Monday, February 16, 2009

The Graduate and Gestalt

In a tumultuous moment at the end of the 1960s movie, "The Graduate," Dustin Hoffman and Katharine Ross run onto a bus, go to its back end, and sit down. Then, very oddly, instead of kissing and being excited to be with one another, they look off in somewhat different directions while the soundtrack plays Simon & Garfunkel's "Sounds of Silence." My reaction to this scene was, What? What the hell is going on? What's the matter with these people? Well, and now I have my answer. I am sitting here, very belatedly reading about Gestalt psychology, which I had heard of but never really did much with, and here's this reference to "The Gestalt Prayer," which begins with, "I do my thing, and you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations and you are not in this world to live up to mine." I am reading, that is, about the existentialist roots of Gestalt psychology, about the extremely individualistic orientation of that whole worldview, and particularly about the existentialist focus on the present moment and, you know, it makes sense. When they ran out of the church and climbed onto the bus, the present moment had moved on. The church thing was great, yeah, but it was over, and now they were on a bus, each continuing to live exclusively in his/her own world, with the interface to the other being a project rather than something taken for granted. Reading this stuff reminds me of how weird people were, sometimes, back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Maybe earlier than that, and definitely later than that too (in e.g., the punk movement), but certainly there was a sense, among a lot of people, that it was OK, or possibly even normal, to be strange or different. I have long been aware that there was a freedom then that we don't have now -- that, even though a guy was much more likely to be harassed for having long hair, there was also an accessible mindset in which it was understood that there would be people hassling you for being yourself, and that this was just normal. You didn't have to be within today's broad lines of normalcy to be normal; you just had to be yourself to be normal, and maybe you didn't even have to be yourself.