High horse, part I (L:HtR/UtW)

Screen Shot 2020-03-18 at 10.18.53 AMWritten for lovers of literature interested in self-actualization, Literature: How to Read and Understand the World teaches readers how to derive principles of wisdom from literature and apply them to their lives. The book achieves this through a series of five essential steps, including identifying with literary characters, aggregating principles of wisdom from their experience, and applying those principles to readers’ lives. Along the way, the author reveals his own transformation through this process. Literature: How to Read and Understand the World will help you to enrich your life and world!

Over the next several months, I will be releasing excerpts from the book along with questions to keep readers thinking after reading the posts. If you are intrigued by what you read, please share with a friend!

To begin the High Horse process, the first step is to recognize that you might be on your High Horse. By High Horse I mean you are straining to revert to the Balcony, since you realize how far onto the field your character identifications have placed you and are wanting to return. A High Horse moment can be thought of in this way: we pretend not to know how to do anything, but it’s because we fear the responsibility that would come with admitting we do, in fact, know a great many things. In this respect, a High Horse moment represents a kind of egotism, but an egotism inverted: it is the egotism that pretends not to know for the purposes of avoiding responsibility.

Ways to notice you’re on your High Horse include the following:

  1. You feel compelled to look back at your writing in your character identifications rather than move forward to the next stage in our process, Psychic Mapping. What this usually means is simply that you feel vulnerable, exposed as having expressed yourself in a foreign way and wanting to retreat to the known. I deal with this feeling regularly while writing this book: after writing a section, I feel an almost constant drive to return to and tear it apart, yet recognize that this is only my fear of vulnerability and that I must wait until my next writing session to reopen my writing.
  2. If you do look back at your character identifications in order to analyze their placement on the spectrum from “rightness” to “wrongness,” what you’re likely to find is the following:
    1. They in some way superimpose your perspective onto that of the character, in any way ranging from an “I” that might plausibly refer to either you or the character, to outright inclusion of your own name. For instance, when I first tried to write a character identification on Gatsby from The Great Gatsby, my mind rebelled and I wrote character identifications that were really expositions of the reasons why I, as Jackson, didn’t want to identify with Gatsby, fearing what it would mean about me if I did. As such, these character identifications were evidence of a High Horse moment.
    2. The character identifications seem to have been written quickly, which might entail sloppy spelling, grammar, or a base sense of superficiality. For example, in the above-noted character identification on Gatsby, no matter the length at which I wrote, the character identification seemed rushed and panicky; it seemed like I was trying to get it out it as quickly as possible rather than drop into my gut and really feel it.
    3. If you are featured in the text, you might find judgements of yourself; for instance, in my character identification with Gatsby I branded myself, Jackson, as “panicky,” “melodramatic,” and “self-absorbed”—never mind that adjectives about me had no such place to begin with in a character identification. While these extremes of self-judgement may at first seem evidence that we are transcending ourselves in order to enter the characters, in fact this is only another testament to ego and as such to a High Horse moment: what self-judgement really seeks to imply is a higher moral standard for ourselves than for others, a discrepancy which at once places us on our High Horses or even back on the Balcony itself.

Again, this is step one: it is recognizing you are on your High Horse either while writing your character identifications or in the period between writing them and completing the Psychic Mapping exercise to come. Without making this recognition, no matter what you do, you will only perpetuate your station on the High Horse: every further writing you do will come from this place, and as such it will be lacking in vulnerability; therefore, you will be moving forward but only in name, as if to prove something about yourself rather than to find out about the characters or, in the next step, to discover the wisdom they hold. This process of reading literature requires a pure commitment to discovery about ourselves and the characters at each phase: there can be no ulterior motives in order for the process to work.

Do you have methods of checking in with yourself to determine your own sincerity about processes? If so, what does it feel like when you are doing things “correctly”? What does it feel like when you are doing them “incorrectly”? Is this even a useful distinction? How else can we talk about that special feeling of “rightness” that comes from being “on our paths”? For more on these topics, please follow my blog or grab a copy of the book for yourself.

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