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August 07, 2005


Attachment: On Feeling Connected

Looking: And You The Same
During the past few weeks, many of the young persons with whom I work have been focussing upon and struggling with issues related to feelings of attachment to others. As a result, many of my own thoughts have centered upon our generally pervasive need to feel connected with others. The following brief commentary attempts to summarize the course of those thoughts, which have ranged from Jean Paul Sartre's book "Nausea," to the jazz songs of Bessie Smith and finally to a short "Haiku-like" poem that I have written in an attempt to encapsulate this journey in a hopefully striking manner.

To begin, for a number of years my mind has often returned to the echo of a scene near the end of Sartre's Nausea. Nausea is a haunting narrative of one day in the life of its protagonist, Roquentin, as he attempts to cope with living in a world that is meaningless. It is a kind of existence that appears to tumble from moment to moment, without any real sense of past or future, a life that slowly decomposes and ultimately slides toward death.

But in one of the final scenes of the book, juxtaposed to the painfully dark and grim journey of the day, Roguentin is alone in a darkened, candle-lit room in a bistro hidden away in a desolate location beneath an overhead train trestle. He is facing a juke-box, which suddenly begins to play a scratched recording of Bessie Smith's hauntingly hopeful song, "Some of These Days."

The lyrics and melody suddenly punctuate Roquentin's existence by imposing a sense of order on the chaos of his life. Despite the record's scratchiness, Roquentin can play the song again; he can return to a melody, an underlying sense of connection in life, which is repeatable, unchanging, a-temporal and ideal.

Further, the latter belief rests upon what has become a post-modern conviction, that meaning is co-created by a person and an object, for example that meaning is co-created by the artist and the sense-making activity of the "reader." In terms of interpersonal relationships, for Sartre the recognition of and by the other is represented by the "stare" of the other.

The stare is the other's attempt to fix "me" in the present, to transform me into Being for others, establishing a sense of connection and attachment. Further, the gaze of the other jolts one to realize the significance of one's personal choices in determining the course of one's life. In other words, while we may not know ahead of time how the course of our lives will turn out, it is not all simply a matter of fate.

"Feeling Connected"

I'm looking at you
Looking at me
Looking at you
And you the same.

Disembedded, 2005.

I suspect that feeling connected begins with primary intersubjectivity (Trevarthen) and develops (for better or for worse) through "attachment" in the years that follow. On my blog,, I try to develop a glossary of terms relevant to understanding intersubjectivity and attachment. I have also written a book, Understanding Love and the Betrayal of Friendship, that criticizes traditional psychotherapy and provides strategies for the development of interpersonal intelligence. Your feedback would be most welcome. Ronald Cowen.
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