Thursday, June 08, 2006

Pay No Attention to That World behind the Curtain

Back when I was maybe 8 or 10, I toyed with the idea that the world around me was an illusion, a mere dream. That the real world was completely different, concealed from me by a veil of misperception. I think this is a conceit that many of us have fiddled around with at one time or another. What set my childhood notion apart was that I had quite a vivid image of what the "real" world was like.

In the "real" world, I had been suffering all my life from sleeping sickness, and so for years I had been dreaming our world as I lay there, sound asleep, on my silk-draped catafalque.

Indeed, in the "real" world I was not even human: none of us in the "real" world were remotely human. I lay there, huge, barrel-like body and big round head the size of a large medicine ball. Rough, knotted dark brown hide, with tufts of light brown fur sprouting in odd places. Arms and legs long, thin, and gnarled like tree roots. Eyes like twin radar dishes sunk back into my head. Mouth surrounded by crustacean-like tendrils, opening to reveal a tongue like the trunk of an elephant. Not even remotely human; we were all of us in the "real" world utterly alien creatures of this sort.

And so I was left there to sleep, dreaming of "our" world on my catafalque, amidst pillars and colonnades and porticos of marble all draped with huge fluttering sheets of gauzy dragonfly-wing fabric. Other barrel-like aliens would look in on me now and then, but they knew that my sleeping sickness had no cure, and that I had lain there sleeping for years. And yellow-brown light filtered in, a dusky light that shone down from the catseye-like sun in a striated dull yellow sky overhead. It was hot, like a perpetual summertime. And a buzzing, droning, lulling sound filled the air, a noise like the droning of a herd of distant vacuum cleaners.

This image of a strange and alien "real" world, hidden from me behind a veil of sleep, was tremendously vivid to me when I was in third, fourth, fifth grade. I knew even then (well, 99.8% of the way) that it was a flight of imagination. But it was a fantasy of a kind which I imagine many of us have entertained at one time or another.

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Blogger The Tetrast said...

Not unLovecraftian. Barrel-shaped creatures, tendrils around the mouths.

And there's something rather compelling about it that seems not to have anything in particular to do with Lovecraft.

The mathematicians whom I've known have all had vivid imaginations. That kind of power naturally spins a tale in which the concrete everyday world is simply the imagined one which triumphed. "The perfect fiction." That seems a kind of metaphysical version of moral-equivalencism, equating commonesense perception to imagination. After all, what could imagination do if it didn't have resistant concreta to play with? Still, who's to say. Somewhere, an alarm clock is ringing at an impossibly high pitch, and someone is late for his tendril grooming appointment again!

Friday, June 09, 2006 3:09:00 PM  
Blogger Paul Burgess said...

Yes, well, as they say, "ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn"... or, translated into English, "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."

Which gives me an idea for an alternate title for this blog post, if instead of L. Frank Baum I decided to coin an allusion to H.P. Lovecraft: "I Was a Junior Cthulhu."

Friday, June 09, 2006 4:49:00 PM  
Blogger The Tetrast said...

The Oz-lusion was rather elegant, I thought.

I've visited the Cthulhu-related sites a few times, and it's amazing how much work people have put into this. Some funny ones have disappeared, thanks to PBS lawyers (they didn't like, among other things, the novelette in which "dead Bharni lies sleeping...")

Friday, June 09, 2006 5:59:00 PM  

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