Thursday 12 January 2012

Language and cold symptoms

I’ve spent the last three days not just working from home but from bed, laptop nestling in a growing mountain of tissues, mug of lemsip in hand, and angry and apparently underfed cats shouting from the doorway. A cold, in other words. I wonder whether there’s any truth in the idea that if one can be ill for a few days, after a period when it would have been very difficult to be, then one is more likely to be so. The only upside of still feeling lousy on, unusually, a third day is that – irrationally perhaps – this suggests to me a thorough biological underpinning (even if psychological factors helped let it in).

Again however, it’s the relationship of such an ordinary experience to something quite bizarre which strikes me and yet, even so close up, it seems to resist capture. What I mean is the way the dysfunctioning of a cold upsets the relationship of language and experience.

So I am not particularly surprised by the ‘content’ of what is always for me the primary symptom: a feeling that I need to be in horizontal, to be in bed. What might have been surprising is that that seems to be a primitive content. It’s not, eg., that a feeling of dizziness (no doubt the result of blocked sinuses) leads to an inference that it would be wise to lie down. Rather, there’s a kind of direct normative demand in the feeling itself. But that seems to be language clothing experience in the way we expect.

What is odd is the way that lying down and trying to sleep I have experiences which seem to last, stably, for some considerable time and yet be a bit bizarre. Last night, for example, I became convinced that getting to sleep was a kind of practical project, an action which involved subsidiary elements. Further, I interpreted these through the metaphor of the need to shut down complex machinery. Whilst at the same time realising that this was nonsense, the thought that levers had to be moved and valves shut floated around my mind, stopping, so it also seemed, me actually falling asleep.

But I didn’t really think that to sleep required turning something off. It wasn’t that false belief. Nor was it the mad parade of imagery of a dream. Nor a fleeting fancy. For what seemed an hour I had an experience I want (and wanted, I think) to put in those words whilst also thinking them unsatisfactory. That was just one bit of the typical experience of a cold. (And why one can spend three days in bed and still feel unrested.) Given my wakeful thoughts about the relationship of experience and language, I’m not sure what to make of this.