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Very Personal

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Very Personal

I might preface this essay by acknowledging the figurative nature of my previous post. Through the personification of contending emotions, I present my psyche as a contact zone, in itself. Though abstract, the short, poetic-prose alludes to the greater dilemmas of mental illness, emotional disorders, and from this, one may draw connections to the utilitarian school of thought in correspondence with the essay, “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”

Mary Louise Pratt introduces the idea of the “contact zone” in her keynote address entitled “Arts of the Contact Zone.” She claims these are “social spaces where cultures meet, clash, and grapple with each other… [e.g.,] colonialism, slavery, or their aftermaths as they are lived out in many parts of the world today” (Pratt 34). She sheds light on the various ways in which the contact and collision of imbalanced forces influence their respective cultures. She uses the example of Guaman Poma’s New Chronicle and his ability to adopt the language of the oppressor in order to expose their wrongdoings; wearing the skin of the beast in order to, not only, function, but exploit the dominant pack, as a whole (Pratt 35). In the context of the previous posting, my psyche is the contact zone. Where emotions meet, there is a great clash and chaos ensues. Anger, doubt, and grief all function as emotions of traditional pain, opposed to happiness and compassion which are emblematic of pleasure. Despite their incongruous tendencies, they must find some means to coexist. Though personification seems rudimentary in this arena, the emotional responses to experience are fundamental in better understanding the contact zone, the psychiatric contact zone. Mental illness is much too broad a topic to undertake for the constraints set before me; however, they, too, play a role in painting a more thorough image of contact zones, and the interplay that goes on within these liminal spaces. The balance of pain and pleasure is in flux, but one would assume an overarching equilibrium. In the context of mental illness, however, this balance shifts. The shift is unique to categorization, and the debate of sanity is one which I will not address in this essay; however, the idea of a power imbalance within contact zones illustrates the same concept within the psyche. Those who suffer from mental and emotional disorders most often present a chemical imbalance in the brain, and in my own case, the power struggle between pain and pleasure is ever-present. Emotions associated with pain (e.g., anger, grief, doubt, sadness, etc.) occupy the position of the colonizer within my mind, whilst those attributed to pleasure (e.g., happiness, contentment, compassion, etc.) take on the role of the colonized. Between them, I find the “arts” of the contact zone; between them, I am propelled to be; because it is within this metaphysical collision that I find the most authentic manifestations of myself. It is this idea that is most compelling to me— the suffering, is it not responsible for the richness of my life? Am I merely chasing pain masquerading as pleasure? If it is the presence of pain, the unwavering power of pain that accounts for these moments of true clarity, then is the suffering not my truth? I will attempt to unpack these claims in light of Ursula Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas.”

In order to better understand my claims, it is important to clarify a few terms that will follow. Within the study of ethics, the utilitarian school of thought is a contentious one, as is the nature of philosophy. Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill are noted as being most influential in their discourses on the subject. Bentham began the concept with the idea of “the greatest good for the greatest number;” quantifying pleasure and pain and using these formulaic analyses as grounds for all action and inaction (Bentham 92). Mill later imposed a new perspective on the topic, in that he claims that one must take into account the quality of pleasures. In the case of Le Guin’s essay, the city of Omelas is a principle example of both Betham and Mill’s utilitarianism, its alluring properties, and its highly controversial reception. The joy, passion, and contentment of society is dependent on the eternal suffering of one child. Le Guin explains:

They all know it is there. They all know that is has to be there. They all understand that their happiness, the beauty of their city, the tenderness of their friendships, and the health of their children, the wisdom of their scholars, the skill of their makers, and even the abundance of their harvest and the kindly weathers of their skies, depend wholly on the child’s abominable misery (3).

The idea of balance, equilibrium, and sacrifice all are brought to the fore of utilitarian conversation by means of this passage. In order for this worldly system, the “universal matrix” to continue, some must bear this burden; to attain the summom bonum a society must elect physical and metaphysical martyrs. In response to my initial claims, this notion then calls to question my own function within a greater scheme. Are my daily deaths, punctuated by pleasure, then not contributing to the greatest, universal good? Spiritually, that may be contended, but personally, I have found that the underlying commonality of power is pain; the endurance of pain or the infliction of pain. Those who reach the “above,” who transcend the conglomerate have either endured immeasurable pain or inflicted immeasurable pain. It is as if my psyche is grounds for trench warfare; the enemy is perpetually looming, punctuated strikes make craters in the barricades. The reserves are motley and ragged, but they meet their masters, nonetheless. The aftermath is gruesome and inconceivable. This is the contact zone. This is my sustenance.