Wednesday, August 10, 2016
A world that is not important
Can you see, or feel, the difference between the way reality hit you when you were a kid, and the way everything hits us now, as adults? I’m talking about an entirely different kind of living, of experience. This is almost impossible, or unworthy, to describe if we can indeed remember that “lost horizon.” There was immediate meaning: the experience itself. There was no ego or self-consciousness to get in the way of it. Waking up on a Saturday; saddle-soaping that new baseball glove; seeing and catching crayfish in the ripply stream; hearing your parents laughing together; going on vacation; walking in a summer night choreographed by lightning bugs; sitting down to a peanut butter and jelly sandwich after Sunday School. Even the smell of new school supplies; that girl or boy you like smiling at you in fourth grade class.
One thing to notice is – the moments of pure meaning, there was no ego in it. And when self and self-consciousness started to come into play, we were already becoming lost.
It is time to condemn Peter Pan for his psychological sickness thanks to J. M. Barrie. He who should have been a nature boy was already ego-consumed, needing to see his glory in everything:
“Perhaps I should have ironed it,” Wendy said thoughtfully, but Peter, boylike, was indifferent to appearances, and he was now jumping about in the wildest glee. Alas, he had already forgotten that he owed his bliss to Wendy. He thought he had attached the shadow himself. ‘How clever I am!’ he crowed rapturously, ‘oh, the cleverness of me!’
“It is humiliating to have to confess that this conceit of Peter was one of his most fascinating qualities. To put it with brutal frankness, there never was a cockier boy.
“But for the moment Wendy was shocked. ‘You conceit [braggart],’ she exclaimed, with frightful sarcasm; ‘of course I did nothing!’
“’You did a little,’ Peter said carelessly, and continued to dance.” (At Project Gutenberg -- http://www.gutenberg.org/files/16/16-h/16-h.htm.)
Of course, we have to be self-aware, though I wonder about it. Is there a place – some different plane of reality – where children never have to think if they are good or bad, good enough or inadequate, important or unimportant? Where fine, they are simply into things because of interest?
I think these are valuable (though very abstract) speculations because I believe that this worry dimension – the child’s introspection, anticipatory anxiety, self-reference – has, over the course of history, crystallized into a world that is in fact not important, populated by false meanings. Why do we care about movie stars? Why do we engage in and listen to micro-polemics about the various religions? Why do we “deconstruct” literature and produce exegeses about twentieth century irony and care about theories of Aesthetics? How do we come to write eleven-hundred-page stimulus bills, twelve-hundred-page climate bills, thirteen-hundred-page health plans?* There is a big difference between a child’s or a scientist’s peering at slides under a microscope or stars in a telescope for hours, and news commentators parsing the boring angels and pinheads of politicians’ behaviors ad infinitum.
We have grown a world that does not have real meaning to us. It is, using Freud’s term, a “screen”** world. Picture a boy’s super attention to a praying mantis fiddling with its caterpillar lunch, or a girl’s absorption in a book on tyrannosaurus rex or in an Indiana Jones movie. These are not occupations where in a gray haze they will blink, yawn, get up and shuffle away: It’s almost criminal to interrupt such engagement. Yet how many adult pursuits would allow this zombie walking away? We are clock-watchers on the job, spouses who sit through evenings of reruns and commercials, young people who “choose” a job or line of work rather than fall into a passion. If we take a further step back, we might see an entire world lived behind a screen of falseness, where instead of things that matter we see ideas, “beliefs,” thoughts about life not life itself. We live in a dimension of attitudinal eyes and furrowed brows, slowed and agitated by some distance from quiddity, from essence. We have heard of intellectuals who “love ideas” or “love words,” for whom books are more important than breathing.*** I can hardly picture a sicker philosophy clothed as ardor.
There is no crusade here, where I’d like people to return to the best childhood kind of living. It’s enough to point out that we are astray, and to remind people of the right part of their childhood. Because what we’ve lost is the root of all the psychological ills we suffer. We’re touching nothing but the thought of pain and true love. We need to touch the reality.
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** Definition via online article -- http://www.psychoanalytischeperspectieven.be/wp-content/uploads/2012/10/screen-memories.pdf. “Freud used the term ‘screen memory’ to denote any memory which functions to hide (and to derivatively express) another, typically unconscious, mental content.”
*** Well-known Erasmus (1466-1536) quotation: “When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes.”