Telling Stories

To continue with the ‘stream of consciousness’ theme of the previous post, and dealing, this time, with a situation where contemplation may be subjected to a process through which the actual sight of an object before one’s very eyes may become wholly subsidiary, eventually losing all existential intensity. It is this which may occur during the process of reading, where the print which confronts one may take on, gradually and as one becomes absorbed, less visual validity than the images evoked in the mind – where the mental ‘vision’ may entirely obscure what is on the page being read, and the very turning of the pages themselves. A situation where reading proceeds automatically and unknowingly, with the reader being conscious of nothing but the ‘world’ of the book in which he or she has become thoroughly engrossed.

The Reading Process

The page is there, in front of me;
I see it, black on white.
But black and white, as words pass by,
grow less and less, are veiled,
and fading, slip and drift away,
become subservient to
new images which now unfold, repeatedly…
until, and I all unaware, they hold me close in
pure, subjective phantasy.
The black and white are gone. An automaton
reads on. Are pages being turned?
And if they are, I do not know.
Pages, printed words… a clock ticks
somewhere in another world… subsidiary;
gone, gone is their validity. I’m locked fast in another,
truly conscious, living world they have evoked…
And, ah! I see her plainly, now. My love.
And oh, she is so beautiful, and says
she’s mine. The pledge is made;
tonight we will elope, and leave the world behind.
We’ll flee, begin another life. Just you and me, forever!
All my days, I’ve longed for you, and now,
as in some magic, wondrous dream, you’re mine,
you’re mine, dear love; oh, bliss…
But who is this? I’ll crush the life from him,
the cur – the brute, I’ll redesign his face!
Dare to touch her, will he? – her, avowed just now
to me? Get off her, swine! Unhand the damozel!
I’ll kick you in the – Yes! He’s down! Be quick, my love,
make haste! We must escape before he’s –
What… quo vadis now? Your bijou box?
Too late, you fool! Leave it – look, the gate;
beyond it, open fields – and there, the woods!
If we can gain them, we’ll be safe! Oh, no!
He’s up! He has a knife! Leave it – Leave the box, I say!
Run! Just run! Hold tight my hand and flee, or he will –
What the – ? What the Heck? What’s this?
’It’s getting dark, I’ll ruin my eyes?’ ‘It’s time for tea’?!!
Damn, Mam – again! Can’t you see I’m
somewhere else, and quite oblivious
to the occurrence of external stimuli?

(From ‘Musings on the Merry-go-Round : A Medley of Verse for us Riders of the Earth’)

Note: The Reading Process is a verse rendition modelled on the observations (and the interesting mode of presentation) of American (USA) psychologist Wilfrid Lay (1872-1955) in his 1921 Man’s Unconscious Spirit : The Psychoanalysis of Spiritism; poetically, of course, what Lay had to say has undergone a little metamorphism.  Lay was popular in his day, writing a whole series of books on the theme ‘Man’s Unconscious… ‘ but seems not to appear in any list of leading 20th Century American or other practitioners or theorists of the science. He and Carl Jung, who was amenable to and appreciative of Lay’s outlook, corresponded on the I Ching (pronounced, for those not familiar with it, ‘Ee Jing’), usually known in English as ‘The Book of Changes’. This is the ancient Chinese system of divination which appears to have first originated some time before 1,000 BC during the little-known Shang and Chou dynasties (Jung wrote on this and – as did Joseph Campbell – on that other divinatory system, the Tarot). I have an old 1st edition copy of Lay’s book, bought many years ago, but like a lot of older publications, nowadays, his works may be found in many of the modern reprints (of varying, sometimes not up-to-the-mark standards, sad to say) seemingly universally available. Indeed, from what I’ve observed on ‘The Net’ Wilfrid appears to be perhaps, with many another resurrection, enjoying some popularity. Most of us avid readers will be, of course, well-acquainted with the pleasurable sensation of being totally immersed in the ‘world’ of a captivating book – and a more agreeable thralldom I cannot imagine, even if the poem carries this mode of abduction into something of an extreme.

I have slipped in the ‘quo vadis’ (‘Whither goest thou? / Where are you off to?’) as a little something archaic and fitting to the mediaeval-type dream-sequence setting, and as it will not be an unknown expression to those of us who are acquainted with the book, or those of a certain age, familiar with the very popular film which bore that title. Yes, it became quite a well-known, even fashionable expression for a good while through the 1951 epic film Quo Vadis?, Under its influence I can recall, in my boyhood, the phenomenon of Latin being spoken on the streets of my Welsh town: ’Helo, Dai – Quo vadis?’ went our youthful, jokey greetings; it lasted for quite some time. (And this sort of effect is a psychological curiosity: I remember giving a spelling test to a ‘B’ stream fourth form at a Comprehensive school in England; the results were, in the main, predictably mediocre – but every single student, without exception, was able to correctly spell ‘exorcist’, which I had experimentally included in my list. That bizarre film had not long been released, was at the time a frequent topic of conversation, and had obviously made its mark upon young minds).The title of the celluloid Quo Vadis? was the same as Nobel laureate Henryk Sienkiewicz’ great 1896 novel. I’ve never read it, sorry to say, but – the Crusading Orders being an interest – I’ve read his whopping around 800-page The Teutonic Knights (he never wrote anything much ‘shortish’). This is a vivid fictional description of the national struggle of the Lithuanian and Polish peoples against the oppressive religious militarism of the mediaeval German knightly order, and would serve as a colourful and expansive introduction, for anyone interested, to scholarly accounts of these conflicts such as Eric Christiansen’s excellent 1980 The Northern Crusades. The Teutonic Order was more successful directed against the poor coastal tribes of the Baltic region (well, those  pagans up there needed Christianizing, didn’t they, and the Teutonic Knights were in dire need of a new power base) than it had ever been against the Saracen.

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