Saturday, June 9, 2012

The Really Real and the Really, Truly, Indubitably Real

I went for a run today in the rain. By the time I got back to my building the sun had come out. With my contacts in, I was able to see a lot of detail in things that would otherwise be obscured by my glasses. I don't know if crumbled concrete and a rotting white door are proper objects of wonder, but here we are.

I was cooling down, walking and stretching, when my mind quietly seized. In the clouds and trees, even in the brick buildings and cobblestone parking lots, I saw a desert open up. Everything was a flat, consistent plane, each surface equally opaque and continuous with every other. There was a kind of inscrutable hiddenness in everything.

In this state I prayed. I asked God for a sign that this was his work. By the end of my silent prayer, everything had become a surface—not just the sights of things, but their sounds, smells, feels. My mind became a point suspended in something I know not what. I turned around like a baby in utero, looking at a world made strange.

I don't know if God answered my prayer in a way I could understand, but my heightened sense of alienation at least reopened a window that's been shut for a long time. Here's the view, familiar enough: my little brain does its best to dance over the surfaces of things, and is satisfied with a cursory knowledge of the contours they present to me. It cannot, however, open a door into a stone, or touch the life that animates an olive tree. My brain can only gesture at reality at a slant, and ponder it from a distance. Perhaps otherwise it would be consumed—or simply fall silent, like the collapsing body of the man who tried to steady the ark with his bare hand.

Maybe it really is true, that everything we think or say is essentially and most truly about what we cannot think and can never say. Who could know? And could she say it if she did know?


  1. Wow, very interesting.

    I don't know if this is the same thing, but what this reminds me of is that every now and then I lose my depth perception. I have no idea why (I went to an eye doctor once and he didn't seem to know why either). Anyway, when it happens, everything seems flat and near. So if a car is far away, it doesn't look far away, it just looks really tiny, like I could reach out and grab it right in front of me. Not sure if this is what you experienced.

    So is this the end of your first year?

  2. Until I got to the part about you being a revolving point and all sensory perceptions being flattened into surfaces, I was influenced in my thinking by the facts that I come from a neurologically strange paternal line and that my husband is an academic neurologist. So I was pondering whether this meant that you just might need to go to the opthamologist (one eye having lost some refractive power, perhaps) or the neurologist! However, at that point you sounded far more like Emerson (or maybe some anchorite, shut up in a box of white planes.) However, I don't see any contradiction in thinking those practical things on one side and on the other that you had an otherworldly experience or vision that showed you something new with images (and that they also bore meaning or message.)

  3. Brantly - thanks for the comment! I'd have a hard time going into any more detail about what happened exactly—physically, I suppose it had little more to do than with the novelty of seeing with my contacts as opposed to my glasses. And yes, this is the end of my first and only year, as far as I can see right now. I might be back at KUL in two or three years, but I plan on spending the next year in the states, working and reading and writing.

    Marly - I hope I don't need to see a neurologist! The practical/physical side of this experience was comparatively slight, I think—more a key to something that had been building on an existential or spiritual plane. I wish I could see with Chesterton's eyes when he writes of his astonishment that any thing could be any other way than it is at any moment, but for providence. I think this was a darker version of the same sort of curiosity, inflected with a little bit of existentialism a la Sartre (as recently I had been assigned passages from _Nausea_ for a seminar on disgust). Thanks for your comment!