23 August 2010

We are All Avatars

In Louise Erdrich's novel Four Souls, the character Nanapush considers the existence of a reality other than the one we see. Many of Erdrich's characters have the ability to understand and manipulate mysterious forces originating in some other reality, so to enter this novelist's world is to accept that other worlds exist beyond the one most of us consider "real". (And indeed, isn't experiencing a fictional world itself already a sort of alternate reality?) In Erdrich's fictional world, certain individuals simply accept that other realities exist and seem to understand that perhaps we can move back and forth among them. Others only intuit the presence of these various layers of reality, and still others just remain clueless. Nanapush observes
Each of us has an original, you see, living somewhere underneath the shadow of our daily life.  That life we live in the moving world is the dream life of the copy.   She runs, she breathes, she cares for others, she mends their clothes.  You gaze into the water of your day and there your face floats back, serene, unguarded.  See! See! Beneath that thin smile you are smiling somewhere else.  Your hand moves and the hand moves below you.  Perhaps in another country more real than you are, in another life.
There's something a bit Platonic about this notion that the physical world, or what our habits of mind dictate as "real", is merely a copy of another world.   But Nanapush's description of a  two-layered reality also reminds me of tales from many cultures that suggest what we consider a "dream" world, is more real than our "real" world.  Dreaming time allows us a momentary glimpse into the myriad other possible "realities".

So, while Marie Ponsot's Denis "sees what is there to see", and my previous post used that line to decry our over-dependence on metaphor and symbol to create meaning, I find Nanapush's view a helpful counterpoint.  So, while we strive to see "what is there to see", we live with the paradox that there is, most likely more to see that what is there to see.