Saturday, August 27, 2011

Any Ideas? (VII)

 [We continue our inventory of Leading Ideas.]

(9) The Precellence of Penguins

             Well, okay, here I’m kidding a bit.  But the idea is:  One can elaborate a fantasy life, parallel to one’s daily routine, and quite as rich and satisfying; and not even particularly autistic, as it can sometimes enjoyably be shared. (Cf. C.S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy.) Perhaps this is no more than a Lesson Learned (being not applicable to everybody); or (if indeed universal) perhaps it is only a variant of Idea 4 (“Free invention of structures”), the created structures here  being literary rather than mathematical.  I am wont to spend dreamy afternoons on Planet Penguin, a land of fantastical lore, turning over and over the immemorial Legends of the Penguins:  much as one may lead an alternate existence in the World of Dickens – much as Mr. McCawber does.
            Perhaps it is just a fancy; or perhaps there is something more to it. Whose are those eyes, behind the skies, glinting in amusement at our earthly shadow-play?!
Positively to enrol this bit of whimsy among the stern centurions of Leading Ideas, would be taken amiss, as it is not something generally accepted.  To argue for its validity would require an essay in itself, and that is not the purpose of the present sketch, which does not mean to prove things, but simply to notice them.  Still, a couple of brief ink-tracings from the thumbnail, to demonstrate that the thing might be made to work.
George Orwell, no sentimentalist, in his penetrating – even steely-eyed – essay on Dickens, says of that novelist’s characters:
They are monsters, but at any rate they exist.
(Emphasis in original.)  One could say much the same thing about:  Fermat primes; Julius Caesar; our fellow-men, as (mis)perceived and (mis)conceived by ourselves.  The World of Dickens, aptly so called, is as rich a shared environment  as is this living-room.  True, you and I know different parts of that world, and react to them differently; but so do any husband and wife react differently to their living-room, some aspects being prominent for one that are effectively invisible to the other.  (Our own, I suppose, has drapes, though I couldn’t say for sure, and have no idea what they look like.)
The Idea acquires bite when one realizes that not only a master like Dickens can create an encompassing work of fiction.  One can oneself; and the work in question is one’s literal life, considered subjectively as lived, rather than as in your obituary.  Here I don’t mean to allude to the lives of imposters or anything of the sort.  The idea is that one’s own life is structured – eventually, consciously structured – as a narrative.  (Sometimes I fantasize I work at a super-secret all-knowing mathematico-linguistical Organization;  sometimes it seems so real.)  At the extreme, this can lead to Walter Mitty, who is not widely admired, though he is better to be envied than, say, Bartleby the Scrivener, with no shaping self-narrative at all.
            Familiar examples of this sort of thing include lives that are shaped and directed by one transcendent and magnetic lodestar – say, to become King of the Blues.  Many Christians have led lives structured at every step by their own perceived progress towards Salvation;  they still show up at their day job, and remember to buy bread on the way home, but all this is but bunting around the central stage of their lived drama.   We may even allude to a sort of reverse of Walter Mitty (an ordinary man with fantasies of heroism and adventure):  Superman.  In (his) reality, he was Superman; yet felt it necessary to structure his existence by the adoption of an entire, quite hazardous and very time-consuming, alternate identity as that Everyschlump,  Clark Kent.

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