Spotlight on: We Row / ‘Remamos’ and the Inner Voice

It’s been a long while since I read “The Alchemist” by Paulo Coelho but this quote below, attributed to him, I thought it pertinent to the song I chose to blog about today.

“We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”

I remember enjoying this book, for it had an engaging premise. The quote makes us think of our persistent standardisation of the life process, our system of measures, our balance achieved through the rounding off of unwieldy decimals to the nearest integer in the rule book or the countless listicles exhorting everyone to toe similar lines in socially defined or acceptable ways. The social compass veers repeatedly to the norm (the ethics of which may be challenged) but society as we know, also continues to burn witches in some areas of the world [1][2].

We express genuine care sometimes when we advise others. We also seek to recreate people in our version of acceptable. When the empirical evidence of anomalous behaviour gets codified into canon, it suggests mental illness. I am quite alarmed at the pathologization of human behaviour. The issue arises perhaps, because we are not witness to the inner self talk of people, that inaccessible sub-conscious, the ephemeral unconscious. It is made visible, in the way people act driven by impulse, their passions, their creative urges, their reticence, their rage, their depression, their happiness, their drive or lack of it. Oftentimes, the inner talk gets very loud like in the persons you find walking on the sidewalk or in transit, gesticulating while in an intense monologue.

In recent decades, the nature of inner speech, the inner voice and the nature of Self are being revealed through interesting experimentation. It was in the 1920s when Russian developmental psychologist Lev Vygotsky, observed that social activity and culture shaped the human mind beginning from childhood. He hypothesised that the Self was forged in what he called the ‘zone of proximal development’. In this zone, Vygotsky observed what he termed as ‘private speech’, a kind of  self-talk conducted by children between the ages of two and eight. It was American psychologist Laura Berk whose studies showed that during imaginative play, children’s self-talk helps them guide their own thoughts and behaviour and exert true self-control. Psychologist Russell Hurlburt applied  his unique methodology of Descriptive Experience Sampling (DES) to find that 25 per cent of an average person’s day constitutes inner speech . He teamed up with Charles Fernyhough, a leading researcher of inner speech and they brain scanned  DES participants using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI), (which detects metabolic changes in the brain), to find  that activity increased in the Heschl’s gyrus region of the brain during spontaneous inner speech, but not during prompted self-talk. This indicated the unique neural nature of pure self-talk. Read some more of this very interesting research in this article by Phil Jaekl here [3]. Fernyhoug suggests that after the internalisation of the private speech of childhood,  inner speech emerges in a variety of ways, each comparable to that which is spoken. The most familiar among these, is the one he terms ‘expanded’, which is the same as external speech, as in, it is grammatical and fully formed but not vocal.

What I found most interesting is his concept of another type, that he terms ‘condensed’ inner speech, a highly abbreviated and ungrammatical version of regular speech, possibly linguistic, not intended to be communicated or to be understood by others. After that, the science gets murky and there are innumerable dead ends and unwilling scientists perhaps. There are no answers to how this inner world actually  translates onto the very fabric of existence, but translate it does, in our behaviours, the social cues we assimilate that guide our actions, the ways we are challenged by life and our responses to these.

Is there a coherent and continuous narrative as we grow older? Is there a difference in the inner narrative we tell ourselves in retrospect and what we experience while in a given situation ? These aspects have always fascinated me. The turbid waters, these Neptune’s mists that obscure us to our own selves, the voices we refuse to hear or choose to mistranslate, the inherent chaos that spills out as fear or courage or stupidity or the drive to do what we think is right by us, that steady entropy of our lives led through our supposedly negentropic selves. I find here a distinction needs to be made between our consistent orderly organising of systems within ourselves, our society and the opposite, in their chaotic evolution which is can sometimes be more creative, progressive even among the socially deviant. What makes us heed our inner self talk and how do we train it to elevate rather than debilitate us, without a norm to go by ?

Remamos  Picture Credit ~ Youtube

The Spanish language song, Remamos, written by Gustavo Edgardo Cordera / Juan Ignacio Serrano, executed here by Puerto Rican singer and songwriter,  Encarnita “Kany” García de Jesús in a duet with  Mexican pop-rock and folk singer and songwriter, Natalia Lafourcade, a song I love and listen to over and over, speaks of returning to that inner voice. Taken from her 2018 album, Contra El Viento, it has been described as a gentle ballad of self affirmation that looks deep inside one’s soul to accept the need to return to what’s been learned and relearn, a song that soars in a chorus over a cushion of strings [4]. Perhaps it’s the voice that mirrors what a parent could have said or a teacher or someone personally known or it could have been imbibed through social cues, but it is that which transforms into the inner voice. It is interesting to note, how this poetic song explores the possibility of returning to an inner narrative from the past, to change it. The rowing in ‘Remamos’ is an apt analogy to tackling the waters of life.

We row
- Song by Kany García and Natalia Lafourcade
Songwriters: Gustavo Edgardo Cordera / Juan Ignacio Serrano

As a girl, she told me this is the right way
To walk and to address who I had in front of me
When I grew up, it took me stumbling to realize
That I had to go back to being a girl and teach myself
How does one shut up, how do you  leave behind what hits you

I have come to offer myself today
We row, knowing what the price is
With clenched fists
Without thinking about stopping
We row, our face against the wind
With courage ahead
With a town between my fingers
We row, with a knot, here, in the chest
Dreaming that on the other side
Another beginning is arriving

And I stay in the rain, even if the voice gets tired
On the whole, it is the only thing that remains that has not been broken
Where there is pain and where light is lacking, let my throat sing
That my anchored feet take strength in the song
How does one shut up, how do you  leave behind what hits you

I have come to offer myself today
We row, knowing what the price is
With clenched fists
Without thinking about stopping
We row, our face against the wind
With Valentia in front
With a town between my fingers
We row, with a knot, here, in the chest
Dreaming that to the other side
Another beginning is arriving
How does one shut up, how do you  leave behind what hits you
I come to offer myself today

We row
We row

Source: Musixmatch and Google Translate. I have attempted to refine the English sentences from the more literal translations on the App.

Kany Garcia sings “And I stay in the rain, even if the voice gets tired. On the whole, it is the only thing that remains that has not been broken.” In this narrative of  rowing through life, the song alludes to a social/familial/ cultural cue of the past, that has steered life to its present state where one feels bereft of agency. Yet, there is an indelible hope in the future despite not knowing how to exactly steer oneself forward. Is this an illustration of authenticity, for some people do seek a coherent narrative to their life story, which is where the past interferes with the present and thus the future. In this song, not perhaps in a positive way, the past has overshadowed the present and yet, not without hope for the future.

Take for example a view to the contrary, that telling ourselves a coherent life story, or trying to dig deep to locate that consistent inner dialogue to construct self narrative alludes to inauthenticity. Galen Strawson, a British analytic philosopher does not believe [5] that an ‘autobiographical narrative’ plays any significant role in how he experiences the world, although he knows that his present overall outlook and behaviour is deeply conditioned by his genetic inheritance and sociocultural place and time, including, in particular, his early upbringing”. Strawson also admits that despite his poor memory he does not live ecstatically in the present. To support his position as a non narrative thinker, he cites the example of one of the 75 heteronyms of the Portuguese author, Fernando Pessoa. This one, Alberto Caeiro is known to have said, ‘Each moment I feel as if I’ve just been born/Into an endlessly new world.’ He also argues against narrativist thinking for most part of his article and notes that there are people who are movingly plodding and factual in their grasp of their pasts. He reflects, it’s an ancient view that people always remember their own pasts in a way which puts them in good light, and that such self serving memory need not be true. He prefers the view that self knowledge comes in bits and pieces.

I think Strawson misses the point like other non-narrativists. It’s isn’t that a narrativist strings a narrative of their life that seems the issue, it is actually the kind of story they tell themselves. There are people who are very accepting of their present without a thought to their past, assuming they believe they have learned well from their experiences and been exemplary in their wisest actions and moved on to other things. Then there are those that seek to accept their present, burdened in their past, despite fearfully wishing to welcome the future. This is what brings me back to Paulo Coelho’s quote about the fallacy in believing one’s path is the only right path.

The present, that so very elusive present that we inhabit, has a tendency to contain within it a carapace of our past and the cape of our futuristic ambitions. I didn’t mean to sound sarcastic but it is disingenuous to prattle on about the zen of the present when we are creatures of narrative, personal histories, familial and societal memories and a great deal of ambition, passion and the drive to serve a purpose while we survive to another day. It is what constructs an integrity to self, that inner speech, in some it is positively affirmative, in others, not so much, in a few it is lacking altogether, in some more yet, it is highly introspective.

Yet, when Lafourcade sings, ” We row, our face against the wind
With courage ahead
With a town between my fingers
We row, with a knot, here, in the chest
Dreaming that on the other side
Another beginning is arriving”, we don’t question that it is a strong sensibility illustrated here enmeshed thus in the present, yet it still  drags with it the carcass of a past, the taint of a fight that should in the future, hark back in time and create a narrative of how this fight was overcome. Isn’t this what the inner voice is meant to stitch together. Aren’t these the stories we tell ourselves?

They sing, “How does one quiet down, how do you leave behind what hits you. I come to offer myself today. We row. We row

I could not imagine a better way to explain how our present is in fact a dialogue with our inner voice in a consistent construction of narrative, by digesting and assimilating experiences of the past to fearlessly venture into the future. I believe, Remamos unwittingly pitched a lyrical riposte to the anti-narrative argument while standing for the inner voice.


Remamos  - Song by Kany García and Natalia Lafourcade 
Songwriters: Gustavo Edgardo Cordera / Juan Ignacio Serrano

De chica, me decía esta es la forma correcta
De andar y de dirigirme a quien tuve delante
De grande, me costó a tropiezos poder darme cuenta
Que había que volver a ser niña y desenseñarme
Cómo callar, cómo dejar atrás lo que te pega
Vengo a ofrecerme hoy
Remamos, sabiendo cuál es el precio
Con los puños apretados
Sin pensar en detenernos
Remamos, con la cara contra el viento
Con la valentía delante
Con un pueblo entre los dedos
Remamos, con un nudo, aquí, en el pecho
Soñando que al otro lado
Se avecina otro comienzo
Y me quedé bajo la lluvia, aunque la voz se canse
Total, es lo único que queda que no se ha quebrado
Donde hay dolor y falte luz, que mi garganta cante
Que en la canción agarren fuerza, mis pies anclados
Cómo callar, cómo dejar atrás lo que te pega
Vengo a ofrecerme hoy
Remamos, sabiendo cuál es el precio
Con los puños apretados
Sin pensar en detenernos
Remamos, con la cara contra el viento
Con la Valentia delante
Con un pueblo entre los dedos
Remamos, con un nudo, aquí, en el pecho
Soñando que al otro lado
Se avecina otro comienzo
Cómo callar, cómo dejar atrás lo que te pega
Vengo a frecerme hoy
Remamos
Remamos

Source: Musixmatch

References:

[1]~https://www.reuters.com/article/india-landrights-women/witches-beaten-buried-burned-for-land-in-princely-indian-state-idINKCN1C90EL

[2]~https://www.africanews.com/2017/08/01/tanzania-witch-killings-claimed-479-lives-from-january-june-2017-report//

[3]~https://aeon.co/essays/our-inner-narrator-gives-us-continuity-and-a-sense-of-self

[4]~https://www.billboard.com/amp/articles/columns/latin/8511971/kany-garcias-contra-el-viento-6-essential-tracks

[5]~https://www.google.com/amp/s/aeon.co/amp/essays/let-s-ditch-the-dangerous-idea-that-life-is-a-story

Listen:

Remamos ~ Remamos https://g.co/kgs/rFN7t4