By Akilesh Ayyar*
I am going to try to persuade you, at least those of you who will recognize what I am trying to express, that we live in the midst of a problem so deep and so all encompassing that we do not even know that it is there, and that making headway on it deserves the greatest effort. I cannot name it directly, this foe of mine (which may also be my deepest friend), for its very essence lies in its inability to be properly named. And yet I might throw a name on my inability to name it and call it the Problem, the Mystery, the Confusion, maya, the twisting paths of twistiness. The story of my life, and perhaps of everyone’s, might be described in some sense as the infuriating quest up and down cartoon staircases to catch this fedora-shielded villain. Precisely because this dastardly foe distorts the mind, I cannot think about what it is and then work backwards to figure out how best to describe it. I must simply talk around it and hope that you get at least something vaguely like my point.
There is a state of mind where a writer squirms after his topic like some particularly elusive eel. No sooner has he finally got it in his hands than it proves never to have been there in the first place: a shadow, an illusion. Lunge this way for it and it proves preternaturally fast, traveling backwards in time via some quantum mechanism to choose the alternate path, the path that never would have put his palm on track to close on it in the first place.
This happens not just to writers but to us all.
Deep in my heart – and, I suspect, in yours – there is a beating, pulsing Something. It is that which seeks expression; it is that which equally evades it. But what is it? I cannot see it, I cannot think it; I can only feel it, perhaps, and intuit it. I want to speak of and by it, from its place, from its power, for it. How?
We need a concerted effort to see within, to catch more comprehensive glimpses of this Thing. I cannot see. I cannot even see what I cannot see. I only know that I cannot see, that what was here a moment ago isn’t now. Was it there, or wasn’t it? That sparkle we sense in another that drives us mad, that luminous hope we felt about a project that hinted at unspeakable future glory, that certainty that here it was at last what we’d been looking for: and how each of these feelings, so standout, seemed so quickly and abruptly so utterly erased – until a flash of sunlight revealed it once again – and then the clouds moved and revealed that too to have been – mirage.
There are whirling phantasms in the deep pools from which our minds emerge. We have not the tools, the arsenals, the concepts to know, to comprehend them. These flashing lights, these déjà vus, these strange breathtaking and alien vistas glimpsed too quickly, this Something, is taking us all for a ride. Our contorted thoughts, our suffering emotions, our human conflicts, our inabilities to do what we supposedly know needs to be done – everything flows from this trickster wellspring of Deepest Desire, this entity which I will call, out of frustration, an entity only because I have no other name for it. We cannot grasp our true situation because we do not perceive it clearly. And it plays hide-and-seek with us.
I don’t know how to even to get a rhetorical grasp on the situation so as to best persuade you of the fact of our not-knowing something that is nevertheless, though perhaps on the borderlands of existing and not-existing, there to be known, and perhaps to be spoken with. Halfway even I cannot believe it myself, for I cannot understand it – cannot understand what it is that I am asking of you or of myself, either. I seem to be pleading for something that I have felt as out of a dream whose merest dregs remain in the morning. Something sits at the bottom, as of a well, in our minds and our hearts and our souls, or whatever word you choose. It may be monster and it may be god and it is certainly an artist, but it is no doubt the source of our personalities and the end of our quests. It is not the simply transcendental, not the simply beyond-this-world, though it may have one half of its being in that domain. It is intimately enmeshed with this world, whatever “this world” is. When we catch its reflection in someone, that someone glows with the fire of something realer than reality, and it is this which compels the seeker to abandon all else and drop down the rabbit hole in hot chase.
It is the source of desire and also the constructor of our perspectives, of our views of the world. It is the hearth which shelters that cunning and elusive fire whose object we try in vain to locate. And it is the lure of death. It is what calls us in moments of extraordinary and near-supernatural feeling.
I’m giving a list of attributes without elaborate justification because I’m trying to communicate, first and foremost, a feeling, an atmosphere, a phenomenon to which some people, I hope, will feel a kinship.
And on that basis I urge that we exert individual and collective efforts to invent new ways of better comprehending and contending with this great secret garden which is at the heart of whatever it is we long for. This Thing which veils itself surely will rebuff a complete view, but just as surely it must reward diligent effort: for as much as it wishes to hide, it also longs to be seen.
Why do I think this is a collective task? Why don’t we only sit by ourselves and try to figure it out as it applies to ourselves? And what might figuring it out even mean? Using what method might we advance things?
I have views on these matters; I have opinions. Yet the relevant truth is: I don’t know. I don’t know how to go about this. I only know that there is an issue, and that I can tend towards certain possibilities and away from others based on my intuition. But I know my own capacity is limited, and so my selfish hope is to enlist others who are perhaps on the same wavelength, or even perhaps not on the same wavelength, but whose investigations, directly or indirectly, might somehow shed light.
I want to interpret the entire cultural productions of humanity as in some sense, whether their creators knew it or not, a set of clues in a long-lived game, scraps of a treasure map which may be knitted back together. This Mystery, which is undoubtedly not a thing but a being, but even more than that something that breaks all the metaphors which are applied to it, nevertheless compels us to create better metaphors. For while a complete view may be impossible, a less partial view is possible, and is exhilarating to behold, exhilarating even to pursue. Or so I tell myself right now.
A great exploration! A great adventure! A collective call to action at the site of real change! A conversation with the Appalling and Awesome Intelligence!
*Akilesh Ayyar is a writer in Brooklyn. He is interested in how literature, philosophy, religion, and psychoanalysis can help him figure out just what it is that he’s been trying to figure out. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.