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Being a Description of the World

By Eli Siegel


Classification is the affirmation of a sameness in some things, and the giving of a name or a description to these things having the sameness.

         Mind works in terms of sameness and difference; and this includes the "unconscious" or instinctive mind. From a certain point of view, mind is always classifying. Every word is a classification. The word water includes every instance of water, and the word is that which shows, or is taken to show, that all instances of water have something in common. The word red, as a second example, is also a classification; for this word affirms what is common in all instances of red.

        Classification can be unconscious. We can think of five people as alike because they have a certain kind of mustache. The "affirmation" is a structure in our minds.

        Classification can be from many starting points. A pen, a pencil, a knife, a sword, a pin, an icicle, a comb, a spike, a nail, a nose, can be classified under the head of Pointed; and our minds have already done this.

        For as things reach our minds, they are grouped. We see similarities before we can affirm them in words. The affirmation is a structure we may not be aware of.

        Under the head of Feared, may be many things, which exist under the unconscious Feared heading, but which we have never tabulated or classified as such. But the fear which they have in common for our minds is already a classification. An emotion is a classification. If four hundred things have irked us, they are in our minds under the heading Irking. If nine hundred and forty things have puzzled us, they are in our minds under the heading Puzzling; and the unconscious heading is ready to include more instances.

        There is classification, then, all through our minds. There is also merging and separation, joining and distinguishing.

        At any moment in a person's life, all his feelings are in his mind. They are either there higgledy-piggledy, in a line, or whirling around; or they have some structure. What is the structure? What happens to a new feeling when it reaches a person's mind, who already has had ever so many feelings? And why does this happen? What is the arranging or disarranging, classifying or separating procedure of the mind?

        When a child says, at the age of five, of a tomato, that it is good, after having said that chocolate was good, and ice cream, and a kiss, and bread and butter, and chewing gum, and bed—he has a classification Good which now includes the tomato.

        Classification, completely regarded, includes pleasure and pain states and knowing and not knowing states. We can—each one of us—classify what we don't know. We can classify all the incidents in our lives. We can classify our faintest feelings. —Under the head of Felt Faintly, we could place a certain city in China, a certain great-aunt in Chillicothe, Ohio, certain aspects of ordinary breakfasts, various statistics, certain subway impressions, effects of certain textures, various unclear remembrances, and so on.

        As soon as a feeling of a certain kind becomes ours, it is placed in some way with other feelings akin to it. This is a kind of unconscious classification. The relationship of this unspoken classification—but organically affirmed—to formally logical classifications, should be seen definitely.

        If we classify certain books under The Historical Novel, or certain living beings under Mollusca, or certain rocks under Igneous, or certain children under Subnormal, or certain musical compositions under Sonatas, or certain paintings under Primitive, or certain mental procedures under Inferences—we are finding a common thing among or existing in some things; and placing those things under the name or description of that common thing. This mental act which is an important phase of conscious thought, or reason, is like what goes on unconsciously when a kinship is felt among the light fall of snow and the light touch of a finger on a finger and the fall of tissue paper; or when a kinship is felt among the prick of a pin, a sudden harsh word, and a sudden regret; or the emptiness of a desert, and the sudden departure of people we care for, and the feeling of unimportance and depression we may get otherwise. Unconscious groupings of course can be made of more than three inward situations. However, when we find a likeness among even three feelings, there is a similarity here to when we find a likeness among thousands and thousands of flowers, insects, minerals.


© 1945 by Eli Siegel

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