Not infinite, but economical

5 12 2007

A thought from two years back (pre-blog), recently revisited in another context:

Great efforts have been lavished on the interpretation of the scenes and stories that visit our sleep, in which nothing is ever what it seems, instead dissimulating, or so we fervently believe, some profound, ludic, or even prophetic meaning. Something insists the chamber we pace is our childhood bedroom, though it seems an unfamiliar apartment; we are certain the traveling companion suddenly beside us is our father, though he wears the youthful face of a college friend.

We accept the fact that life resurfaces disguised in dreams, its features rearranged by an oneiric logic, but what of the other dreams, those we set out to achieve by day? So many of us set our sights on stars only to fall short—a story less of failure than shared fate, so common no shame there remains. In fact, it’s often implied that maturity is the gradual negotiation of the gap between plans and what became of them: the blueprints and the ruins. Wisdom, in this view, is the acceptance of reality, though since reality imposes itself, wisdom seems a form of rationalization, perfect as any retrospective insight.

But isn’t reality also vastly more contingent, more complicated? Decisions divert us from intentions, events adjust priorities and experience our courses, goals succeed each other or expire, the unforeseen and the considered intertwine. Not everything you wind up with, then, little as it may resemble past hopes, can properly be called falling short. Perhaps the distance wisdom measures, between what we meant to be and what we are, isn’t only vertical but lateral, diagonal, or even weirder and less assessable. Perhaps where we’ve wound up bears not the blunt relation of failure to former goals, but veers from it along a wavy path described only by an equation infinitely quirkier and more complex, bristling with queer symbols and variables.

What if there were a law of conservation of desires? What if our dreams resurfaced in life, in altered appearance, in scraps and fragments, mirrored pieces or inscrutable phrases? What if all we’d set our hearts on but didn’t get persists, not as ache or absence but immaterially, energy making its way only slowly and erratically back into the matter of our lives? Here a missed chance infuses the juice of an orange. There a lost child shows up in a lover’s face. A blunder reincarnates as a welcome stranger, a regret returns as a gift or a glimpse of a raised eyebrow.

” ‘Or do you,’ the Lord asked for the last time, ‘hold and believe that I have resolved to create a sublime world, with all things necessary to the purpose in it, and none left out?’ ” ~ Isak Dinesen, “The Cardinal’s First Tale”

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