Loma’s Matchbox

Written by Anshuman Singh, LLM.

We submarined yesterday in Wang’s room. Kshitiz, Wang, Loma, Bala, Param, Anand, and I. Loma took a matchbox, played around with it for a while. Then something occurred to him, probably because no one was talking. A vacuum had to be filled. It was almost as if everyone was expecting a magic trick – waiting for something to emerge from nothing. He tossed and turned the box in his hands, then asked me – “which side do you think the black heads are on?” Having said as much, he proceeded to topple and turn the wretched thing again, as though it had no bearing on the affair.

But did it? No one was playing to win, really, even though that very illusion sustained the entire script. Once again, he asks – “Which side?”. I point my fingers to the ground; say “down”. He slides the box open, to reveal that I had been correct. And then he laughs (a little in mockery but more in delight) – the moment for which the entire drama was staged!  He reveals the other side, it too has an almost equal number of blackheads. The game was never fair. Both sides had blackheads. The rules were skewed. There was no point to the whole thing. Except.

A game was played, a vacuum filled. Successfully. Everyone laughed, including me. I felt cheated, but I was happy. It was a cheating that drew some joy from everyone, only to recombine and magnify itself in the empty space between.

How much of my daily life is about these hilarious little games? One would think practically all of it. I spend fairly little of my day all by myself. Mostly, I am surrounded by people. And when one is surrounded by people, one talks. It is the normal thing to do. Filling up vacuums. For god knows what the Other may start thinking – if they do not say something. There is a flight involved at this moment; a flight from a danger which is in the dark, yet ever present – equally strongly within everyone – or it could never be shared as unequivocally as small talk.

What is this a flight from? I don’t know. Perhaps our own thoughts. And the Other’s thoughts. From thought in general? But it must be unconscious thought, for only that has a life of its own. Conscious thought is familiar territory, one can figure out how to navigate it. But unconscious thought is almost self-moving – it has its own secret den of linguistically misarranged connections. You never know what misfires where/when.

To return to Loma’s matchbox: the game was played and experienced as a game. Even though, in truth, it was not one. The fact that it was not a game was revealed to us at the end. What was presented as a contest disguised itself and returned as a joke. One simple revelation – that both sides had blackheads – retroactively redetermined the entire act. And we laughed. Loma’s little magic had worked. Everyone was talking again.

It will take another moment of creativity to draw people out of Silence.

I can recall now what his face looked like when he thought of the entire thing. That slight glimmer of satisfaction, perhaps even anticipated satisfaction. Two different satisfactions – one at having thought such a drama up, and the second at the thought of it succeeding. After the fact, his expressions make sense to me. What seemed like a series of random, contingent events fall into coherence. Meaning is provided. “Ah! It was all a joke!” everyone thinks. Perhaps it only takes observation to turn contingency into necessity. Someone watching, a meaning-provider.

Who’s watching over me? No one. No meaning-provider. Except myself. And Others. We are each others’ meaning-providers. Quite literally too, we – humans – make sense of others’ lives. We live in and through each other. Which is why we dwell so comfortably in language. So much so, that we cannot even live with ourselves without it.

There are only so many ways in which we can live. First, talking to Others. Second, talking to ourselves. Third, losing ourselves in a particular Object. It is not surprising that in the first two we retain a sense of ‘selfhood’ and in the third we ‘lose ourselves’. For instance, losing oneself in an object (say music) involves the simultaneous denial of the past, the future, as well as of one’s identity. One is, I feel, free from his identity – the lie/mask he/she is living. On the other hand, talking to others retains the “I”, and also retains the past/future. While listening to music, I remain in the present – completely self-contained. While talking to others I am constantly drawn out of the present. At least in normal, everyday conversations. (I crave conversations which can keep me completely in the present)

But Pure Thought is different. In it, I am talking to myself. The illusion of two breaks down, yet maintains itself. I necessarily need to be two to be able to talk. Why? Such is the structure of language. One asks the questions, the Other answers. One calls, the Other responds. So it was reasonable for me to assume that one part of me was asking the questions, and the other answering.

This seemed to have puzzled Nietzsche. For he asked himself – “Which is the Oedipus here, which the Sphinx?” (Perhaps both are the structure of language itself.)

It comes from The Outside. From the Other. One part of the Not-I. But it teaches me to relate to myself. Once initiated in it, I can self-relate just as I relate with others. No wonder everyone who speaks (anything) seems split-souled. Torn between oneself and oneself – Foundational schizophrenia? Nietzsche, again, described the predicament of modern man as – “An outside to which nothing inside corresponds, and an Inside to which nothing outside corresponds.”

Something more than accident, I hope, binds these observations.

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