance is missing, or lost?”

Loss visits every human life. It is unavoidable. Inevitable. Philosophers like Feuerbach (and the writers of Love Actually) would argue that the one unifying experience across humanity is love, and I used to retaliate – in typical cynical Charlie fashion – that no; if one such universal experience exists then it is undeniably the anguish of grief. But then, I realised, the two are intertwined. One cannot exist without the other. Grief is but a measure of immeasurable love; the thing left over, the imprint of impact. You cannot feel grief if you have not felt love. And, in acknowledging that, we might (and I really try to do this) actually start to be able to view grief as a beautiful thing; something to embrace, to celebrate: the tangible evidence of all the love that’s left, that stays with (enriches, sustains, comforts) us, until – and even after – we ourselves are gone.

The grace with which we adapt to and accept the sudden descent into the darkness of grief may be the greatest measure of resilience — but it’s also an indication of the absurdity and duality of what it means to truly be human: to live (to accept death), to love (to ultimately lose). To be cognizant of eternity in an instant, to be capable of infinity. And that might be the most miraculous thing of all: to wander around alone – unguarded, unmoored – without matchstick or map – knowing that the darkness is creeping up behind us — gaining on us — will eventually and inevitably catch us one day — yet still unflinchingly trusting that those few, fleeting moments in the light have been worth it when the jaws close in.

Diderot said (of women) “you all die at 15” …

Thinking about my teenage self. Thinking about the death of dreams and selfhood in adolescence, wherein women become partly conventional and partly legend; when their sense of reality is sapped and they begin to exist, function, perform — not for themselves but for a growing, persistent awareness of everyone else: when autonomy and freedom is given away and set aside at the very brink of its actualisation and allure.

Most women, without access to resources and education, cannot change their lives, so interwoven with their very existence are the systems that oppress them. All they can do past a certain point is to merely wish, hope, dream for change… Reduced to magical thinking, lamenting on lost opportunities and stolen potential — what once was, what might have been — whilst constantly having to face the reality of what they are; of who they’ve become: “fire, tears, wit, taste, and martyred ambition.”

(That last line is from an angry Adrienne Rich poem, ‘Snapshots of a Daughter-in-law’, a tribute to “women whose dreams have been aborted and whose very beings have been thwarted and silenced.”)

I grieve for these women all the time.