Please let some out, do it today, but don’t let the loveless ones sell you a world wrapped in grey

Proverbs 4:23 over Heidegger's front door in Freiburg 
READINGS 

Proverbs 4:23

Keep your heart 
      with all vigilance,  
for from it flow 
      the springs of life.

Mark Wrathall interviewed in the film “Being In The World”

Moods don't happen without our heads but that doesn’t means they happen in our heads. The analogy I like to use is a radio. The radio gets tuned into different stations and as you tune the dial you get different songs playing. That doesn’t mean all the stations are inside the radio, it just means that without the radio getting tuned to them you're not in a position to pick them up. The traditional philosophical way of understanding the world and thinking [is divided into] inside, subjective stuff, thoughts inside of us, and then facts, objects out in the world. One thing that this way of thinking about the world does is it makes all sorts of things inside of us like moods, emotions . . . subjective things that we project out on the world, on to things. So, you want to say the world’s not happy or sad [but that] we’re happy or sad and we project our happiness out on to the world. The phenomenological tradition started to undercut the distinction between subjects and objects. What that did was allow us, in a much more natural way, to make room for moods and emotions to be out in the world. 
           I think this matches our common sense way of talking about it . So, we talk about the mood in the room, there was a happy mood as we walked into the party, or the mood of the nation is downcast right now, or depressed as a nation. I think that’s capturing something real about our experience of the world and the way that the world isn't just these neutral facts but that it lines up in particular ways; it’s illuminated in particular ways and when we get in the right mood it’s a way of getting in tune with the world so that it can show certain features to us. So when you’re happy the world looks different, and it’s not just that you’re interpreting the world through a different filter, but it’s that your happiness tunes you in to features of the world that you weren’t paying attention to.

“Wrapped in Grey” by Andy Partridge from the XTC album “Nonesuch” (1992)

Some folks see the world as a stone
Concrete daubed in dull monotone
Your heart is the big box of paints
And others, the canvas we’re dealt

Your heart is the big box of paints
How coloured the flowers all smelled
As they huddled there, in petalled prayer
They told me this, as I knelt there

Awaken you dreamers
Adrift in your beds
Balloons and streamers
Decorate the inside of your heads
Please let some out
Do it today
But don’t let the loveless ones sell you
A world wrapped in grey

Some folks pull this life like a weight
Drab and dragging dreams made of slate
Your heart is the big box of paints
And others, the canvas we’re dealt
Your heart is the big box of paints
Just think how the old masters felt, they call...

Awaken you dreamers
Asleep at your desks
Parrots and lemurs
Populate your unconscious grotesques
Please let some out
Do it today
Don't let the loveless ones sell you
A world wrapped in grey
And in the very least 
you can stand up naked 
and grin


—o0o—

ADDRESS

My personal theological and philosophical reflections on the conversations that occur in my study and whilst out and about as your minister do not, of course,provide an absolutely accurate measure of the mood of the whole country. However, careful reading and the questioning of friends in various places up and down the isle, strongly suggest to me that there does exist a generalised grey-wrapped feeling that, in so many spheres of life, our world is going to hell in a hand-cart or, as some dark wit suggested during this week’s Marmite scandal, it’s going to hell in a hand-basket.

The phrase, “grey- wrapped”, is, of course, derived from Andy Partridge’s song "Wrapped in Grey." Given that I used Partridge’s song “Harvest Festival” a couple of weeks ago to help to draw out what seemed to me to be an important aspect of Harvest, I have found myself re-listening to XTC’s back catalogue once again — something I do with great pleasure at least once a year. Anyway, last week, following a longish conversation with someone who found themselves heavily wrapped in grey, I went back home to recover and to try to recalibrate my own seriously downcast feelings and mood. With a cup of tea in my hand I took XTC’s 1992 album “Nonesuch” off the top of the pile of CDs and put in on, very loud. It would be possible to write many addresses on the themes found in all the songs found on this album but, last week, for obvious reasons, “Wrapped in Grey” stood out.

Listening to it I realised it could help me begin to bring before something we might consciously, and more often, adopt, something that might help us deal with our current (and to my mind well-founded) grey-wrapped state of mind. But, before we turn to the song itself we need to do a little philosophy to prepare the ground.

Heidegger thought the most distinctive thing about human beings was our involvement in the world. That is to say our distinctiveness was not to be found in our ability to sit back and think rationally about the world — as did Descartes, who thought we were primarily thinking things, “res cogitans” — but, instead, it was to be found in some fashion through our active involvement in the world. Think of love. It is possible to sit back and think rationally about love, to collect statistics and to observe changes changes in our general psycho-physical make-up when we tell a researcher we are experiencing love, but we all realise that we only properly begin to understand love when it strikes us personally.

The example of love brings me to moods and emotions and, as you heard in our readings, Mark Wrathall makes the important point that, if you follow Heidegger in this (and I do even as there is much in Heidegger's thinking that one wouldn't want to follow), “moods don't happen without our heads, but that doesn’t means they happen in our heads.” I would want to add that for “head” I think we can, and should, also read “heart”, and so we can also say, “moods don't happen without our hearts, but that doesn’t means they happen in our hearts.”  Wrathall’s preferred analogy for this thought, you will recall, was a radio.

“The radio gets tuned into different stations and as you tune the dial you get different songs playing. That doesn't mean all the stations are inside the radio it just means that without the radio getting tuned to them you're not in a position to pick them up.”

However, the traditional philosophical way of understanding the world, a way that still deeply permeates our culture, sees the world as being divided up into, on the one hand, “inside subjective stuff, thoughts inside of us” and, on the other, “facts, objects out in the world.” But, as Wrathall notes, this way of thinking about the world makes moods and emotions merely subjective things that “we project out on the world, on to things” and he points out that this makes us want to say that “the world’s not happy or sad” but that “we’re happy or sad”.

However, when in the mid-1920s Heidegger and phenomenological tradition in general began to undercut the distinction between subjects and objects this allowed us, in a much more natural way, to make room for the idea that moods and emotions are not simply inside us but, instead, are a creation of our complex interaction with other beings like us and also with other things, both abstract and concrete. Again the point is, and this is vitally important to grasp this if my message of hope today is to land, moods don't happen without our heads/hearts, but that doesn’t means they happen in our heads/hearts.

Walking into a party is splendid way to illustrate this. As Wrathall observes, “we talk about the mood in the room, there was a happy mood as we walked into the party.” This “happy mood” is not simply something going on in our head but is something that is bound up with the room itself, its decor and temperature, with the tenor of the conversation and the type of music being played (or not), the attitude, expressions and clothes of the other party goers and, of course the food and drink. Wrathall is trying to help us see that feeling “a happy mood as we walked into the party” or that “the mood of the nation is downcast or depressed right now” isn’t simply an internal matter projected out onto so-called “neutral facts” but rather being in this or that mood is a way of getting in tune with the world so that it can show certain features to us that we hadn’t noticed before. The mood is both inside and outside us both subjective and objective.  It is not, and again this is important to note if my message of hope is to land properly, this is not simply to see the world through rose-tinted spectacles, it is actually to allow something new to emerge in (and, therefore, change) the world.

So, whilst it is true that in an important sense the world doesn’t change when we are in one mood or another, in another sense the world does change because we see in it, and draw out of it, new features and new possibilities that are really there even though they had not been disclosed to us before. Here we discover what it is that Heidegger made us the kinds of beings we are, it is, in a nutshell, our ability to disclose whole new worlds of meaning.

A beautiful, small-scale but paradigmatic example of this is seen in the sport of high-jumping. The world of the high-jump, like all sporting domains, is a very rule bound world and you must stay within the very limited, given rules in order to compete. Once upon a time most high-jumpers used various techniques to get over the bar such as the straddle technique, the Western Roll, the Eastern cut-off and the scissors. But, in the summer of 1968, the American athlete, Dick Fosbury won the Olympic gold medal by clearing the bar in the manner we now know all know so well by using a technique now called the Fosbury Flop. In short he was able to disclose a small scale but still wholly new way of being-in-the-world.

It is important to understand that the Fosbury Flop was not simply waiting to be discovered back in, say, the Middle Ages, and that it needed a space to be created by us and a huge number of things needed to be lined-up in a particular way before it could be disclosed to us. What is true of the high-jump is, of course, true also for music and styles of music, painting, poetry literature, political, theological and philosophical thought, technology and so on, ad infinitum.

Now we can return to the song “Wrapped in Grey” to get a sense of how this Heideggerian insight is at play in Partridge’s lyric hopeful lyric. A lyric in which he is encouraging us to understand we really can disclose new worlds of meaning that can truly change or significantly modify, a current (grey-wrapped) world.

Partridge begins by observing that “Some folks see the world as a stone, Concrete daubed in dull monotone” and the implication is that the person he is talking to (which includes us of course), find themselves in a world wrapped in grey. But, pointing to our innate but so often unrecognised and unused, human ability to disclose new worlds of meaning, he notes that our heart “is the big box of paints”, a tool-kit which, by using, we can disclose new worlds of meaning, just as did so many other masters such as Rembrandt, Breughel, Picasso, Henri Rousseau, Jackson Pollock, Bridget Riley and Georgia O'Keeffe in their own times and places. This innate ability is compared byPartridge to the fact that most people simply continue to live and think that there is only the original “canvas we're dealt”.

Partridge initially seems to picture this facility to disclose new worlds of meaning as simply internal, it’s the box of paints in your heart, all “huddled there, in petalled prayer”. But in the chorus, Partridge, like all the best artists, reveals he is highly alert to the interpenetration of what we used to call inner and outer worlds and he sees that this box of paints, this tool of world-disclosure, is what allows a prayerful person to “Awaken you dreamers, Adrift in your beds.” It helps us begin to disclose “Balloons and streamers” which “Decorate the inside of your heads” and this disclosure cannot but come out in the form of a new mood and world that is capable of stopping “the loveless ones sell you a world wrapped in grey.”

In the second verse Partridge returns to idea of a world wrapped in grey by using the image of “dragging dreams made of (grey) slate” and this allows him to cycle back to reinforce the hope expressed in the chorus. But, in its second iteration, the chorus explicitly references the fact how master artists are able to disclose new worlds of meaning, “Just think” he says, “how the old masters felt, they call...”

To reference this “call” is to pick up on another Heideggerian insight, namely that the world, when it is fully lived in by a sensitive, master artist, is capable of calling forth from them something new, some new vision that is more than canvas they’ve been dealt. It calls them to awaken dreamers asleep at their desks and, with the lines “Parrots and lemurs Populate your unconscious grotesques” he seems to me specifically to be invoking the astonishing new world of meaning disclosed by the artist Henri Rousseau.

But notice, too, that this involvement with the world through "the big box of paints", calls forth from the master artist, a new authentic self. Not only is a new world disclosed but also a new way of being a self. New ways of being human are called forth too.

So, to being to conclude, in our own age with its downcast and depressed mood — which is, I think, really out there — it seems to me vital to hold on to the hopeful insight that there is always already available to us this big box of paints which can disclose new, better, more colourful and uplifting worlds of meaning and call forth from ourselves new ways of being. So, although I truly feel, as do many of you, that our world is at present wrapped in grey, this grey canvas with which we're being dealt need never have the last word.

I’d strongly encourage us, therefore, to heed the words of the proverb that was so important to Heidegger (it appeared above the door of his house in Freiburg), to “Keep your heart, [i.e. your big box of paints] with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” and then to seek all kinds of ways to open it up and use it.

This is not, to reiterate, merely to view the world through rose-tinted spectacles but a genuine promise that, in doing this, we will be helped to “stand up naked”, that is to say as our true, authentic, creative selves, and grin defiantly at all those who want make our world as a stone, concrete daubed in dull monotone. So I call upon you all, “Please let some out, Do it today, Don't let the loveless ones sell you A world wrapped in grey”. Such a coming out really does have the power to change the world.

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