3 min read

Making desire paths means finding cheap ways of acting on velleities

I read Visakan Veerasamy's idea of "making your own desire paths" as a way of chewing the shadow by finding cheap ways to act on one's velleities.

A few months back, I reread David Chapman's post Hunting the shadow, and at the end, he writes about following velleities:

A “velleity” is a wish so weak that it does not occur to you to act on it. These are desires you instantly dismiss because they do not match your picture of what you think you want. They seem nonsensical, unexpected, and do not fit into your plans. But they are shadow-tracks of passions you do not know you have. Pursuing them, you will capture your desire.

Acting on velleities is a way of chewing the shadow.

This sounds like how Visakan Veerasamy describes desires paths in his book Introspect. He devotes a short section to desire paths.

One way of interpreting desire paths is as a way of pursuing velleities. He writes that "I vaguely knew that I wanted to know more about jazz, and Miles Davis." Vaguely knowing sounds like a velleity: "Gee, wouldn't it be nice if..." It arises more than once but each time it's too weak to think of acting on it, until he notices an easy in.

The easy in is a cheap-enough way of acting on the wish. He finds Miles Davis' music on YouTube and listens to "Kind of Blue" on repeat, because he finds that he likes it. It's easy—he looks up Miles Davis on YouTube and listen until he finds something he likes. Now he's acted a little bit on that desire.

By acting on the wish, he's learned a little more, and in so doing, he's extended the range of his velleities. He may still want to know more and get 'stuck' again for a while where it doesn't occur to him to act further on that wish, such that it becomes a velleity again. But now the "range" of what he can act on cheaply enough has expanded. His wish is maybe now a little stronger, and the actions are maybe now a little cheaper. He at least knows "Kind of Blue" and that gives him a little bit of grounding to watch a documentary. His wish can take him a little further than it could before, because he knows more than he did when it first came to him.

The idea of desire paths is to keep finding cheap-enough ways to act on your velleities—thereby 'nurturing them.' That's how you chew the shadow. (Maybe one way, anyway!)

Now, you might be asking, what about those other parts of the definition Chapman gives? The "correlates" rather than the definition? As a reminder:

These are desires you instantly dismiss because they do not match your picture of what you think you want. They seem nonsensical, unexpected, and do not fit into your plans.

The closest Visa's example comes to this is in his intro to the section, where he describes the kind of desire he's talking about as follows:

Sometimes there’s something that you do want, and yet it’s not quite… right.

His example is the jazz/Miles Davis desire discussed above. Is he describing it as "not matching [his] picture of what [he] thinks [he] wants"? Looking at this intro sentence in isolation, that's plausible. It also arguably matches the comment about the documentary:

But [listening to "Kind of Blue" on repeat on YouTube] wasn’t enough yet to make me want to watch a 2 hour documentary.

So—maybe. But it doesn't make logical sense that it there would be any mismatch—he also writes that:

As a musician, this [wish to know more about jazz and Miles Davis] seemed normal and right for me.

So, it seems to fit his picture of what he thinks he wants, to make sense and to be expected. It doesn't obviously conflict with his plans. So maybe this doesn't fit with the "correlates" of something one can call a velleity.

While Visa's example doesn't quite fit what the shadow post paragraph is getting at, the process of finding an easy-enough step forward seems to make sense as a way of chewing the shadow.