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January 8th, 2020 2:17:46 pm

The Kisceral Connection

A Life Beyond Logical Reasoning with the Phish

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By considering the multi-modality of Phish phenomenology, particularly the mode concerned with the “kisceral” or what Gilbert (1997, 2011) has described as a communication mode of argument that depends on intuition, the spiritual, mystical, and the imaginative, we get closer to hearing “the story of the ghost” and give due attention to reasoning experienced beyond the traditional. “IT” is beyond logic. “IT” is energy. “IT” is a spirit of lived experience that can begin to be explained though the philosophical insight of Bakhtinian dialogism. Bakhtin’s synthesizing philosophy is appropriate for grounding the kisceral connection powering the effectivity of lived experience. Making sense of the unpredictable phamiliarity that ignites and amplifies dissonance, which directs community members – band and phans – to depend on intuition, backed by phamiliarity, helps one to reason through the mystical, silly, extra-sensory, improvisational, exploratory or kisceral experience that is the Phish.

The Kisceral Connection: A Life Beyond Logical Reasoning with the Phish

Kristine Warrenburg Rome, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Communication Department, Flagler College

Often criticized (by the un-familiar), for the nonsensical lyrics, stage antics, rituals, myth and more, the Phish phenomenon (band, phans, and the spirit of) thrives precisely on such extra-ordinary, beyond words, other-worldly, and unpredictable, yet phamiliar, existence. For example, August 10, 1997 Phish gifted Deer Creek Music Center concert goers to what phans hail as a “barn burner”(1) surmounting in a four song second set with a rotation jam(2) that at least one critic hated. Published the next day in a local newspaper, conveniently placed next to the obituaries, and replayed when Trey reads the “bad review” as part of the film, Bittersweet Motel, “Phish could urinate in its fans ears and tell them it’s music, the fans in turn would be there with tape recorders to capture the moment.”(3) The un-familiar, lamenting unreasonable criticism of a phenomenon not-quite-understood, stands at odds with the phamiliar, or those who continue to chase the trace of the absurdity, obsessively, for unique and authentic moments found in spaces like a four song second set or rotation jam. The paradox, beyond the difference/s of opinion found from the familiar to the un-familiar towards what counts as quality artistic expression and as a “moving” musical and community experience, is the seriousness (even ritualization) of the non-sensical (or play) of the kisceral (energy) or spirit essential actively at work in the Phish phenomenon. This paper takes time to make sense of those exceptional or supreme moments containing other-worldly, “spiritual” connectivity between band, fan/s, space, place, and more which helps to spotlight extra-sensory reasoning as a fundamental component to sense-making whether the arguments are happening in or outside of the Phish circus. Anyone interested in making sense of the nonsensical would benefit by looking at Phish phenomenologically by approaching this contemporary phenomenon by way of experiential consciousness using timeless philosophical insight to make sense of lived experience. To begin to understand the nonsensical, mystical magic moments of life one must understand the power of extra-sensory reasoning, especially the parts of sense-making that extend beyond the logical or “normal” realm of traditional argumentation or communication interpretation.

The Phish phenomenon is a subversion of expectations of both popular rock and/or a concert experience/s as well as are nuances of themselves. Phish is at its best when what comes to be expected from a Phish concert experience is subverted and unpredicted; Phish is a psychedelic pastiche of pop cultural musical re-presentations. The more outrageous and senseless, the better the experience for most. From an Electrolux vacuum cleaner as instrument, to a Sonic Dress as instrument(4), and Drummer wearing, and playing, the dress to a pilgrimaging of 80,000 people to an indigenous native reservation to ring in the Millennium New Year,(5) the uncommon, once-in- a- life-time, “mind-blowing” moments deserve more attention from public philosophers.  

Drawing from Heidegger’s conception of transcendental hermeneutic phenomenology which foregrounds ontological effectivity and the unconscious(6) and Merleau -Ponty’s embodied phenomenology as event of being/framing consciousness in art(7) (and in Phish’s case an atopic performance art that is both unpredictable and phamiliar(8)) we get closer to understanding the force, or the energy, vibe, or the spirit of community, culture (past, present, and future) as represented in Phish subcultural values and connection to other/s despite difference. Michael A. Gilbert’s Coalescent Argumentation, particular his conception of the kisceral, provides a contemporary challenge to a logic-only ontology. Bakhtinian dialogic offers a synthesizing theory appropriate for grounding a self-aware, other-focused, interpretive framework that provides concepts such as heteroglossia, with centripetal/centrifugal forces of utterances at play. Bakhtin’s notion of the once-occurrent act of being is useful when attempting to explain the chase of Phish phenomenology. The exceptionality of the experience heightens the authenticity of a moment lived, which is experienced and understood both individually and relationally.

Phenomenology allows for a more complete and less ideological biased explanation of how exceptional experiences operate and how “IT” is (or can be) constructed. Such a pedagogical move challenges the emphasis on rationality, results, products, or ideal conditions and urges for analysis of the entire contextual process of the communicative act as it emerges reflectively and intuitively. This project continues the conversation by putting forth a method as open as the inimitable, limitless medley that is the marvel of Phish.


By considering the multi-modality of Phish phenomenology, particularly the mode concerned with the “kisceral” or what Gilbert has described as a communication mode of argument that depends on intuition, the spiritual, mystical, the imaginative and beyond,(9) we give due attention to reasoning used to make sense of out-of-this-world connections.  In his book Coalescent Argumentation, Gilbert posits that not all arguments, and reasoning therein, operate according to the same helping friendly book. In a critique of logic, Gilbert fronts other modes of reasoning – the emotional, visceral, and kisceral – are at play in the sense-making of actual lived experiences. While the emotional (or feelings) and visceral (or physical) modes of reasoning are absolutely at work in the tide of lived experience, alongside the logical or absolute, kisceral takes frontstage in this effort to elucidate the “kisceral connection” or the ineffable “magic” that Phish (band and fans) chase show after show, and moment after moment in the show of life.

The kisceral mode of reasoning, not unlike Phish phenomenology, is constitutive of a multitude of beliefs that are often formed in extra-numinous spaces. “That is, they come from sensory computation that is very fast even though complex, and the results in an assessment of a situation or event without an awareness of cognition.”(10) The kisceral derives “…from the Japanese term ki meaning energy, life-force, and connectedness, which covers the intuitive and non-sensory arenas.”(11) The kisceral encompasses sub-sensory features, like feelings of apprehension and shock, as well as considers the milieu of choice-making. “[S]uch oddities as astrology, Bible quotations, channeling, and so on,” may, in fact, be a driving force of the overall reasoning that takes place in the argumentative moment.(12) As Gilbert aptly reminds, “It is not the concern of an argumentation theorist to judge the validity of such sources, but rather to understand their use in argumentative interactions.”(13) Communal relationality, the unique situational context, and force of the moment are a few of the essential components that guide public philosophers to the ethical implications situated in lived Phish experience/s.  Furthermore, the energy of the event/s is what gives the kisceral connection an overall shimmer of an ethical dialogic moment.

”IT” is beyond logic. “IT” is energy. “IT” is a spirit of lived experience that can begin to be explained though the philosophical insight of Bakhtinian dialogism. Bakhtin’s synthesizing philosophy is appropriate for grounding the kisceral connection powering the effectivity of the lived experience. Kisceral connective moments are available and when these connections sublimate, Bakhtinian dialogue offers us a roadmap to understand how we can arrive at this rare position. The flux of self-reflexivity(14) to extroversion and action with others(15) mimics the centripetal/centrifugal pattern of thinking that is integral to Bakhtin’s notion of dialogism. With this centrifugal/centripetal dichotomy, Bakhtin allows space for investigation of both sides of a communicative act as well as the moment of potential convergence between the two. 

The tension and release found in the music of improvisation, like the tension the release found in the subjective sense-making during an objective collective lived experience, is better understood through Bakhtinian dialogism. As summarized by Baxter & Montgomery, “In other words, the self is constructed out of two contradictory necessities – the need to connect with another (the centripetal force) and the simultaneous need to separate from the other (the centrifugal force).”(16) The push and pull of community connection and monologic self-reflexivity provides opportunity amidst phamiliar. It is no secret that bridging the gap between 80,000 individual fans (dripping in difference of age, gender, class, race, Phish stats, psychological state/s, memory recall, and more) is nearly impossible to achieve spontaneously. It cannot be thought of as an osmotic process that is carried out whenever one listens to the music and/or attends a show.

Bakhtin offers that interpretation is a continuous struggle between one’s own word or internal persuasive discourse, and the authoritative (or Phishy/donut) discourse or what is discursively produced and conveyed. Discourse can be understood as symbolic sequences functioning together, in context, to create meaning out of lyrics, legends, land, length of jams, lights, donuts and more. For Bakhtin there is a moment or turning point in this struggle in which the authoritative discourse becomes internalized. Remember when “Gordon knew the moment when the stars all turned around”; that is, individuals interpret other’s words as, in part, their own, and then eventually develop their own perceptions by way of the authoritative spoken words (“But from that vantage point I frowned,” Roggae by Phish). This speaks to Bakhtin’s discussion on centrifugal (forces of difference) and centripetal (forces of unity) of heteroglossia.

Both connections with community, alongside monologic self-reflexivity, foreground the aesthetic qualities of dialogic communication with a sense of connectedness with the "other" which also contributes to the regulation of the Phish community. Reflexivity is important because it is the activity that encourages movement between the self/subjective and the social/objective—it functions as a form of negotiation and identity formation that is critical in the composition of nuanced ways of engaging with alterity and difference in understanding toward the universe that stretches beyond the horizon.  In turn, the individual integrates him- or her- subjective self into the larger community by way of tribal languages or tone. Ihde explains, “There are technical “tribal languages” whose sayings hover near ordinary speech, but in which there are highly determined meanings that are heard only by the initiate and not by the ordinary listener. The unsaid can be missed in unlearned listening.”(17) Phamiliarity matters and the more one knows or does not know will impact their reasoning. The unsaid is not the same as saying and is understood via relational communities, or tribe, communal relationality. Monologic self-reflexivity, or the centripetal pull inward, is enacted by set-list archiving and Phish stat collecting as well as through reflective writing, by way of message boards and other phan and/or band forums, that enters reasoning at various points and informs the dialogue between self, community, and Phish contextual environment. Interpretation is a reflexive (self-referential) act and a form of self-development.  The centripetal, internal mediation of what was previously understood, offers opportunity for change in one’s understanding by questioning assumptions after encountering difference during the centrifugal push outward.  In a moment of self-reflexivity there is opportunity to realize commonalities amongst difference.  

Improvisational layers flow from the individual/subjective to the collective/objective experience which is archived by the “Last Time Played” or what is the intrinsic/extrinsic value of the unpredictable performance art of the Phish experience which changes night to night, minute to minute, and from phan to phan experience. “Last Time Played” is measured from an individual’s last show attended, which would impact songs heard, how often, most recently, in the most obscure places, holding the most rare energy rock that some hippie gave your college roommate in the parking lot that time when Mike waved at her during one of the bassist’s unpredictable joy rides pre/post performance of the most epic concert experience she had at a show last summer.  The experience is individual, subjective, and dripping in the height of difference that alterity celebrates; at the same time, the experience is objective, and collectively made sense of by the dedicated “phamiliar” and evidenced by the Phish dates driven archive.

Even with the objective categorization produced and maintained mainly by the Phish fan community, equipped with the obsessive tracking of set-lists, and guest appearances, stage antics, and the replaying of long-standing debates over best jam/s, best opener/s, best closer/s, best encore/s, best venue/s, best camping spot/s, best time/s to go to bathroom, and more; Phish phenomenology remains dripping in this strange design, with the most powerful moment/s unmarked by place, time, words, or logic. In Phish phenomenology, place can be considered placeless as the alterity of subjective and objective reasoning blur in a synergetic mix of sound, space, place, and kisceral reasoning. Expanding sense-making beyond the logical to spaces of the visceral by way of gut-validation or dance or venue legend, or by accepting that intuition, energy and vibe along with emotional backing work alongside the rational in reasoning we get closer to the truth of how rhetorical messages are received, processed, and responded to.

Place as symbolic markers of collective Phish history, tours, songs-played, stunts, narrations, and more, and of individual heteroglossiaic memories, contextual implications of place/date/collective and individual/subjective experiences mix with relational connections, psychological and spiritual break-throughs. Any language, however, as it is lived, socially, over a variety of social, cultural, artistic and so forth positions, is really an interacting and at times contestation of different language uses. Hence every language instance is marked by centrifugal (heteroglossic, socially distinguishing) as well as centripetal (monoglossic, societally unifying) forces.  The contestation of voices and dialects within a language reflects Bakhtin’s centrifugal/heteroglossia via past histories, experiences, and more. The centripetal/monoglossic is captured via journaling of set-lists and personal recounts of show experiences where shifts of self-understanding via interaction with the group as well as socially unifying experiences can be recorded. For one, “IT” is found in Deer Creek for another it is Charleston, others Madison Square Garden, Watkins Glen, the Gorge, Red Rocks, Walnut Creek, Orange Beach, or wherever one’s heteroglossiaic journey takes one’s reasoning at that instant. When one wants to recount, sublimate, confirm and/or “try to make sense” of the individual/subjective inimitable occurrence we turn to the collective, objective, community by way of oral story-telling and/or online forums, to communicate about the kisceral/visceral/visual/emotional/rational moment. All at once the symbol of place (or song/lyric, or stunt, or date, or pop cultural reference to the Phish phenomenon by way of “donut discourse”(18) found in Phish fashion, vanity license plates, and more) sparks a trace that is subjective and objective in the same twist of dialogue.

The fusion of centrifugal forces with another allows for the validation of certain claims (be it nonsensical/kisceral or logical or emotional or visceral or visual) as well as legitimizes the overall self, perpetuating the push and pull of the unpredictable phamiliarity which creates the space, opportunity for, and trace of the mystical/kisceral connection that phans and band chase show after show. The circumstantial context can be understood by considering Bakhtin’s notion of the once-occurrent act of being. “All that which is theoretical or aesthetic,” writes Bakhtin, “must be determined as a constituent moment in the once-occurrent event of being…”(19) Because there are multiple sides to a communicative act, all which hold individualistic differences, it is important to recognize that the points of convergence in which individuals open up to the other in effort of unity are exceptional. Therefore, the circumstantial context becomes a defining element in the kisceral connection which is exceptional and not guaranteed “with a ticket stub in your hand.” There will only be one Big Cypress sunrise.

The rarity and extemporization heighten the opportunity for authenticity and kisceral connectivity. Immediacy foregrounds the subjective, individual role of the audience member in the co-creation of the improvisational, immediate performance. Immediacy heightens the impact/effect/affectivity of the experience. In immediacy is where you find risk. The power of an “Om Pah Pah” and other fabled artifacts of Phish phenomenology like “The Helping Friendly Book” reside in the ineffable, unsaid, beyond logic, nonsensical and these extra-sensory, inimitable moments are experienced in the subjective lived collective underground experience.  “IT” is unwritten and living, or active. “IT” is dripping in this strange design and not dried up in the hegemonic power of labels, words, said symbols and objective interpretations. We rely on the “said” of donut discourse, objectively through set-lists and stats of our lived Phish experiences and subjectivity through our individual memories, artifacts, in-side jokes, life-successes, accomplishments, and break-through reasons to make sense of the kisceral connections. The real force comes from swimming placelessly in the pre-discursive; however, “IT” is lived/understood in the relational experience of all sides coming together in the “spark”le of a remarkable moment. We then chase the trace of these kisceral connecting moments show after show > moment-to-moment in our everyday lives > perpetuating an epic other-worldly ethic of care.


Allan, Marc. "Phish Offers Garbage Instead of Greatness." The Indianapolis Star, Monday, August 11, 1997 1997, 1.

Anastasio, Trey, Page McConnell, Mike Gordan & Jon Fishman. "Phish Television Interview 6.19.94 Part I." By Sean Duross. Phish at the State Theatre in Kalamazoo, MI (June 19, 1994).

Bakhtin, Mikhail. Toward a Philosohy of the Act, Ed. by V. Liapunov & M. Holquist. Trans. by V. Liapunov. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993.

Baxter, Leslie & Barbara Montgomery, Relating: Dialogues and Dialectics.  New York: The Guilford Press, 1996.

Bernstein, Scott. "What a Difference a Chord Makes: Phish Delivers Inventive “Harry Hood” at Deer Creek 1997."  JamBase: Go See Live Music (2017). Published electronically 8/10/2017.

Blau, Jnan a. "A Phan on Phish: Live Improvised Music in Five Performative Commitments." Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 10, no. 4 (2010 2010): 307-19.

Gilbert, Michael A. Coalescent Argumentation. Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997.

———. "The Kisceral: Reason and Intuition in Argumentation." Argumentation 25, no. 2 (2011): 163-70.

Heiddeger, Martin. Being and Time. Translated by John and Edward Robinson Macquarrie. Harper, 1962.

Hunt, Pamela M. . "Are You Kynd? Conformity and Deviance within the JambandSubculture." Deviant Behavior 31, no. 6 (2010): 521-51.

Ihde, Don. Listening and Voice : Phenomenologies of Sound. [in English] Vol. 2nd ed, Albany: State University of New York Press, 2007.

The Mockingbird Foundation. "Phish.Net."

Morris, Edwin Kent. "»Destroying America«: Phish, Music, and Spaces of Aesthetic and Social Exception." International Review of the Aesthetics and Sociology of Music 45, no. 1 (June 2014 2014): 167-81.

Morris III, Charles E. "Pink Herring & the Fourth Persona: J. Edgar Hoover's Sex Crime Panic." Quarterly Journal of Speech 88, no. 2 (2002 2002): 228-44.

Phillips, Todd. "Bittersweet Motel." 2000.

Reynolds, Jack.  Merleau-Ponty and Derrida: Intertwining Embodiment and Alterity, Ohio University Press, 2004.

Rome, Kristine Warrenburg. "Unpredicatable Phamiliarity: Atopy Performance Art and the Fourth Persona " conference papser delivered at the Phish Studies Conference. Oregon State University, 2019.


  1.  A figurative term used by music fans to describe a “scorching” or “hot” or “peak” performance typically delivered in a rural shed of an amphitheater.
  2.  Show notes from that concert performance give insight into reasons for both the love/hate review: “The long, involved Rotation Jam to set up Rock A William started when Page went to the theremin for a solo. Soon after, Trey took up the keys and Mike went to play guitar. Page eventually picked up Mike’s bass. After they jammed a bit longer, Mike went to join Trey on the keys. Trey then joined Fish on the drums. The two of them played on the same drum set and Mike took a piano solo. Trey eventually kicked Fish off the drum stool, and Fish picked up Trey’s guitar. SOAM contained a Third Stone from the Sun tease as well as a Larks' Tongues in Aspic Part Two jam,” from
  3.  See Todd Phillips, Director. "Bittersweet Motel," (2000).; Scott Bernstein, "What a Difference a Chord Makes: Phish Delivers Inventive “Harry Hood” at Deer Creek 1997,"  JamBase: Go See Live Music (2017),; Marc Allan, "Phish Offers Garbage Instead of Greatness," The Indianapolis Star, Monday, August 11,  1997.
  4.  This dress, made by Alyce Santoro, in rectitude of drummer Jon Fishman’s beloved A-line donut dress muumuu, is made out of “sonic fabric”, a textile woven from recycled audio cassettes culled from his personal collection. For more information see
  5.  Beginning in 1996, other Phish Festivals, ten total with attendance from 35,000-80,000, have been “placed” on Air Force bases, airport runways, from rural to polo fields, and at a race car track. Phish is also known for playing around with the predictability of staged “space/s” by way of height during the Tower Jam, a late-night ambient set played at 2:30a.m. from the top of the air traffic control tower or by turning the stage into an aquarium at Bender Arena in Washington, D.C., premiering 12/28/1994.  For their 30th anniversary, Phish staged the JEMP Truck Set, marked with material memories of hockey stick microphones, from the middle of the floor of Madison Square Garden and most recently achieved unprecedented sustained suspense for their 2019-2020 NYE gag.
  6.  Martin Heiddeger, Being and Time, trans. John and Edward Robinson Macquarrie, Harper, 1962.
  7.  Jack Reynolds, Merleau-Ponty and Derrida: Intertwining Embodiment and Alterity, Ohio University Press, 2004, 192.
  8.  The unpredictability, or atopy (out-of-place) performance art - by the band and its phans – that creates and sustains dissonance which directs community members to turn to, even rely on, intuition, backed by phamiliarity, to reason through the mystical, silly, extra-sensory experience that is the phish was explored by the author in a conference paper presented at the inaugural Phish Studies Conference. The paper, which established an atopon frame to explore the unpredictability of the Phish phenomenon, also turned to the fourth persona, identified as “it takes one to know one”, to deliberate the conditions of phamiliarity essential to the flow of the collective community. What is not said, or what is beyond words, is still understood by some audiences (or audience members) and the communication exchange can occur as a secret “silent wink.” (See Charles E. Morris III, "Pink Herring & the Fourth Persona: J. Edgar Hoover's Sex Crime Panic," Quarterly Journal of Speech 88, no. 2 (2002).). See Kristine Warrenburg Rome, "Unpredicatable Phamiliarity: Atopy Performance Art and the Fourth Persona " conference paper delivered at the Phish Studies Conference (Oregon State University, 2019).
  9.  Michael A. Gilbert, Coalescent Argumentation (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997).; Michael A Gilbert, "The Kisceral: Reason and Intuition in Argumentation," Argumentation 25, no. 2 (2011).
  10.   Michael A. Gilbert, Coalescent Argumentation (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997)., 93.
  11.  Michael A. Gilbert, Coalescent Argumentation (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997)., 79, 86. Gilbert takes “…the liberty of introducing a new term here in order to afford sufficient breadth without at the same time using terminology generally in disrepute.  That is, the kisceral covers not only the intuitive but also, for those who indulge, the mystical, religious, supernatural and extrasensory. ‘Kisceral’ is chosen in order to have a descriptive term that does not carry with it normative baggage, like, for example, ‘mystical’ or ‘extra-sensory.’” See Gilbert, Michael A. Coalescent Argumentation (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997)., 79.
  12.  Michael A. Gilbert, Coalescent Argumentation (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997), 88.
  13.   Michael A. Gilbert, Coalescent Argumentation (Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997)., 88.
  14. Jnan a. Blau, "A Phan on Phish: Live Improvised Music in Five Performative Commitments," Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 10, no. 4 (2010).
  15.  See Edwin Kent Morris, "»Destroying America«: Phish, Music, and Spaces of Aesthetic and
  16.  Leslie Baxter & Barbara Montgomery, Relating: Dialogues and Dialectics.  New York: The Guilford Press, 1996, 25.
  17.  Don Ihde.  Listening and Voice : Phenomenologies of Sound, 2nd ed., State University of New York Press, 2007, 163.
  18.  Kristine Warrenburg Rome, "Unpredicatable Phamiliarity: Atopy Performance Art and the Fourth Persona " conference paper delivered at the Phish Studies Conference (Oregon State University, 2019).
  19.  Mikhail Bakhtin, Toward a Philosophy, Ed. by V. Liapunov & M. Holquist. Trans. by V. Liapunov Austin: University of Texas Press, 1993, 2.

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