Chapter 1, part 1 of 3
When I stare at a fixed point on the wall for a long time, it sometimes happens that I no longer know who I am or where I am. Then I feel my absence of identity from a distance as if I had become, for a moment, a complete stranger. With equal force, this abstract character and my real self struggle to win my conviction.
In the next instant my identity finds itself again, as in those stereoscopic views where two images separate by mistake, and only when the operator lines them up, superposing them, do they suddenly give the illusion of relief. The room then seems to have a freshness that it didn’t have before. It returns to its former consistency and the objects within it are deposited the way a clod of rubbly earth in a glass of water settles in layers of different elements, well-defined and variously colored. The elements of the room stratify into their proper contours with the coloring of old as I remember it.
The sensation of distance and isolation, in the moments when my everyday self has dissolved into insubstantiality, is different from any other sensation. When it lasts a while, it becomes a fear, a terror of never being able to find myself again. In the distance, an uncertain silhouette of me remains, surrounded by a great luminosity in the way some objects appear in a fog.
The terrible question “who am I?” lives in me then like an entirely new body, sprung up with skin and organs that are completely unknown to me. Its resolution is demanded by a more profound and more essential lucidity than that of the brain. Everything that’s capable of being agitated in my body becomes agitated, struggles and revolts more powerfully and in a more elementary way than in everyday life. Everything implores a solution.
A few times, I find the room as I know it as if I were closing and opening my eyes: each time the room is clearer—as a landscape appears better and better focused in a telescope as we go through all the intermediate veils of images in adjusting the distance.
At last I recognize myself and find the room again. There is a sensation of light drunkenness. The room is extraordinarily condensed in its substance, and I am implacably returned to the surface of things: the deeper the trough of uncertainty, the higher its crest; at no other time and under no other circumstances does it seem more evident to me than at those moments that each object must occupy the place that it occupies and that I must be who I am. Nor does my struggle in this state of uncertainty have a name; it’s a simple regret that I’ve found nothing in its depths. I am only surprised by the fact that a total lack of meaning could be bound so profoundly to my intimate substance. Now that I’ve found myself again and I look for a way to express the sensation, it appears completely impersonal to me: a simple exaggeration of my identity, self-generating like cancer from its own substance. A tentacle of a jellyfish that’s extended itself too far and that’s looked through the waves in exasperation until at last it has returned under the gelatinous bell. In this way, in the few moments of anxiety, I have gone through all the certainties and uncertainties of my existence to return definitively and painfully to my solitude.
At that moment my solitude is purer and more pathetic than at other times. The sensation of the world’s retreat is clearer and more intimate: a limpid and delicate melancholy, like a dream that we remember in the middle of the night.
It alone recalls to me something of the mystery and sad charm of my childhood “spells.”
Only in this sudden disappearance of identity do I regain my falls in the cursed spaces of old, and only in the moments of immediate lucidity that follow the return to surface, does the world appear in that unusual atmosphere of uselessness and desuetude that formed around me when my hallucinatory trances ceased wrestling with me.