Sometimes I get restless when reading books or watching TV and I can guess why. Everything in books and on TV is about something without actually being it. Novels are about people and documentaries are about, say, Japan, and my thoughts are about the world. Yet novels are not people, documentaries are not Japan and my thoughts are not the world.
This seems so obvious that it is hardly worth mentioning, a bit like that French artist who painted a pipe and then wrote at the bottom, ‘This is not a pipe’. Presumably his point was that it is a picture of a pipe, not a pipe itself. I always thought that the point was too obvious to need stating. Yes (sigh), we realise it’s not an actual pipe.
Even so, maybe it is not such an inane point after all, especially for someone like me. To some extent I live in a virtual world of books, images on screens and daydreams, and sometimes I mistake these for the real world. Abstraction becomes a habit. When I am out and about I think, ‘Yep, there’s a tree and there goes a person on a bicycle. Oh, and here comes a car’, everything is ticked off with barely a look. And that is precisely the problem. I’m not really looking. Not properly. Even though I am kind of noticing the world it has the feel of a dream.
This is not to suggest that books, TV, the internet and thinking aren’t useful. I wouldn’t be without any of them. It is just that sometimes the actual world, rather than just its abstract representation in my head, tends to go missing. And the part that gets lost is the world’s physicality, its texture, its realness. And to lose that is to lose something important.