The puzzling way that writing heals the body


In 1986 the psychology professor James Pennebaker discovered something extraordinary, something which would inspire a generation of researchers to conduct several hundred studies. He asked students to spend 15 minutes writing about the biggest trauma of their lives or, if they hadn’t experienced a trauma, their most difficult time.

They were told to let go and to include their deepest thoughts, even if they had never shared these thoughts before. Four days running they did the same thing. It wasn’t easy. Pennebaker told me that roughly one in 20 students would end up crying, but when asked whether they wanted to continue they always did. Meanwhile a control group spent the same number of sessions writing a description of something neutral such a tree or their dorm room.

Studies have shown expressive writing can reduce the amount of times people visit the doctor (Credit: iStock)

Then he waited for six months while monitoring how often the students visited the health centre. The day he saw the results, he left the lab, walked to his friend who was waiting for him in a car and told him he’d found something big. Remarkably, the students who had written about their secret feelings had made significantly fewer trips to the doctor in the subsequent months.

Ever since, the field psychoneuroimmunology has been exploring the link between what’s now known as expressive writing, and the functioning of the immune system. The studies that followed examined the effect of expressive writing on everything from asthma and arthritis to breast cancer and migraines. In a small study conducted in Kansas, for example, it was found that women with breast cancer experienced fewer troublesome symptoms and went for fewer cancer-related appointments in the months after doing expressive writing.

There is one area where the findings are more consistent and that is in the healing of wounds

The aim of the study wasn’t to look at long-term cancer prognosis, and the authors are not suggesting the cancer would be affected. But in the short-term other aspects of the women’s health did seem better than for those in the control group who wrote about the facts surrounding their cancer rather than their feelings about it.

But it doesn’t always work. A meta-analysis by Joanne Fratarolli from the University of California Riverside does demonstrate an effect overall, but a small one. Nevertheless, for an intervention that is free and beneficial, that’s a benefit worth having. Some studies have had disappointing results, but there is one area where the findings are more consistent and that is in the healing of wounds.

In these studies brave volunteers typically do some expressive writing, then some days later they are given a local anaesthetic and then a punch biopsy at the top of their inner arm. The wound is typically 4mm across and heals within a couple of weeks. This healing is monitored and again and again, and it happens faster if people have spent time beforehand writing down their secret thoughts.

Simply imagining a traumatic event and writing a story about it could have health benefits (Credit: iStock)

What does the act of committing words to paper do? Initially it was assumed this simply happened through catharsis, that people felt better because they’d let out their pent-up feelings. But then Pennebaker began looking in detail at the language people used in their writing.

He found that the types of words people used changed over the course of the four sessions. Those whose wounds healed the fastest began by using the word “I” a lot, but in later sessions moved on to saying “he” or “she” more often, suggesting they were looking at the event from other perspectives. They also used words like “because”, implying they were making sense of the events and putting them into a narrative. So Pennebaker believes that the simple act of labelling your feelings and putting them into a story is somehow affecting the immune system.

But there is a curious finding which suggests something else might be going on. Simply imagining a traumatic event and writing a story about it also makes wounds heal faster, so perhaps it’s less to do with resolving past issues and more to do with finding a way of regulating your own emotions that makes a difference.

After the first day of writing most people say that churning up the past has made them feel worse. Does the stress cause people to release stress hormones such as cortisol, which are beneficial in the short-term and could enhance the immune system? Or is it the improvement in mood after several days of writing that brings the benefits for immunity? So far, no one knows.

Whatever the mechanism, despite several decades of research showing it works, it’s rarely used clinically. You could imagine a situation where people booked in for surgery are given expressive writing instructions in the preceding weeks, but very few studies have used clinical populations with real, surgical wounds, rather than giving healthy students artificially-induced wounds. Also, it works better for some people than others, all depending on how well they engage with the process. What’s more, the effect is short-lived, so you’d have to get the timing just right. Writing about your feelings doesn’t boost your immune system for life. If the same people are wounded again a few months after an initial study, they don’t heal any faster than anyone else.

But now new research from New Zealand suggests it’s not essential to do the writing before you are wounded. It can work just as well if you do the writing afterwards. This opens up the possibility of using expressive writing not just when surgery is planned, but for real-life injuries which of course we can’t predict. Kavita Vedhara from the University of Nottingham and her team in New Zealand took 120 healthy volunteers, and made them write about either a distressing event or how they spent the previous day. They did this either before or after a punch biopsy on their upper arm. The people from the expressive writing group were six times more likely to have a wound that had healed within 10 days than the people in the control group.

We’d need to have more studies conducted with real life patients, but maybe one day when we’ve had an operation, we might be told to go home with instructions on expressive writing. As Kavita Vedhara told me in the BBC’s Health Check, the effect is “short-lived, but powerful”.


published on http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20170601-can-writing-about-pain-make-you-heal-faster?ocid=aofut&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_medium=atlas-page


Explaining Narcissism

Let’s start with babies. Infants and very young children can be said to operate quite naturally from a narcissistic point of view. They are completely self-absorbed, crave attention, and act as if the whole world should respond to their every need and demand and in this way they do get their needs met as they should. We could say they are totally self-centered and are unable to distinguish themselves from everything else they encounter. The whole world exists just to be put into their mouths. This type of narcissism is completely normal for an infant and small children because it is geared for their own survival and that is the key difference between a child and an adult. We think it is normal for an infant to be totally demanding and self centered but when we see this behavior in an adult it makes us uncomfortable and we think it is inappropriate and even weird.

Most of us do not realize that when we see narcissism in an adult we are actually looking at one of the main characteristics of soul age. We think that if a person has an adult body they must be mature but of course this is not the case at all. At this time fifty percent of the world population is in one of the three younger stages of development, infant, toddler, and child stages. People in any of these stages are going to exhibit some forms of narcissism. Why? Because they are not yet adults no matter what their biological age is. Psychologically they are exhibiting the dynamics of a small child. Me and not me, me and other me’s, and me and you and I win. In these three stages of human evolution there is no access to an internal life. There is virtually no insight, there is no actual relating to another person as an equal because they are simply not capable of putting their feet in another’s shoes.

However if you look around the world at how many adults treat each other you will clearly see that they are similar to four year olds. They can say all the right things but then hack other people to death, incinerate them, blow them apart, behead them, be completely oblivious to their suffering and so on.

When you see narcissism in an adult you are a looking at some version of a younger soul. So let us look at narcissism a little more.

Narcissism may show up in a variety of ways in an adult. Generally you might find yourself thinking that they are self-centered, selfish, egotistical, vain, arrogant, or conceited. You may also notice that they seem to have little or no compassion for other people less fortunate even though they spout politically correct phrases to the contrary.  They have no compunction about owning a huge opulent house or castle even though the townspeople are poor and scrabbling for a living.


The fakeness of the Macron candidacy, a democratic imposture…


I’m going to be very clear…” Probably ignorant of the basic logics of the symptom, Emmanuel Macron seems unable to see how this repetitive way of starting each of his answers betrays the deep desire to cover things up — or rather, to recover them — that animates his whole campaign. “Keep on bathing between vagueness and nothingness” — that is what we should take from each of his promises of clarity. In his defence, we will admit that deferring to the obligation to speak when one’s intention is to say nothing at all is one of the curses of this “democracy” that we have still found no satisfactory antidote for. Some will object that most of the candidates end up accommodating to this long and difficult moment — a moment one simply has to go through — and that the campaign-season fib is a well-established genre which should no longer be able to surprise anyone. For Macron, however, the problem takes on unprecedented proportions: not just a matter of slipping across a couple of whoppers, even of the calibre of “my enemy is finance” [as François Hollande claimed before his election in 2012]: rather, his entire campaign, and even his very persona as a candidate, constitute an essentially fraudulent enterprise.

The end of an era

Without doubt, a whole era speaks through this candidate who does not want to speak — and for this same reason feels obliged constantly to warn us that he is “going to be clear.” At a very general level, one of the traits of key events like presidential elections is that they express their conjuncture. Yet evidently this is a special conjuncture: it has the sense of an ending. We know that an era enters into its terminal phase when all the regulation mechanisms ensuring it some minimal viability collapse: as if exasperated, its most scandalous defects go off the handle, finally freed of any bounds of decency; its fault lines can no longer be accommodated by the established institutions, and with the tectonic faults set off again, the plates are starting to move. On the one hand is François Fillon, who saw nothing to stop him coming out as a sociopath. In his utter aloofness leaping across all and any boundaries to the obscenity of the wealthy, he is now nothing more than a living insult to society. On the other hand, we have the dislocation of the Socialist Party (PS) now that it is no longer possible to mask how far this nominally left-wing formation has slumped to the Right — in the image of [former Socialist prime minister] Manuel Valls, who, we now learn, is unashamedly considering “compromises with the parliamentary Right” should Fillon win the presidency, or Pierre Bergé, a shareholder in the “left-wing press,” who like the Tea Party with Obama is now certain that [Socialist candidate] Benoît Hamon is a “communist.”

But the final torments of a dying era that does not want to die are best expressed in Emmanuel Macron’s candidacy. Indeed, it was certain that a moribund world that is still very determined not to give up anything would end up finding an appropriate candidate, the individual capable of all the ambivalences required by the special situation. That is, a candidate capable of speaking and saying nothing, saying nothing but constantly thinking about “it,” being at the same time utterly empty and dangerously charged with content.

Empty or full?

It is true that we are first of all struck by this dizzying feeling of the inner void, which the candidate should give up on pathetically trying to fill either by taking on annoying Christ-like postures. Playing at being full of substance when he is in fact empty, or inspired when he in fact he comes from the ENA [prestigious school for future government personnel] counts among these terribly embarrassing spectacles. So too, in a more profane register, when he recites (wrongly) lines from [hip hop band] IAM to make himself look young, invokes [‘60s comedy film] Les Tontons flingueurs to seem down to earth, or plays at being a philosopher in order to seem intellectual. Why impose all this ridicule on himself, why take on all this trouble, when his smiling vacuity can in any case serve as the ideal surface for the projection of all the fantasies of his followers, the start-up-ers awaiting a manager for the start-up France, before they in turn can become the Mark Zuckerbergs of tomorrow.

But with Macron the void is not in contradiction with fullness of content, even if at the present moment when he does have to show something to the outside world, the void is greatly preferable. For the substance is the oligarchy’s: this is the fullness of a class’s project to persevere, in the very moment that everything condemns it, testimony to an era that has perceptibly reached its tipping point. In these conditions, for the oligarchic substance to maintain itself in the face of — and against — everything else, it needed an empty candidate, a candidate who said nothing, for what truly had to be said would be too obscene to present openly: the rich want to remain rich, and the powerful to remain powerful. That is this class’s only project, and that is its candidate Macron’s raison d’être. In this sense, he is the spasm of a system pushing back its own death. He is its final response, the only way of disguising a continuity that has become intolerable to the rest of society, beneath the fakest of semblances of discontinuity, wrapped up in the competitive modernity in use among the half-witted columnists.

En marche” or “In heaps”?

Hence the paradox, which is only a paradox for that last group: Macron, the self-proclaimed “anti-system” candidate, is the rallying point that all the dregs of the system, all the discredited who saw themselves on the point of being cleaned out are flocking to, without differentiation. They could not believe that such a favour had been granted to them by providence: the possibility of an extra ride around the merry-go-round. Through this aggregation of all the worst, Macron is the very personification of the system, and indeed thus provides its most fundamental truth: the habitual differences from which the fake changes of government draw their ultimate argument, and which the columnists feed off — the “Left” and the “Right,” the “Socialists” and “The Republicans,” “Hollande” and “Sarkozy” — are just a farce.  The proof is the disconcerting speed with which the real ruling bloc accepted owning up to this, at the moment where it was really under threat. A vital urgency commanded that it merge into a single figure — and we might ask whether what Macron has assembled should be called “In heaps” rather than “En marche” [“On the Move”]. This is, in any case, an impressive tearing-away of the veil, leaving an open goal for the Front National: “all our hyped-up opposition, our artificial divisions, our great spectacle of clashes, were all just so much show. You poor naïve types who believed you could ‘change government,’ we were only ever slipping on one same reversible jacket.”

However used we might now be to this, the unlikely list of supporters of Emmanuel Macron’s — running from communists who have shifted to the Right to ultra-liberals who have remained on the Right, passing via half the Chirac government in exile and the whole (vast) section of the Socialist Party sold out to capital — is nonetheless impressive. But yet more impressive is the fact that this absurd assembly of forces — whose revelatory power ought to be devastating — seems not to have revealed anything at all, in any case so long as it is up to media commentary to identify it. And that is especially true of the commentary of the right-wing Left press. Certainly, ever since its origin, this latter has had the higher calling of masking how right-wing this Left has become. But even an actual orgy of Left and Right — and now we are really not far off that — would still not give it any flash of insight. It is true that it, too, is “On the Move,” for even without the shareholders having to lift their little fingers this press’s editorial lieutenants themselves take on the responsibility for setting operations on the right course. Between Challenges, shouting out its joy, and L’Obs, which has pushed rationalization to the point that a single cover model [i.e. Macron’s own face] will be enough to get it through the whole campaign, we know pretty much what we can expect, even if the moistened zeal of the devoted always reserves some opportunities for astonishment that we could not previously have imagined.

Since the archives are the only guarantee promising that a future reader will be able to believe this, we will now cite the [L’Obs] editorial by Serge Raffy. Reading this, we need to be strapped in tight in order to avoid falling over backwards: “The ‘freshness of life’ [slogan from a chewing gum advert!] candidate has come of age. Now he has come knocking, and he is taking all sorts of risks. And that is a pleasure to see”. That is what we read in the free press in 2017.

Purifying the situation

The fakeness of the Macron candidacy, a democratic imposture such as we have rarely seen, is thus the extreme measure required by an extreme situation. More precisely, it is what is required by all those whose material interests now have no presentable solution other than this one. Of course, if need be they could settle for Fillon, but he puts things too bluntly and the populace is already a bit uptight.

In any case – and here we see another symptom of crisis — the situation is constantly getting simpler, we could even say purer, to the point of getting back to its very essence. Once upon a time it was necessary to deploy a whole sophisticated theoretical arsenal in order to reconstruct the domination of capital at work in the political and media institutions, through complex mediation-screens. Everything has now been so clearly exposed that even the most rudimentary of Marxisms now easily gets a view of the current events. It effortlessly hits the jackpot of the best explanation: billionaires own the press and have undertaken to lift an investment banker to the presidency. There you have it!

The situation has thus become so crude that even the most rudimentary instruments of thought are enough to succeed in explaining it with flying colours: on the one hand the mobilized class of oligarchs, on the other the bulk of society. Between the two, it is true, is the bracket of fantasists: the group of those dreamers of varying degrees of unrealism who tell themselves that they have a chance, if not to join the first bloc, then at least to stick close enough to it, even if only in their own imaginations, to have the impression of being with it. In reality this is a decisive population bracket, which allows the blurring of the violence of the basic antagonism. It allows the real domination by the oligarchy to be wrapped in the rags of democratic legitimacy. And these are indispensable. In consequence, this is the bracket toward which all the empty candidate’s efforts are directed, all his evacuations of his substance, all the heartening comedy of the “rupture,” of the “anti-system,” of the “freshness of life” necessary to covering up his real line, whose true slogan ought to be “More of the same.” It is true that we cannot accuse “En marche” of itself being dishonest, for it prudently omits to say precisely what it is “On the Move” towards…

“Realism” and reality

It does indeed take all this large-scale enterprise of falsifications on media steroids to cover up — as is necessary — the enormity of what has to be slipped across: politically speaking, a pure service of one class, and “technically” the intensification of everything that has failed for the last three decades. In an irony characteristic of hegemony in the Gramscian sense, the party of those who warble on about “realism” is precisely identified with its loss of almost any relation with reality, even though it still succeeds in invoking “reality” as its best argument.

In the neoliberal era, “realism” names the continual transfiguration of patent failures into successes that are always and constantly still to come. What reality has long been condemning outright, “realism” orders not only that we continue to follow, but that we deepen it. The explanation for its disappointments is that they are only “temporary,” that “we haven’t gone far enough,” that we had settled for “half-measures” and the “true break” is always still to come. And that has been going on for thirty years. The perfect identity of arguments between Fillon and Macron, on this register, should be enough to indicate where this latter is really situated, and which term really prevails in his “both Right and Left” shtick.

For both of the right-wing candidates, as for all those who drone along with them, “reform” — interminable by its very essence — is the journey to the end of the night. Or, in less literary terms, a market Stalinism. Just as the failure of “socialism” — also termed “real socialism” [French equivalent of “actually-existing socialism”] — could be blamed on saboteur elements whose eradication continued without end, the failure of neoliberalism owes to the residual rigidity, the last still-encrusted pensions — the pensions of taxi drivers or train drivers, of course, and not the annuities for financial capital  and the taxes that never cease to be deemed “theft” even when the rates are reduced close to zero.

If not a floating signifier, “reform” is the name of an indefinite process expressing nothing more than the project of a miniscule group seeking to push ever further its advantage over the rest of society. And since this road is a long one — and in reality it will never finish, all the more so given that since any progress is also the progression of its failure, this “justifies” the need for further progress — it is indeed time to set off “en marche.” For this failure has differential effects, and amidst the general catastrophe the particular interests sponsoring Macron have never been so well advanced. This is another characteristic of the hegemony that passes off the pursuit of these minority interests as the pursuit of the general interest, even when their radical contradiction is more and more violently demonstrated.

Free trade, Europe, finance “our strong model of solidarity”

Thus while the European and international free-trade deals destroy the industrial base and smash up entire regions, most importantly they have the unsurpassable advantage of holding the wage-worker class at bay, through the pressure of competition and the permanent threat of outsourcing. The Eurozone displays these same excellent disciplining properties, albeit by different means, so it is most important that we do anything except touch it. The organized closing down of any degree of freedom of economic policy allows no instrument other than “internal devaluation,” meaning pushing down wages using underemployment, in order to try and survive in the idiot “competitiveness” game (and in fact almost everyone will perish in this game)… yet that is what makes it desirable.”Realism” long having been unbound from any reality, thinks nothing of the resulting social disaster, but in passing over the rubble it does not fail to cash the really pursued profits — so many possible variations around this “reality” — i.e. by putting the workers to heel.

The general fakeness however also demands a sham display of movement. So they give an interview to Libération to explain that the best strategy for change in Europe is to change nothing: “France can only bring Germany along if it is economically and financially credible”.1 Let’s just understand that: in order to obtain Germany’s permission to do something, we must first show it that we have decided to change nothing. [Libération’s] Laurent Joffrin, wholly seduced by the “originality” of Macron’s method — which consists of perfecting two decades of lolling around on the floor by lying even flatter — comments “Let’s begin by giving these guarantees of good management and smart reforms, and then we can ask for concessions.”2 Yes, let’s begin by crawling, that is how we will lay hold to freedom. Such is the perfect contentment of the encounter between a complexion and an ideology.


The rest you can read on http://www.versobooks.com/blogs/3179-emmanuel-macron-spasm-of-the-system

First published in Le Monde Diplomatique. Translated by David Broder.


Le peuple hors sujet : à propos du 23 avril 2017

ou la vie sauvage

L’élection probable d’Emmanuel Macron au second tour des présidentielles peut être lue comme l’aboutissement du long processus de droitisation et de privatisation des communs entamé du sein du parti socialiste français à partir du tournant de la rigueur de 1983 et théorisé par des cadres tels que François Hollande, Le Drian, Jouyet (abandon des classes populaires et «nouvelle alliance» entre classes moyennes, professions libérales et patronat, pour dire les choses rapidement), processus qui a été marqué par la montée en puissance régulière du Front National.

Nous nous retrouvons ainsi aujourd’hui face à deux sujets historiques (la Nation et / ou la race d’un côté, les marchés de l’autre) qui signent tous deux l’échec des tentatives de redéfinition d’une politique sociale correspondant aux intérêts du plus grand nombre: face à ces deux sujets, la majorité sociale se retrouve privée d’expression politique, hors sujet (condamnée à choisir entre ces deux sujets ou…

View original post 599 more words


Qui augmente sa connaissance augmente son ignorance

« Qui augmente sa connaissance augmente son ignorance » disait Friedrich Schlegel.

« Je vis de plus en plus avec la conscience et le sentiment de la présence de l’inconnu dans le connu, de l’énigme dans le banal, du mystère en toute chose et, notamment, des avancées d’une nouvelle ignorance dans chaque avancée de la connaissance » nous dit Edgar Morin.

Ainsi a-t-il entrepris dans un livre de patrouiller dans les territoires nouveaux de la connaissance, où se révèle un trio inséparable : connaissance –ignorance- mystère.

A ses yeux, le mystère ne dévalue nullement la connaissance qui  y conduit. Il nous rend conscient des puissances occultes qui nous commandent et nous possèdent, tels des Daimon intérieurs et extérieurs à nous. Mais, surtout, il stimule et  fortifie le sentiment poétique de l’existence.