Ktismatics

16 February 2013

On Human Opacity

Filed under: Fiction, Psychology, Reflections — ktismatics @ 6:01 am

Here’s an email I sent to a friend on Monday. You can invent whatever context you like.

Thinking about your perspective on the situation… Somebody told you that they never thought they really knew X, but does anybody really know anybody? You made a conscious effort to empathize with her situation, but since she wasn’t communicating you had to imagine her perspective, perhaps trying on varying points of view to see which made the most sense. Isn’t it a kind of invention, with no sure way of knowing whether what you’ve imagined corresponds to the reality? Somebody told me that the characters in my fictions are opaque, that the reader doesn’t know what they’re thinking, but in my view that’s more realistic than the novelist — or the psychologist for that matter — with purportedly probing and infallible insight into the inner workings of the human mind and soul. And then there’s X, who seemed so sure of her direction and intent, but at the same time you experience her as being under some sort of spell or cult influence. I imagine her in these long fraught silences listening for some voice to tell her what to say, what to do next, and hearing either a cacophony of conflicting voices or just silence. You have to wonder: does she know her own mind any better than you know it? Does anybody know themselves any better than others know them?

I sent this on Monday; as yet I’ve received no reply. I don’t expect to receive one, not ever.

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3 Comments »

  1. “Somebody told me that the characters in my fictions are opaque, that the reader doesn’t know what they’re thinking, but in my view that’s more realistic than the novelist — or the psychologist for that matter — with purportedly probing and infallible insight into the inner workings of the human mind and soul.”

    Both ways are valid, and surely some others as well. You’d have to totally exclude Proust, who would not be so overly-perfectionistic as to think he was ‘infallible’, and anyone who IS ‘probing’, whether a surgeon or a psychologist or a journalist or a novelist, had better not. Even perfectionistic writers like Didion were probing early on, and some of their predictions proved to be very wrong later. It’s fun to point this out to them (her, especially, and in public), because they have a harder time than politicians getting around it, and don’t like being grilled like that–since they know their ‘factual journalism’ was, in hindsight, drenched in their own rose-coloured melancholies.

    About the rest, it sounds all right to me. I even thought you were talking about ‘Marienbad’ briefly, but Delphine is ‘a’ and Giorgio is ‘x’. But Delphine does seem like this too: “I imagine her in these long fraught silences listening for some voice to tell her what to say, what to do next, and hearing either a cacophony of conflicting voices or just silence.”

    Like

    Comment by Patrick Mullins — 16 February 2013 @ 9:58 am

  2. My friend seemed perplexed, as if someone he had known intimately for years had turned out to be a complete stranger, or perhaps had suddenly become one. It’s possible that my friend was being opaque in our conversation, that he really does understand but he won’t tell me, or perhaps that he knows but refuses to believe it. He’s able to reconstruct sequences of events and conversations but the pieces don’t seem to assemble themselves into a sensible whole for him.

    Proust couldn’t have had first-hand knowledge of all he reports. It’s possible that he’s summarizing the gossip he heard later about Swann and Odette from his mother and his own socialite friends, but in his recherches he must surely have used some imagination and invention to pull the pieces together, to account for lost time.

    Like

    Comment by ktismatics — 16 February 2013 @ 12:23 pm

  3. Today my friend did respond to my email. Briefly, he finds many gaps in his understanding despite efforts at formulating hypotheses and revising them based on new data. He believes that through much effort he has attained greater understanding today than he had a year ago, but he also acknowledges the necessity of telling himself stories to make sense and meaning.

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    Comment by ktismatics — 16 February 2013 @ 9:26 pm


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