Blog Post

mind your fictions

The incapacity of the mind–or rather of the Western mind culturally trained to succeed and strive–to conceive of reality. We are not taught to see what is, but to dream, long, hope, desire, strive, reach for a perfection (physical, intellectual, financial, social) that does not exist outside of our projections and the standards of the society where we are born.

Case in point: chronic pain. Or for that matter, accidents, disease, breast size, parents, weather, all the things we wished (sometimes) were different.

Not that there’s anything wrong with creating fantasies and hoping that things could be different. But we immediately forget (if we have ever been aware of it) that these are dreams, constructions of the mind, which however beautiful and grand, are only that: fidgets of our powerful capacity to imagine, project, and think wishfully. And this is why literature is both vital and risky. The dreams and illusions it creates are at least never presented for the real thing. Who really forgets she is reading a book? The book never masquerades as anything else than words on paper. And the fiction within is never more fictitious than our never-ending stream of thoughts and “what if?” scenarios (how many thousands of pages of words and alternative lives our thoughts would amount to if they were directly plugged into a printer?  “Qui ne voit que j'ay pris une route par laquelle, sans cesse et sans travail, j'iray autant qu'il y aura d'ancre et de papier au monde?” Montaigne, III, 9, 945)

Acceptance of reality it is not resignation. You need a clear view of what is in order to change it. Or recognize that everything will change, in due course, but that certain things cannot be changed. Resignation is only the flipside of denial. And denial only works so long.

Case in point: chronic pain (again, I know, but isn’t chronic pain, well, chronic?).

Cecile Alduy's picture
« Je ne puis tenir registre de ma vie par mes actions: fortune les met trop bas; je le tiens par mes fantasies. » Montaigne, Essais, III, 9, 945 A prescient definition of blogging, no? Cécile Alduy, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of French Studies at Stanford University. A former student from the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris, she teaches French literature and film, with an emphasis on gender and ethnic studies.  Her research interests include Renaissance literature and culture, the history of the body, poetry, cognitive theory, and more generally how we make sense of the world.