Of the Infirmness of My Soul

An introductory aside before I write further on this matter concerning the difference between “soul” and “mind.” There is, I think, a bit of a peculiarity concerning these words. Etymologically, the Greek term for the “soul” is the psyche, a word which, in modern English parlance, has New Age and hippie connotations to it. I can imagine a New Wave yokel saying that a suit’s “like, harshing his mellow, destabilizing his psyche, man,” but I can’t imagine a therapist using the term. Oddly enough, we see the same word used in “psychological” and its on similar grounds that the psychologists of the early 1900s referred to themselves as such, psychologists, those studying the “psychic” aspects of the self, though this word now carries connotations of divination and mind-reading. Yet, “soul” now bears its own connotations distinct both from “psyche,” “psychic,” and “mind,” connotations which are altogether distinct from the way the Greeks would’ve understood the “psyche” and the Latins would’ve understood the “anima.” In both cases, the soul was understood as the animating conscious principle underscoring our experiences and our existence, as was the case as regards the marriage of Psyche and Cupid (the muses’ involvement in Psyche’s marriage specifically, see Martianus Capella), Plato’s notion of “psyche” (especially in the Phaedrus and the Symposium), and Aristotle’s “psyche” in the “De Anima,” an initial text on what translators aptly term “psychology.” In all such cases, the “soul” was understood to constitute what we now term “mind,” whereas “nous” in the Greek constituted “intellect,” a term which we today use only when we want to emphasize the specifically intelligent aspect of “mind.” The difference here is an odd one. Today, “soul” bears religious connotations, whereas “mind” bears scientific ones.

The “soul” nowadays is assumed to be some kind of entity, some incorporeal actuality and, likewise, to deny the presence of the soul is to deny some incorporeal aspect of the self. Surely no one denies the mind, for the mind is a real aspect of the self whose metaphysics need not be reduced to “corporeality” or “incorporeality.” Most of us do not reduce “mind” to such a dichotomy – it simply is that ineffable aspect of the self which is evident, flatly, just-so. Such was the case for Aristotle, ontological obscurities concerning “form” notwithstanding. But there is, in the Greek lexicon, a connotation attached to the psyche which we lose in the modern rendering of mind. Indeed, the psyche for the Greeks was a deified entity; this was, however, not in any literal sense but in an allegorical one. Such was the case for Muses, Rumor, Fates, Furies, and numerous other ineffable aspects of our condition – where they could not be totally understood, they were personified. The implication herein, beginning with Hesiod, was that such aspects of life were explicitly ineffable. That is, they could not be understood nor will they ever be. Human emotion, feeling, and living was not a thing to probe with statistics and a needle, but something to make conscious through beautiful poetry and prose.

In this way, that thing which both the soul and the mind refer to, whatever it is, for the ancient greeks had a part to play in the ineffable, in the omnipresent, in the infinitely actual and Natural. We, as living beings bearing matters beyond our control, were understood to be part of a world beyond our grasp and that that was not only okay, it was good. There is involved in soul, then, a non-agency. That is, there is understood in “self” as such a notion of the participation we all play in whatever it is that existence is – we are not completely in control. All of this is lost in “mind.” “Mind” has connotations of technicality, of scientific probing, of Freudian analysis, in essence, of something we have subdued and brought under our control. To say a man’s “lost his mind” is far more damning than to say he’s “lost his soul.” The latter, at least to me, is loftier and, perhaps, further removed from reality.

Thus, it is not my mind which feels infirm, but my soul. And here I do not mean the modern pseudo-Christian understanding of the soul but, rather, this Greco-Roman understanding which allows it the same referent as “mind.” But I want to say it in a manner that does not lead to the connotations of a lost or infirm mind, as though I’ve lost control of myself as a conscious knower. No, it is my soul, explicitly as concerns myself insofar as it bears emotions, passions which are due to the workings of the world as opposed to me as a conscious agent. Herein the infirmness of my soul is what I can only envision to be like an ivy growth, what Hannah Arendt terms of society “an unnatural growth of the natural.” The feelings of worry, of melancholy, of head pressure – all of these matters are not ones which make me feel as though I’ve lost my mind. No, they make me feel as though I’ve got a disordered soul, to use the Platonic terminology.

It is as though some bit of it were inflamed, as a muscle or organ becomes inflamed. I am wholly aware of my surroundings, of the missteps in my thought and, yet, I am not wholly aware. There is an infrastructural aspect of me which is unruly and acting of its own accord, as though something were amiss with it. It is like the bridge which supports my being has some bits missing and, try as my body might, its somatic messengers cannot repair it fast enough. Thus, as trains of thought speed down the tracks on that bridge, there is a rumble and a tumble, a nick and a snag on which the wheels get caught. Here the train must chug fast despite the shakiness of the thing, the locomotive gummed up by liquidity of an unfit structure, it failing due to the pressure it puts on the whole. In this way, there is something beneath this whole constituting “me” which seems awry, something in the soul as opposed to the mind. For, if my mind were awry, I would not be able to remember facts with such precision, nor would I be able to articulate myself with such lucidity. No, some oil’s gotten into a boiling pot of water and created a duality of substance where once was unity. A toxin has somewhere made its way into my soul and poisoned it, destabilized it, and rotted the beams of the bridge. Something inside of me is fighting for solidity against a power of disease which is crippling it.

For, even now when I’ve been on antidepressants for a long while, my soul waxes and wanes, ebbs and flows. At the moment it stands over me like an oppressive weight, an image I’ve used oft-before. Yet, just days ago this was not so, and my feelings were nowhere near as hardened and tiresome as they presently are. That this kind of emotional discontinuity, flexibility, malleability, is persisting so often bothers me. Not horribly so, of course, but enough that I’ve felt I had to write about it.

According to bloodwork ordered by my neurologist I may have some sort of autoimmune disorder – I’ve got to wait until the Coronavirus is no longer a public issue until I can make an appointment with a rheumatologist to get further work done. Whatever the case may be, these antidepressants sure aren’t dealing with it totally, nor is my headache medication. I remain steadfast in the conviction that there is some underlying malady maliciously ordering malfeasance inside of me. (Not with any agency, of course, I just liked the “mal” alliteration). Hopefully it’ll get taken care of soon.