Thursday, 7 October 2010

On closure, moral dilemmas and breaking my design.

I once wrote in this blog that 'self reflection needn't be the bastard child of tragedy' and I hope over the last year I've given you some indication that reflection on morbidity is often a barrier to a life worth living. However if you'll let me indulge in a little artistic hypocrisy for one blog post I hope that I can explore my most recent experiences with you in some depth.

If there's one thing I despise it's lazy storytelling. There has to be part of the writer that dies when they finish a new Hollywood script in which the ending where every plot thread is resolved and every moral crisis the protagonists faces is dealt with. Life doesn't happen that way, there is never one complete resolution to everything.

A great example of this is Virginia Woolfe's Mrs Clarissa Dalloway of which much of the book is spent reflecting on the big choices she made in her life as she prepares for an evening party. As she is reminded of all the choices she never made in marriage and sexuality and she is driven mad by the life that never was. Clarissa begins to admire the courage of an acquaintance Sepitmus who is a shell shocked war Veteran who commits suicide to escape forced incarceration at mental hospital. Clarissa as begins to sympathise with Septimus she fields herself question after question on the choices she never made. Eventually she's reasons that her personal captivity, as a Victorian housewife, is much like the one Septimus killed himself to avoid. She herself considers suicide but partly through a mixture of cowardice and self deception decides to return to her party. Nothing is resolved, because most of life never is. It's what makes the narrative real for me.

The best stories never seek closure because it's not a part of life we ever learn from. Experiences of importance should remain with us forever however they make us feel. Years later they can create distinct emotional responses in ourselves. If closure were to numb the recollection of our most intense moments it would be poisonous to who we are.

The story of our lives won't be remembered in the regular day to day lives, but in the terrible moral dilemmas we make. We can't take them back, we can't even rationalise them because sometime there are no right answers. There are permanent decisions we make in our lives that make us ache. The real tragedy is these experience erode in poignancy over time .

The reason these stories resonate with me is because my brother died at the age of 18 and I was last member of my family to ever see him alive. I knew something was wrong, on reflection I probably knew he was leaving. I never tried to stop him, I made pleasant conversation. I went to school on time. I didn't want to be late. Even as a small, stupid child afterwards I felt heaped with that responsibility I never wanted. I could have understood him better. I could have asked him to stay. Things could have been different.

For years I wanted closure, I wanted some epiphany to happen that meant either I didn't have to take responsibility or that I wouldn't care any more. It never came, but as I grew older, met others and read more, I understood that there is a part of life would always have some unresolved finality to it. How we feel about a person remains remarkably constant. A terribly human trait is that it is often easy to get attached but so very hard to let go.

Our personal war of instinct vs reason is one where we see past our present needs in order to see the benefits of a future concept. As we've evolved as creatures of immediacy, I suspect that's why we're emotionally punished for being creatures of the long term. I think it is this facet of human nature that predisposes us towards wanting closure. Sometimes you have to wonder why we've evolved to be creature with such a questionable emotional memory. I think the simple answer is that it's just easier that way.

Science produces some pretty depressing data on this- There are some studies that suggest the amygdala, a hemisphere in the brain that stores emotional memory, is gradually suppressed over time, long before degradation. Evolutionists have postulated it's pre-programmed restriction on our ability to recall strong emotions to prevent constant, vivid emotional recollection. It seems nature has decided that total recall of our entire emotional history is more than we can take.

When we are asked to take the long view of relationships, I hate the idea that feelings or the emotional impact of our experiences somehow ebbs away over time. It seems impossible to hold onto the concept of a coherent self, if what was important to us seems to decline over time. Not through any realisation, or change in outlook, just a result of the inability to recall accurately the emotions involved.

I think one of the best virtues of human evolution is that part of the process involves breaking the previous design. Because we even have memories suggests there are advantages of going beyond being creatures of the now, even if we still have a huge evolutionary hangover involving the immediate demands of instincts or the suppression of long term memory. I think as our consciousness evolves this bizarre need for closure will eventually fade away. We will continue to 'break the design' all over again.

As we all struggle to come to terms with closure, I'd like to suggest that maybe closure isn't healthy or necessary to move on with our lives. It's simply a biological and psychological mechanism to make our lives easier. I think if are to take the time to explore ourselves, breaking this behaviour is part of that process.

This denial of self and the forgetful nature of emotional experience doesn't require closure, it requires an acceptance of what I value. Maybe experience is a dish served raw. I hope I never forget that.

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