A bit more on the theme I was addressing yesterday.

Getting lost and finding our way back is something we do every day. It is how we come to know the world: he have ideas about it, we act on those ideas, and the world — in all its stubborn materiality — lets us act or doesn’t. When the world doesn’t bend to our will, we have to reassess our understanding of it. We are lost, metaphorically.

I watch this all the time with my children. My son is one, and he’s trying to figure out how the world works. It’s a question of mechanics — if I push here, he seems to ask, what happens? Frequently he wants something — a toy, his milk cup, whatever his sister is playing with — and his efforts to get it fail. He gets angry. (And bites things — tables, himself, his mother, anything close to his mouth.) He is confused and frustrated. More to the point, he’s lost, at least for the moment — his map of the world has failed him.

So what does he do? He tries something new. He may make the same mistake twice, but usually not three times. He finds his way back by remapping the world. Of course, his new map is faulty, too, even if it’s refined. It’s better than before.

But let’s be clear: we all have faulty maps. We’ve just had more time to refine them. And that feeling of confusion is disorienting. We lose our bearings and, in extreme cases, become driftless.*

When we feel this confusion, we might be to dig in our heals and hold stubbornly to what we think we know. (My son is doing this when he bites the table in frustration.) Or — and this is the key to the value of engaging with theory — we might recognize that in losing our bearings, we can also lose restrictions that we have imposed upon ourselves (or that we have internalized) about how the world should work. We can refine our map of the world in a radical way. That’s what I mean by “the potential for a dizzyingly free range of movement” in my last post. Liberating and scary are two sides of the same coin.

* The link is to the only video I could find of Greg Brown singing “Driftless.” It’s a great song, but not a great recording. I also recommend his song “Two Little Feet” as an antidote, if you find “Driftless” leaves you feeling too exposed. You can find different versions on YouTube.