The Argonauts

by Maggie Nelson

Perhaps this is why psychologist D.W. Winnicott’s notion of “feeling real” is so moving to me. One can aspire to feel real, one can help others to feel real, and one can oneself feel real- a feeling Winnicott describes as the collected, primary sensation of aliveness, “The aliveness of the body tissues and working of body-fuctions, including the heart’s action and breathing,” which makes spontaneous gesture possible.

For Winnicott, feeling real is not reactive to external stimuli, nor is it an identity. It is a sensation – a sensation that spreads. Among other things, it makes one want to live.

Before long I learned that you had spent a lifetime equally devoted to the conviction that words are not good enough. Not only not good enough, but corrosive to all that is good, all that is real, all that is flow.

Once we name something, you said, we can never see it the same way again. All that is unnameable falls away, gets lost, is murdered.

I insisted that words did more than nominate.

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