By Matthew Fishler, J.D., Ph.D.
IFPE Presentation November 6, 2009, Seattle, Washington
“The event is there, shining.”1
When I first presented this paper at the IFPE 20th Annual Interdisciplinary Conference I was aware of being in the moment as I began to speak about a particular kind of moment. While I had the sense that this moment would speak to the topic, the question of being and not being, I wondered how it might speak as the discussion evolved.
Last spring I completed a long study called The Evocative Moment. There is so much I would like to say about this Moment. But as a Moment that is essentially kaleidoscopic and ungraspable, there will be aspects of it that necessarily remain unspoken.
So what do I mean by the Evocative Moment? Let me begin by saying I am not referring in any general sense to religious, numinous, mystical, or aesthetic experience. Rather, I am speaking to a particular stirring, uncanny, evanescent, nearly inexpressible psychological event.
Perhaps I can say something about how I came to this idea of the Evocative Moment. For much of my life, I have noticed these elusive psychological moments, moments that call and search for, but never quite find, their home in language. The early struggles I faced in my study were really a continuation of a longer struggle to find the language that would differentiate this Moment from other moments, and that would hold but not confine its inchoate, shape-shifting quality, its phenomenological complexity.
The word, evocative, turned out to carry the greatest resonance with the experience I had in mind. Briefly, evoke suggests a calling something forth from obscurity (as in memories or feelings), a calling to mind by suggesting something, an imaginative impression of reality, and perhaps most importantly, a sense of voice, of vocation, of calling. These latter meanings came to echo not only the way in which the moment spoke, but also the way in which it spoke to me, as a calling.
The word, moment, also became significant. It suggests a brief interval in time, in presence; an aspect of a logically developing process; and the tendency to cause movement. So just by naming it in this way we gather an initial sense of the obscurity, the feeling, the calling, the time, and the poetry of the phenomenon.
As I gave the presentation, I indicated that I wanted to let the Evocative Moment into the room. I wanted to do this so that the Moment, even in the space of a brief presentation, did not slip away through the cracks of abstraction, so that it could come forward as what it is – a kind of sensuous, aural shift in the mood of Being. This is one of many pieces I wrote during the poetic-phenomenological phase of my study. It is called “A Flower Already in Bloom:”
In the midst of waiting
for the cold wind to rain down
from the cold grey sky,
and for the wind fluttering through green fields,
I notice the faint, violet gleam veiled
behind, within, all that I see and feel.
And like waiting on a flower already in bloom
comes the turning . . .
It is to sense yourself in bloom.
It is to return to your dwelling,
glowing with the incandescent world
and remembering your last breath,
the one that brought you to shudder, and smile,
knowing this place,
the home you are building
each time you return.
But you cannot outlast the darkening hills,
the far-falling chill of sky
falling nearly, to you now.
Be patient with the flower
that closes in
on the night
in the wind.
To frame a study around such moments, I was confronted with the need to find a scholarly way into an evocative, shadowy subject that itself remained evocative and shadowy. What emerged was a process that took shape by assembling an organizational structure around a central clearing for an unstructured, unknowing exploration of the Moment.
Homing In: A Survey of Literature
The metaphor that ultimately grounded the study’s search for its own theoretical grounding was to conceive it as a process of surveying and then homing in along the landscape of literature to the place where the Moment might be found to dwell. The journey of homing in (and here I will shift into present tense) attempts to place the Evocative Moment, to gather intimations of its mood and atmosphere, and having found its bearings, to found the Moment by building for it a conceptual home. I would like to offer just a few examples of ideas that provide accounts of the kind of moment the Evocative Moment might be:
- Like Freud’s (1919/2003) understanding of the uncanny, the Moment reveals a peculiar convergence of a feeling of home that is also a vertiginous feeling of not-at-home. It is both familiar and strange, apophanic, known and unknown.
- Like Bachelard’s (1960/1971) poetic reverie, the Moment carries an ambience of patient receptivity, sensuous awakening, and ontological resonance. It holds a gentle gleam or halo of being, the mood and freedom of poetic existence.
- As a sensuous and soul-stirring mood; as an atmosphere of air and mist, sound, speech, calling, and wind; as a bearing of confusion and complexity; and as a consciousness that paradoxically bears unconsciousness, the Evocative Moment belongs to Hillman’s unique conception of the anima (1985).
- As an emotional experience of becoming the unknown, and as a process of transforming the unknown through language, the Evocative Moment may be understood as what Bion (1983) calls a moment, in faith, in reverie, of becoming of O.
- And the Moment is perhaps most deeply enriched by Heidegger’s thinking and language. I would like to just touch on a few regions of Heidegger’s work that uncover aspects of the Evocative Moment2:
- Heidegger’s philosophy is rooted in the ontological difference, the difference between beings as entities and Being as that which allows us to see beings in the first place. Being is like the very lighting that reveals what is while it, itself, remains in shadow. Heidegger’s calling was to return to what he considered the utmost unthought in the history of Western metaphysics, the oblivion and remembrance of Being.
- The mood of such a moment of calling Heidegger names Befindlichkeit, our pre-reflective, embodied attunement to Being in which we first discover ourselves as being-in-the-world. This is the mood of uncanny wonder in the presencing of Being, a (re)calling to lift such embodied understanding into the clearing of language and thought.
- It is also a moment in which Dasein (Heidegger’s term for human existence) is ushered into a felt awareness of its own thrownness and finitude, and brought before itself as both being-in-the-world and being-toward-death. In being-toward-death, Dasein comes uncannily but authentically before the nothing at the heart of Being, that is, into the embodied awakening that it carries non-being within its being.
- In what Heidegger refers to as the Moment of Vision, Dasein becomes open for Being by entering into the whole of its authentic temporality, experiencing time not as a linear succession of moments but as a primordial unity.
- In his later writings, Heidegger understands primordial time not as outwardly ecstatic but as approaching from the horizons, with the future constituting but withholding itself from presence, the past constituting but refusing itself to presence, and even an a dimension – presencing – that conceals itself from the present.
- Following the controversial turning in his thinking, Heidegger addresses Being by allowing Being to address him, by receiving the gift of the truth of Being. Language becomes a speaking of Being; thinking becomes primordial poetry.
Becoming the Question; Thinking along the Way
So having founded the Moment, placed and built for it a conceptual home, have we yet found the Moment? Have we yet become the Moment? If not, what is the way from here?
Our approach might be guided by Heraclitus, who advises, “[F]or the known way is an impasse” (2001, p. 7). We might find a way that embraces knowing as a radical openness to the unknown, and that thinks of truth not as correspondence to reality but as what Heidegger calls aletheia, or unconcealment. Aletheia is a truth of reflection, ambiguity, and paradox, one that reveals what David Levin (1988) describes as “the enchantment of the sunset hour, the uncanny lighting of twilight” (p. 351). For Heidegger, to be open to truth as aletheia calls for meditative thinking, a gentle, non-calculative thinking that is radically open not so much to the mystery of beings but to the mystery of Being.
So we might begin by questioning Cartesian metaphysical assumptions, and by taking a faithful leap into the fruitful complexity of a phenomenon that is not clearly inner or outer, not evidently an object or a subject of inquiry. We might consider the Moment as occurring within transitional space, within a symbolic, animated field that would describe not an evoking object or an evoked subject, not a fusion of object and subject, but only an Evocative Moment (Winnicott, 1975).
Listen, for example, to Merleau-Ponty (1945/2002) behold the sky:
As I contemplate the blue of the sky . . . I abandon myself to it and plunge into this mystery, it ‘thinks itself within me,’ I am the sky itself as it is drawn together and unified, and as it begins to exist for itself; my consciousness is saturated with this limitless blue. (p. 249)
But ultimately, we unresolve the question by returning to a position of radical phenomenological openness to a moment, prior to parsing its metaphysical status – just to let it be.
Taking our cue once again from Heidegger, we might invoke a hermeneutic phenomenology that responds to the call of the phenomenon by allowing it to come into the very shining and shadow of its own language; by allowing it to reveal itself as both a mood and a mode of Being; and by ultimately leaving itself behind in favor of the way of the unknown. We return to the idea of a structure – a psychoanalytic frame, an alchemical vessel, a central clearing – to host the possibility of not representing but presenting, evoking, even becoming the Evocative Moment.
The Evocative Moment
So let us (re)turn more openly to the possibility of the Moment becoming itself. This is a poem of mine, called “Shining:”
The winds are coming in all directions
gathering here by the force of light.
What is the difference between shining and singing?
Together, they bloom.
The shining singing is sent down from green hills.
The foliage convulses in a hail of wind.
Turbulence blooms and breathes
before the watchful hills,
beneath sky translucently blue,
though if you look into it deeply enough
crystalline traces appear then blend back into veil.
A light, vaporous surge
shakes off the density of memory,
bears evanescent freedom.
There is no feeling to what is happening, rather,
the birth of a gleaming field,
the coming stirring of primordial elements,
though one does not understand such a moment
but is left, only, to linger,
to love the strange music
of its stirring shining.
Stepping back again, I would like to reflect on just a few of the ways in which the Moment comes to be, how it speaks, how it gathers meaning(s). One might hear that the Evocative Moment has an aural and moving evanescent quality, and that it stirs and suffuses elements like wind and light, scent and sound, time.
Speaking of time, as suggested earlier, the Moment bears an unusual temporal quality. Whereas there is value in thinking of it as an experience of our transience, its temporality is really more an uncanny conflation of time horizons than a linear passage of time. Returning to Heidegger, there is a sense in which the horizons of time offer themselves to presence and yet withdraw from these very offerings – that is, a complex remembrance into presence of something that carries a remainder of absence. This may account for the way in which the Moment appears as a paradoxical, strange kind of homecoming, a coming home to what is not-at-home.
I would like to share another selection of poetry, one that will take us closer to the particular phenomenology of Moment. This is called “The Wind is a Dawn:”
In the nearness
of the shimmering reflection
of the muted gray radiance
of the distance
lives the moment.
In the glistening darkening,
in the wind that breathes and leaves,
and with the wind, comes awakening
of silver gray radiance
gleaming, shadow falling.
The wind is a dawn
of what has already dawned.
It speaks from its own wake;
the sound of its voice
is its very trailing away
breathing what has already been
In the images of wake and wind, we can sense something elemental about the Evocative Moment – a presence known only on the cusp of its absence, in the residue of a mist it leaves behind. Both visceral and eviscerating, the Moment appears as a sensuous absence, a shining hollow. As a homecoming, it dwells radiantly, poetically, out of its own dark ground. As a moment of twilight, it is a faintly stirring experience of that which, like Being itself, lingers on the cusp of thought, language, and oblivion.
As a process of becoming, each Evocative Moment is a unique phenomenon that brings with it a way of being and speaking that is unforeseeable. It is not possible to describe the process of the Evocative Moment, only observations of the possible ways a Moment might unfold. There are times when the Moment comes unbidden, while sitting on the grass, or even walking along a noisy boulevard. Other times, it unfolds in way that begins with a cultivation of psychic space and presence; an immersion within surrounding elements; an experience of tension or anxiety in waiting before the unknown; then, a pivotal point in which anxiety takes on a quality of anticipation, a felt sense of being on the verge of something meaningful; faith that the Moment will come in letting go; and finally, the turning and arrival of the Moment as it presents its strange, still veiled gift in the faintness of a shudder, in the gleam hovers around nothingness.
One becomes the Moment, and one becomes the world. Merleau-Ponty (1964/1968) has said that unconsciousness is not to be found “at the bottom of ourselves, behind the back of our ‘consciousness,’ but in front of us, as articulations of our field” (p. 180). As a depth of field, one becomes the Moment not by descending the slope of unconsciousness, but by surrendering to its reverberation within the depth of the world. It is not that the Moment lacks a vertical dimension but only that it stirs here, in the body, in the heart, and also there, across the field, in the movement of the clouds, at the horizon.
Finally, each Moment is already lined with its own loss. The Moment never remains, or never fully arrives. And it exceeds the possibilities of language. But this is its beauty, its fragile remainder. The Moment leaves itself behind as an echo, as a haunting, as an afterglow.
An Offering to Psychotherapy/Analysis
What might such a Moment mean for clinical work? Some of the most vital moments in therapy bring a felt, intersubjective shift in the quality and field of presence, a feeling of becoming drawn into a more profound experience of being (alive). And it is often the “smallest,” most fleeting impressions and feelings – the atmosphere of a memory; the feeling of the wind in a dream – that are most transformative. Perhaps the central feature of a therapy that would honor such moments would be one that begins by noticing them when they emerge. And because such nascent experiences tend to be linguistically remote, it also means a therapy that is e-vocative (that lifts into voice), that expands the possibilities of language and therefore psychological experience.
But I do want to acknowledge that the vast majority of the Evocative Moments I encountered in the course of my research occurred outside the consulting room. Thus, in the tradition of archetypal psychology, we might consider the place of such psychological work as being both within the consulting room and within the broader field of the world. We might reflect on ways of metaphorically opening the doors of our consulting rooms to the larger world, including its smaller, twilight moments.
An Offering to Depth Psychology
At heart, the Evocative Moment stands as a small offering to the further development of a depth psychological poetics that draws nearer to unthought, unformed experience than is often permitted by conventional forms of inquiry.
I do wonder if our field, at times, allows itself to become too seduced by theoretical abstractions that are unwittingly (and literally) mistaken for the elusive (and metaphorical) realities they are supposed to signify. In Merleau-Ponty’s (1945/2002) terms, secondary speech, which translates (re-presents) existing thought, too often displaces primary speech, which accomplishes (presents) the thought itself. Thus, potentially meaningful but elusive moods and states slip through the cracks of conventional awareness; we fail to receive their gift.
I think there are moments – like the Evocative Moment – that can be accessed only by way of a via poetica. These are untranslatable moments the understanding of which comes forward necessarily in the language of a poetic act, symbolically, the way a dream comes forward necessarily as a dream. Thus we might consider more fully embracing poetry – and by poetry I mean poeisis – not as an adjunct, not even as an art form, but as an essential form of phenomenological inquiry that speaks not by denoting or translating, but by carrying, its meaning. We might venture an evocative language that senses and hosts moods that gleam along some frontier of the unknown; that speaks both as a calling from what is most remote, and as a whisper into nearness. Perhaps, depth psychology might find its way to such a place, and there come to dwell, having found what has always been its home.
With this thought in mind, I would like to conclude with an Evocative Moment, a poem I have called “Homecoming to Twilight:”
The wind comes from the sea.
The sea hangs like a cloud in the distance.
The sun sings its descent, melts into the treetop.
Ground shadows are quivering in their changing.
There is tension in the twilight.
There is sadness in its prescience.
The hour is strange, solitary.
The time of soft vision and wind melodies.
The sea is a melting sky.
The wind calls the sun homeward.
It tarries in the shadows left behind.
Home is strange the way it dwells, also, with what is strange.
A bluebird is beautiful
the way it knows when to land, and when to fly.
The crows head for the trees.
Twilight is the glowing emptiness it leaves behind.
In twilight, what is near—the green fields,
the rustling of shadows—grows more radiant.
The distant is cast into greater distance.
One becomes stranded in the valley between.
Look into a kaleidoscope to see what is changing:
chromatic light, slow shifting in patterns, vibrant.
But stillness lies closer to ground.
Twilight is the calling wind.
It knows leaving behind belongs to home.
We stand watchfully, anxiously between worlds,
witness to the parting and passing of seas.
This place is our home.
At last, even blades of grass, quivering, point to the east.
We give way to the sun,
turn from its journey of making and remaking the world.
We begin a strange homecoming of our own.
Bachelard, G. (1971). The poetics of reverie: Childhood, language, and the cosmos (D. Russell, Trans.). Boston: Beacon Press. (Original work published 1960)
Bion, W. (1983). Attention and interpretation. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.
Freud, S. (2003). The uncanny. In The Uncanny (D. McLintock, Trans.) (pp. 123-162). New York: Penguin Books. (Original work published 1919)
Heraclitus. (2001). Fragments: The collected wisdom of Heraclitus (B. Haxton, Trans). New York: Viking.
Hillman, J. (1985). Anima: Anatomy of a personified notion. Dallas, TX: Spring.
Levin, D. M. (1988). The opening of vision: Nihilism and the postmodern situation. New York: Routledge.
Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible (C. Lefort, Ed.) (A. Lingis, Trans). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press. (Original work published 1964)
Merleau-Ponty, M. (2002). Phenomenology of perception (C. Smith, Trans). New York: Routledge. (Original work published 1945)
Winnicott, D. W. (1975c). Transitional objects and transitional phenomena. In Through paediatrics to psycho-analysis (pp. 229-242). New York: Basic Books.
1: James Hillman, A blue fire: Selected writings by James Hillman (T. Moore, Ed.) (New York: HarperCollins, 1989), p. 66.
2: What follows is a highly condensed summary that represents my version of Heidegger. It is an understanding that has been shaped over time, based upon a reading of works too numerous to identify. However, it is possible to acknowledge generally the authors who have been foundational to my thinking, including: David Abram, Bruce W. Ballard, John Caputo, Eugene T. Gendlin, David Ferrell Krell, Dermot Moran, Richard E. Palmer, Richard Polt, William J. Richardson, George Steiner, and of course, Heidegger himself.
Matthew Fishler, JD., PhD., is a psychotherapist, a mental health lawyer, and a poet. He recently completed a doctorate in clinical psychology from Pacifica Graduate Institute, and also has an undergraduate degree in philosophy. His research interests revolve around the convergence of depth psychology, phenomenology, and poetry. Matthew lives in Los Angeles and can be reached at email@example.com.