AFFECTEDNESS= The Centrality of ‘Heart’ in Human Existence

Scientific or academic psychology talks about ‘affect’ in a way that is wholly unsatisfactory. The assumption is made that affect — emotion, feeling, passion, and the like — is a sort of accompaniment of cognition, or even that cognition generates affect. But there is no cognition primary over, or even separate from, affect. This is a misunderstanding that goes all the way back to Plato, who makes contemplation of the other-worldly ‘higher’ than action towards the this-worldly.

The human being is an affected being, inherently, fundamentally, radically. This is the significance of the Jewish teaching, or revelation, of ‘heart’ as the centre of human existence. To say, ‘humanity is an affected creature’ is to say ‘humanity has a heart.’ It should be immediately grasped that ‘affected’ carries the implication of ‘suffering’ in the Jewish Bible, especially the Psalms of David. We don’t suffer now and then; something in our very situatedness in the world is itself, simply, a suffering. A being who is affected is a being who primarily occupies a suffering position in the world. Thus everything such a being sees, thinks, evaluates, does, on any and every level, reflects that inherent, fundamental, radical affectedness. We see, think, evaluate, act, from the heart. The heart informs every other aspect of our being, and indeed is the fulcrum of our ‘being in the world.’ For it is the heart that suffers the world as a pain in the heart, carries the world as a weight in the heart, and acts toward the world as a duty, a summons, a self-transcending love for the world.

Some spiritualities — like Plato in Greece and much of Buddhism in the Orient — believe it is possible to end the sufferingness of human existence by cutting the ‘attachment’ in passion to the world. This is supposedly achieved through the ascetic path that attains ‘dispassion.’ Biblically, this is passion purified, passion become singular rather than divided [“The pure in heart will see God”], passion restored to its enworlded calling. Thus purity is but an intensifying and renewal of passion in its attachment for the world. What remains is a true and ultimately strong passion, a deep attachment. Such is ‘love.’ But in the case of Plato and certain kinds of Oriental spirituality, we can speak of a ‘transcending’ of all passionateness as such, to escape the affected condition of being in the world. What replaces affectedness, via the transcendence of its passion, is some kind of non-enworlded contemplation, vision, mysticism.

This attempt to get rid of suffering, in its Oriental no less than its Platonic form, is neither possible nor desirable.

—it is not possible to get rid of suffering, because as an affected being, humanity’s suffering heart cannot be eliminated; in transcending it in the name of spirituality, all that happens is that its greatness and its dereliction are both equally buried, disavowed, put away. Yet it rumbles away underneath. A quietism replaces the heart’s activity and activism, but this leaves the heart unused and still aching. Even in the most transcendent states of consciousness, we hurt because we are so out of touch with that in us which hurts. The hurting part holds, as a secret, a hidden treasure, our greatest possibility, and we know that. To rise above heart, to become heartless, is to funk the human condition, but therefore also to miss the real profundity and mystery of that condition. We escape the worst but thereby lose the best of being human. Being human is wasted.

—thus it is not desirable to get rid of suffering, because as an affected being, a great price is paid in loss of humanity when we eliminate the passion that suffers existence like a wound. Far from creating the ‘expansion’ this way of spirituality claims, it creates only a diminishing of the human being. The ‘heart’ disappears.

If Orientalising spirituality shelves the heart, so too does the modern West. The latter jettisons heart, by putting the ego in its place. This ego, operating through will-power, and the intellectual mind, abstracts away from experience on the ground, in the concrete, to try to gain a conceptual mastery over the world, from which it becomes feasible to impose a 1-way instrumentality of control upon the world. There is nothing of heart in this.

Both these stances of mind abstracting away from heart are seeking ‘salvation by de-situation.’ But as Martin Buber asserts, it is no part of man’s spiritual possibility to seek to become de-situated. De-situatedness is a false paradise.

Thus, both these moves, the Platonic/Oriental and the modern Western/scientific-technological, are ultimately similar. Both use mind to try to get out of, and climb up above, the human heart; and both use mind to try to shut off the heart’s cry, from the place where it really lives.

This is our affectedness= we are affected by what we are bound up with. We are bound up with existential exactions, death haunting life, futility haunting purpose, absurdity haunting value, and every other fate to which we are subject, which includes risk, hardship, loss, cost. We are bound up with other people, the collective life in culture and society, and the historical struggle of all mankind, and the very outcome that befalls the earth.

A computer is, whatever its ontological status, not an affected being. Spirits or angels are harder to describe= perhaps with them, it is a different way of being affected. Animals are affected beings, but their affectedness lacks certain key properties of ours, because we know, we are conscious of, our suffering position. Some animals are, like us, self-conscious. This is not existential awareness. We realise we have a heart. God created our heart to contain not just the suffering of other beings and creatures and things, but God’s suffering for them and for each of us. The doctrine of God as ‘impassible’ is misleading. God qua God is beyond everything, beyond being and non being, beyond doing and non-doing. None the less God in relation to humanity is an affected being. God opened a wound in himself, when he created us; then he opened that same wound in us, to ground us in the true meaning, and purpose, of our affectedness.

Hence an affected being is marked by 6 realities that do not pertain to a being inherently, fundamentally, radically, unaffected.

[1] Affectedness means we are placed in a ‘situation’, and have to undergo it and go through it= we ‘experience’ what it is like to be in the position we are in. The situation affects us, because we are connected to it in a way that alters all we are and all we do. We have no ultimate independence from it, even if we need not be so fused with it as to be dependent on it. We are inter-dependent. We are in dialogue with it.

[2] Affectedness means we are ‘personally’ in this situation= it impacts on each of us uniquely, and only each person can be in their own allotted share, or portion, of the fate that affects all persons. We can stand together, and help each other bear and endure the situatedness, and the fatedness, that befalls all, but no one can literally stand in for someone else. Each of us ‘gotta go through that lonesome valley’ by themself.

[3] Affectedness means we are not distant from, or standing outside, the situation and fate that affects us, but immersed in it, and involved with it. We are not an observer, a spectator of something from some safe position outside it, but a ‘participant’, a suffering agent thrown in at the deep end. ‘To suffer it’ means ‘to accept it.’

[4] Affectedness means we are not neutral and disinterested, but that we care. What happens affects me, thus I have an interest in it, a stake in it, I am concerned, and thus I have a motive toward it. Aristotle, in his Poetics, says that in tragic drama the audience witnesses the suffering protagonist, and is moved to pity and fear. We pity the hero, in an act of empathy that allows us to see and think straight in regard to what is most valuable about the human heart and what is most at risk for the human heart in existence. And we fear for the hero, because we also are moved by what the heart can lose and what the heart can be damaged by in existence. Watching such drama makes us aware what our own heart is up against. We are deeply moved when we witness another heart being exposed, and its greatest destiny being derailed by fate as much as by its own flaws. This is our tragedy too. Yet tragic drama creates in the audience, says Aristotle, not despair but some strange wonderment, a kind of crying of heart that releases hope. The Cross of Christ demonstrates, it is only when we human beings are in touch with our real tragedy, at depth, that we sense the possibility and reality of Redemption, not just for any individual or small group, but for all.

[5] Affectedness means we have at our disposal, like the sensitive arms sent out by certain creatures, a number of different dialogical, communicational, trans-actional channels. These refer to the senses, feeling, imagination, intuition, desire and passion. Each of these sensitive and intelligent ‘feelers’, and all working together, constitute a way in which the world where we live and act reaches us and we reach the world. Purifying and constantly revivifying these channels is necessary if affectedness is not to be derailed by [a] mere emotionality [hot or sentimental] or [b] mere intellectualism or rationalism, or [c] spiritual depersonalism and escape masquerading as transcendence.

[6] Everything good, creative, loving, intelligent, we do to affect the world is only possible if we take the world’s hit.

Thus, humanity’s affectedness is to be understood through those traditions which place the ‘heart’ in the centre of human existence. Tribal peoples were amazed, and thrown, by white people because they rapidly realised that whites think with the mind. Tribal peoples think with the heart. This is what the Bible calls “pondering in the heart”, and that means thinking from the place where existence really impinges, and where we must reply, for life and death, for good or ill, for meaning or futility, for value or absurdity. This is the place from which we really act. This is the place where we really live.

Passion is forged in the furnace of the human heart.

Thus to be ‘impassible’ is the lie of lies for the heart. The heart’s passion is not only its energy, its stretching forth, in the child’s innocent enthusiasm, or in the adult’s standing in adversity, or the saint’s fervent zeal, but it is its ‘passibility.’ The heart is in a passible position, entirely given up and entirely given over to the passible. The heart takes the passible on as a wound and a burden, and passes through it, to the other shore. What is passing is what can turn out either for ultimate redemption or ultimate hell, and the passibility of our human condition is that it is really risked by God, it can really go either way, there is no guarantee which way it will turn out. This is what most affects us and what we are most paralysed by and most roused to heroism by, when we use the heart to plunge in and plumb the depth of the danger and the opportunity that is its existence in this world.

Only from within the passible is the victory won, by passion.

This victory is what the heart cries for= this is the prayer of the heart, the prayer of silence, the prayer inarticulate, unspeakable, because it is beyond all desperation and beyond all hope. We still pray, we still cry to God, but we have individually and collectively put down the wound and the burden God placed on the human heart’s passion, out of his divine passion. And this is the wound and burden Christ picked up, and took on, and saw through to the end, paying its existential cost, paying its moral cost, to show that the deep heart passion can come through. He did it so we can, in him, also do it.

This is God’s doing. It is also humanity’s doing. In passion is the victory of both.