Wednesday, February 29, 2012


       "Incidentally, there are people who seem completely staggered when one talks about nonverbal referential processes – that is, wordless thinking; these people simply seem to have no ability to grasp the idea that a great deal of covert living – living that is not objectively observable, but only inferable – can go on without the use of words.  The brute fact is, as I see it, that most of living goes on that way.  That does not in any sense reduce the enormous importance of the communicative tools – words and gestures." 

Harry Stack Sullivan – 

The Interpersonal Theory of Psychiatry, New York, Norton, 1953 

 *Paintings by Jean-Baptiste Simeon Chardin.  Upper:  Girl With Racket and Shuttlecock, 1737, Uffizi Gallery, Florence; Lower: The House of Cards, 1736-7, National Gallery, London.

** This post is dedicated to “half-Leapling” and badminton artist Jane Butler Roberts on her fourth half-birthday, 2-29-12.   It may be a matter of pure coincidence that Jane taught her parents, who were never great silent movie fans, to appreciate Charlie Chaplin’s early artistry when she was very young and still nonverbal.   In the nicest possible way, Jane still renders me speechless most of the time.


  1. No doubt at all that lots of thinking goes on without words. What would the nonverbal arts be for if this weren't true? Don't know why he says this part of life is "not objectively observable but only inferable", though -- I can see those paintings fine! Sounds like even Dr. Sullivan may not have slipped the grip of verbocentrism.

    Hpy Brha, Jane!

  2. I really love the Sullivan quote, which I came across reading a book called Nonverbal Communication, which was written by a psychiatrist named Ruesch along with the poet Weldon Kees and contains some remarkable Kees photos illustrating its points. Since blog materials are limited to words, pictures and sounds, it's hard to capture the "not objectively observable" aspect of his statement, but I know what he means. This meant something extra to me because I had been trying to recall Harry Stack Sullivan's name for a long time. He was someone Peter Rothwell spent a lot of time studying while he was at Swarthmore. Sullivan was much better known in the past than he is now, but his life and career make for interesting reading. When I delved into it, I felt I finally discerned some things about Rocky that I hadn't understood previously. Will explain anon. Am currently at a CLE seminar (in the waiting area; they're setting up) in Philly. Cold rain falling. Lunch is being served. It's a kind of interesting topic. As Con Ed used to say, "dig we must." Curtis

  3. I haven't read anything by H.S.S, but I keep running into his name. I should read something instead of casting casual aspersions. But phrases like "not objectively observable" always raise my post-philosophical antennae.

  4. You don't live with enough cats, dogs, birds, fish and ghosts, that's what I'm thinking. Rocky concentrated on Sullivan. He never claimed he was the be-all and end-all, but Sullivan was a point of vital interest to him. I tried to learn why, but as we all did, I suppose, I didn't listen attentively enough to what he was saying, so I probably didn't understand what I did hear and forgot the rest. Anyway, reading what I read I think I understand Rocky better. Jane's a terrfic badminton player. She wants to go to the Olympics. I told her ok, but she needs to dress like the girl in the painting. Curtis

  5. I love the expression "covert living," by the way. GREAT CLE, surprisingly. And the potato chips served were top-notch. Curtis

  6. On my tablet, for some unknown reason, the background was white, hence my FB comment. I was taken by the phrase "covert living". Most of our experience is covert, I think. Unfortunately, so many tend to dismiss or ignore the covert internal life, or worse yet, try to discard it. I generally try to infer and respect what wordless thoughts are churning in someone else's mind. Unfortunately, it takes most of my energy to pay attention to my own.

    A lovely birthday dedication. Happy Birthday to your Jane!

  7. Actually, it comes up in white on my iPhone in one mode. I think it looks great that way. Since I decided not to use Weldon Kees photos to illustrate this, I thought Chardin -- painter of silence -- was the only way to go. The quotation resonates with me for the same reasons it does with you. Jane spoke late. She only heard Chinese until age 1 and then only English and Portuguese, which both eventually streamed out of her in torrents. Along the way, we went through our silent movie phase, which involved new, amazing and unexpected patterns in communicating. We love the ancient game of badminton around here. Off to a half-birthday dinner shortly. Thanks for liking this. Curtis