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 Just to remind visitors here: this blog contains accounts of my various attempts at interacting with some of Eugene Halliday’s concepts over the past 35 years or so. These concepts are contained in files of the various audio recording of his talks, and also in his writings; these are freely downloadable from the Eugene Halliday Archive….(For more information, please go to the ‘About’ page of this blog)  … I have found a number of Eugene Halliday’s concepts extremely important and useful to me, and many more of his ideas thought-provoking enough to engage me in subjects I believe I would not have considered examining had I not been introduced to them through his ideas .. .And I repeat, once again, that in my view Eugene Halliday was a remarkable, extraordinary, human being … and nothing more…

Note: To bear in mind here … My sense of the meaning of the verb, ‘to believe’, is ‘to live as if’. (After Eugene Halliday, and, to some extent, Austin Osman Spare).

Hopefully you will now be consciously aware – to some degree at least – that spoken language can not only provide you with information (facts; data; form; ideas; concepts, etc) but can also profoundly influence (and thus, possibly, control) your emotional states… Which, I suggest, should give you some cause for concern..!

I want to make my position very clear here, ‘speech acts’ will, at the very least, always produce changes in the listener’s emotional states.

In my experience, the individual will not usually be consciously (rationally) aware of this affect ‘in the moment’ (unless they have made a deliberate attempt to do so, by, for example, practicing techniques in order to acquire this ability), and so they will always be in a relatively passive state here – even if they are a participant in the particular dialogue in question.

But this state of affairs doesn’t necessarily mean that the other person speaking here has an ‘active’ language either. Rather, it is far more probable that they are both victims of the particular emotional state that they happen to find themselves in at the time … Although both are very likely to insist (perhaps vehemently in some cases), if questioned,  that they are in fact, “Completely in charge, and fully aware of what is going on, thank you!” …

I think it is far more likely though, that what they actually are, is ‘fully engaged’ – which is not the same thing at all, in my experience.

To put this situation ‘in the vernacular’, as it were: It’s not so much that they can’t wake up; it’s more the case that they don’t realize that they’re asleep….

In the specific case of my own experiences with this exercise, the ability to be aware of my own emotional ‘trajectory’ when attending to another person’s spoken language, took a lot of practice. … In fact, even when I had ‘decided’ that I was going to practice this exercise, it was a week or two before I could remember to do so at all – even very occasionally…. Never mind attempting to ‘have a go at doing it properly’… And even when I did manage to initiate any practice regime here, I would, almost immediately, fall flat on my face …  This state of affairs seemed to drag on for ages, but I eventually did manage to get the hang of it, and I would maintain that I am now a whole lot better at it .. Although I do have to monitor my social interactions even now, that is, if I want to ‘keep my awareness going’ for any appreciable length of time…(I am something of a ‘loner’ … But quite good at covering the fact up)… I still seem to get ‘wound up’ though, if I’m not careful … …Hard to believe that, I know, but there it is…

Of course, I found the task of monitoring my emotional states alone relatively easy to do, as I could practice this by sitting comfortably in a prepared environment with no distractions (such as the odd phone-call) to interrupt me; or in the time between going to bed and falling sleep. But I soon stopped using this approach to make progress, because it didn’t seem to be that useful to me in my day-to-day life. … And, more importantly, practicing in this way presented me with the temptation not  to ‘engage’, as, for me, one of the side-affects of doing this particular exercise was that I was very quickly developing the ability to become ‘detached’ … Not a good place to be in my case, I believe.

In practice, even in ‘real life’ situations’, you should very quickly experience some minor degree of control here – although you will not have any success at all if what is being said to you is having such a marked affect on you that you are unable to maintain your focus (you become too emotionally involved) – a condition that Eugene might describe as ‘identifying with the stimulus’.

And I should also tell you that this ‘awareness’ you’re attempting to introduce here will immediately become an active component of the experience itself – and, as a direct consequence therefore, will fundamentally alter the nature of this experience. (This ‘awareness’ you are consciously attempting to introduce here behaves rather like a  ‘catalyst’ – to use Eugene’s terminology).

My own technique here involved trying to filter out the ‘sense’ of what someone was saying to me if I could, and instead attempt to focus on other aspects of what I was hearing (changes in volume; changes in tone; changes in timbre; and the fluctuating change in the pace of the discourse).

NOTE: The question as to whether or not the person that you are listening to, in this scenario, might also be, somehow, passive (acting under the influence of their own changing emotional states) is not the issue here. But the short answer here is, that in the overwhelming majority of cases at least, “Yes, they probably will be” … There are, however, major, and very important, exceptions to this…. But that’s for a later post  🙂

Why did I decide to do this exercise? … Because in the ‘here and now’ I was becoming increasingly aware that these aspects of spoken language were of major significance in producing continuous emotional changes in me, and that it was essential for me to gain some degree of control here – if I was ever going to move on, that is. … I needed to become more ‘self’ conscious (that’s ‘self’ with a small ‘s’ by the way) – might be another way of putting it.

One positive aspect of this practice was that I found this growing awareness of the parameters of my own … ‘integument’ … here quite liberating… Although I couldn’t help suspecting that, somehow, there was a voyeuristic element to all this …

I am also maintaining here, that even if what is being said to you is, by and large, incomprehensible (so, in some sense, lacking formal content as far as you’re concerned) you could, none the less, still be experiencing (for example) profound irritation on the one hand: or a ‘warm fuzzy glow’ on the other.

…Another great way to practice observing this change of state in yourself, is to listen to someone speaking in a foreign language. (How many times have you heard someone say, for instance, that, “French sounded ‘sexy'”, or that, “German sounded ‘harsh'”?)

You can also practice your awareness of the power of the spoken word to profoundly influence you in ways that you are not consciously aware of in the moment, by comparing your reaction when listening to old people speak, to your reaction when listening to young people speak… That is, are you (perhaps before anything is said) affected by the speaker’s age? (Do you tend to feel, for instance, somewhat dismissive if the person supplying information to you is in their early teens but are more inclined to believe someone if they possess a more confident, mature, voice). How about gender? Do you find yourself reacting differently to the same information given to you by a male, and by a female. … How about when listening to someone from a different social background (that is, of course, assuming that you still haven’t yet managed free yourself from this form of, somewhat archaic, cultural conditioning) …

Finally, try listening and watching foreign films, and then notice, for example, how pleased with yourself you become when you’ve convinced yourself that you have, “Managed to figure out what they are saying to each other,” even though you will freely admit that you, “didn’t really understand a word!”

Looking at how language ‘operates’ in this way, might also help you to understand how it is that many of those people who enjoy watching ‘TV Scientist-Celebrities’ – those who are skilled in making use of simple metaphors to describe a complex subject such as Quantum Physics; but where it would be reasonable to expect a significant level of mathematical ‘know-how’ in order to understand any in-depth explanation (rather than a simple description) – can delude themselves into believing that they now, somehow, have far more of an appreciation of  the subject than is actually the case!

It is, I believe, relatively easy to check if you have a reasonable, elementary, grasp of a particular subject (say for example: ‘Religious Studies’, or ‘Art Appreciation’; or ‘Science’; or ‘General Philosophy’). And that is, to download copies of last year’s state exam papers (say, the relevant GCSE ‘O’ level papers) and have a go at answering the questions yourself. … And, as I’m sure you would expect any suitably engaged, 16 year-old, schoolboy or schoolgirl of average intelligence to be able to answer these questions, you clearly have a straightforward, ideal way, of seeing if you measure up to your own standards here  … And if you find that you don’t … Well ….Maybe you should think again about your level of understanding …..

From this very common example can you appreciate why I maintain – that for the overwhelming majority of people at least – the ‘feeling’ of knowing has a much stronger influence on their belief systems than the ‘knowing’ of knowing?. … And, as a consequence, that if you can manipulate their emotional experiences, you can get them to do practically everything. Think of being persuaded to become a member of the staff in a WWII concentration camp; or of being Swedish, and wandering around Newcastle, dressed as a Buddhist monk … Or, if you believe you’re immune from this sort of conditioning, imagine your reaction if the Dali Lama turning up for a TV interview wearing a leather biker jacket, T-shirt, jeans, cowboy boots, and shades … (Well of course he wouldn’t, would he? … Because he’s already got his own special uniform).

Consequently, a part of what I am doing here, is describing how it is that experiencing the results of these exercises for yourself will allow you to properly understand that dragging your normal, everyday, experiences (and not some artificial, contrived situation) into consciousness, is the only real way that you can move forward here…

In my own case, I have always found it far more difficult to monitor my  emotional states when I am speaking normally with others (as I tend to ‘engage’ very quickly) than when I was teaching, or when I was performing – where I found it relatively easier, because I think these scenarios are both, in some sense, artificial, controlled, contrived, and in part ritualistic…

So – ‘work’ towards the ability to focus upon the awareness of the emotional contents of your everyday  conversations …

OK … What’s next? ….

Well … what you now have to do, is to make a concerted attempt to reintroduce that formal, intellectual, component of speech-communication that you were only just, in the previous exercises, attempting to filter out !! .. The purpose of this? … To develop the ability to focus on two things at the same time…

Well… … …  ‘Sort of’, anyway…

I have to tell you now, I don’t believe that focussing on two things at once can be done in the ‘here and now’ …Rather, what you have to do is develop the ability to very rapidly switch between focussing on your awareness of any intellectual content that you are picking up, and on your awareness of how you feel about it.

In my experience, anyone can retrospectively review their ‘feelings’ towards a recent situation, and so provide an answer to the question, “How did you feel about that?” But I would not personally recommend this approach, as I have, almost always, found that the answer given will invariably have been heavily edited and revised by the person’s ‘persona’, to bring it in line with the manner in which they wish to be socially perceived. (By the way, I am using the term ‘persona’ here in its Jungian sense). What we must do here instead, is attempt to provide an answer to the above question immediately, in the ‘here and now’ – this answer will almost certainly be somewhat different … ‘funkier’ …you might say. … I would also add here, that any retrospective account will, almost certainly, only serve to reinforce those very negative aspects of personality that actually need working on; and that the person doing this revision is therefore, as it were, merely digging themselves into a deeper pit.

The ability to be aware of oneself ‘in the moment’ is a technique that I maintain Eugene Halliday provided his own instructions for developing, particularly in his essay, ‘Reflexive Self-Consciousness’, and I will be dealing with my ‘take’ on this essay in a future post…  I would mention here though, that my understanding of ‘Reflexive Self-Consciousness’ appears to me to be completely different, in both meaning and purpose, to most of the material that I have come across from others on this particular subject,  …. Anyway, that’s for a later posting.

The idea of  ‘passive’ and an ‘active’ forms of language has been around for a very long time by the way. The art of rhetoric was known to the Ancient Greeks, with perhaps Aristotle’s view – that it was the ability to develop an affective technique in ‘persuading others’ – which is the most familiar today. … But I have to admit here that this any in-depth study of this subject might have ‘slipped under my radar’ if it hadn’t been for, what I see as, the central position given to the understanding of this technique by Eugene Halliday … and also to have been able to observe him at first-hand exercising his obvious (to me) undoubted skill in employing it.

That said, perhaps the clearest (and I have to say the ‘creepiest’) contemporary example in modern literature for me, of this attempt to develop ‘active’ and ‘passive’ forms of language, is given in George Orwell’s ‘1984’, with its ‘Big Brother’ personality cult; ‘Thoughtcrimes’; and ‘Newspeak’ (a description of which, by Orwell, is contained in the ‘appendix’ of his novel)… But researching any accounts of, for example: ‘brainwashing techniques’; ‘indoctrination’; or an understanding of the formation of cults, such as ‘Scientology’; or (from a psychological perspective) the mechanism of ‘repression’ – from the viewpoint of ‘active’ and ‘passive’ forms of language, should all provide a wealth of useful background information here, if you care to research this subject further.

By the way, just because you might be becoming more aware that ‘speech acts’ contain ideas and concepts, doesn’t necessarily mean that you will understand these ideas and concepts; any more that being aware of changes in your emotional landscape means that these changes are, say, undesirable … The intention here is just to practice being aware that attending to a ‘speech act’ means that these two components of that ‘speech act’ are now present in you.  So it’s not so much about what the ‘actual’ contents of these ‘speech acts’ are then – it’s purely about your awareness here. That is, your conscious apprehension of that fact.

Anyway … It is of course entirely up to you how much work you do with Eugene’s concepts of ‘active’ and ‘passive’ forms of language; or how you personally view any attempts you might make here….But if you would like to discuss any of your own practical experiences arising from your attempts to work in this area, I would be happy to do so on the forum section of this blog.

Finally, for this post at least…Back to ‘Yes’ and ‘No’.

From your own perspective, and where it concerns your understanding of Eugene Halliday’s concepts of the ‘passive’ and ‘active’ forms of language, what do you make of the following two video clips? … …. … I understand from someone who lived with Eugene Halliday for over 20 years, that he was in the habit of watching TV from time to time; and that he would comment on the programs in ways that would make those watching with him almost believe that they were watching something else! … Can you ‘unpack’ your experiences when watching these two clips, and offer an explanation as to what is going on that gets you past the obvious, common, interpretation(s) ..

‘Take Your Pick’ – The Yes/No Interlude

“It’s A Long Distance ….”

‘Hubble bubble, toil and trouble’

To be continued …………

Bob Hardy

September 2012

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