Today we feature a story by Jonathan Lethem from McSweeney’s Issue 50, which unfortunately is entirely sold out. However, lucky for you, we have a few copies of our collector’s slipcased editions remaining. You can also subscribe to the Quarterly to never miss another story again.
Most of us have experienced the inkling that
there is a world behind the world.
The supposition that our reality is a vast clockwork construction, made of multiple subjectivities, can become an obsession—giving way to conspiracy theories, or sensations of paranoia or solipsism: that belief that only we ourselves are real.
Such anxieties are often deepened when we confront the fundamental mystery of the other—and our inability to leap across the breach between ourselves and any other person.
Yet too mystical a view of consciousness is offset by the fact that we live embedded in an indifferent and natural environment, one more often brutal, homely, and fallible than embracing or sublime.
Any self-centered view of reality is humbled at an early age by encounters with irrefutable evidence of our parents’ lives before we were born—this comprises an almost fathomless realm of mystery.
Esoteric visionary flights are also checked by our routine engagement with a universe of imperfect artifacts, which present unceasing opportunities for acts of coping and management.
Our carnal appetites also embed us in the material world, desires agitating our bodies toward a greater number of enticements than we possess limbs with which to grasp.
These flesh-envelopes we inhabit possess a certain theatrical aspect. Even the shyest among us functions as a performer in the theater of the social matrix.
On the other hand, if our social selves are a fiction, we are not the sole authors. Often, when peering out from behind a mask, we can only guess what faces others have drawn for us.
We arrive into a world already cluttered with attitudes, expectations, and assumptions. A huge amount of authentic human freedom is earned by simple gestures of refusal and negation.
The encounter with oneself is a lifelong pursuit—a mirror stage that never ends.
When we consider that our selves seem to be born anew each time we wake, life may seem a series of endless rehearsals behind a curtain that never actually rises—a strangely liberating realm of suspended judgment and infinite possibility.
Reconciliation comes in the acceptance that the worlds of reality and illusion, mind and matter, are inextricably mingled and interdependent — two sides of one coin.
From time to time such observations may strike us as complete enough that we can brush aside metaphysics and get on with the business of daily life without succumbing to such preoccupations.
Nevertheless, any given supposition tends to be dwarfed by an uncanny awareness of our elusive proximity to matters beyond the grasp of any language, including my own in this present undertaking.
NANCY© UFS. Reprinted by permission of ANDREWS McMEEL SYNDICATION for UFS. All rights reserved.