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Extract from Out of My Head



    Intellect to Senses: Ostensibly there is colour, ostensibly sweetness, ostensibly bitterness, actually only atoms and the void.
Senses to Intellect: Poor intellect, do you hope to defeat us while from us you borrow your evidence? Your victory is your defeat.

Democritus, fourth century BC

    My old familiar opinions keep coming back, and against my will they capture my belief. It is as though they had a right to a place in my belief-system as a result of long occupation and the law of custom.

René Descartes, 1641


I am what is around me.

Wallace Stevens, 1917





I open my eyes and there is the wall.

No, that’s not right.

I open my eyes and there are the wall, the wardrobe, the bedside table, the lamp, the tissues, the sheets, the blankets, the smell, the person next to me, the sound of the alarm. Multiplicity. I can’t have one item without the rest.

But that’s not quite right either.

I open my eyes and there are a part of the wardrobe – the side nearest to me, with a grey satiny wood surface – and a few surrounding patches of the wall which has a silver grey wallpaper with some stains around the bedside table, perhaps splashes of tea. The sheets are glimpsed, parts of the sheets, but also felt; the blanket has its weight, or rather mass, which I perceive as weight, thanks to gravity. I know the person beside me by the warmth and the breathing, but I haven’t seen her yet. Also there’s a window, though that’s behind me surely. Yet I’m aware of it, or think I am, without seeing or touching it. I mean, I know it’s there. I think I know. It’s the light through the window, surely, that I’m seeing on the wardrobe and the wall. What else?

I close my eyes. Now the smell comes to the fore. What is it? Me, my partner, the room, the sheets, the carpet. It’s warm. Or the breath making the smell is warm. Or my body. There’s a strong feeling of my body that I wouldn’t know how to describe at all. Eyes closed, waiting for the alarm to sound again, it is not exactly dark but not exactly light. More a kind of waiting to be dark or light when I open my eyes. For the moment I’m not seeing anything. But I’m not seeing nothing either. Perhaps I’m seeing the inside of my eyelids.

Would they be inside my head or outside?

My partner says, ‘Amore,’ in a sleepy voice. And she asks, ‘Are you cold?’ I say no I’m not cold. If anything I’m hot. She’s cold, she says.

I can feel a tug of bedclothes on my body. That makes sense: partner pulling the bedclothes. She has an issue with bedclothes. Awareness of my and my partner’s history. Jokes about bedclothes. I could say something, but don’t.

Suddenly I’m walking along a road by the edge of a wood. I turn to go in between the trees and see a stream at the bottom of a shallow valley, it seems a good place to swim …

The alarm sounds again. It’s set for ten-minute intervals. I must have fallen asleep. So that was a dream and this is reality. The wood, the stream. In the dream I didn’t know it was a dream, but nor would I have been able to say what came before the wood and the stream; I had no memory of the bedroom and the alarm; in the dream I was really in the moment; but now, back with the bedroom and the jingling alarm, I have a memory, or simply awareness, of the wood and the stream and there is some kind of continuity, a sort of me-ness that links them. In the one situation I can compare the experiences, in the other, I can’t. Is that how I know this is reality and that is dream?

In any event, I feel I do know.

Again I open my eyes and see a whole that is made up of bits of all the separate things I see, none of which I see whole, as it were. I mean I see bits of the wardrobe and I could try to imagine the whole wardrobe as something you might walk round in an IKEA showroom, or I can imagine a two-dimensional photo or a drawing of the ward¬robe, taken or done in such a way as to suggest three dimensions – I could even draw such a thing myself, come to think of it – but at the same time there are large areas of the wardrobe I will never see, where it backs onto the wall, for example, or underneath where it touches the floor. So when I say I see the wardrobe I mean I see that bit of it that is toward my eye and not blocked by the bedclothes. In fact when I use all these words, bedclothes, wardrobe, wall, lamp, I mean I see only the part of them that I see, though the word seems to refer to the whole thing, the idea of the whole thing. Words are Platonic maybe. They permit Platonism. Word ‘wardrobe’ = idea of wardrobe, not the bit of wardrobe I actually see.

Language is tricky.