This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Grace Stephenson (2010)
My dear doctor, I commend myself to your care. Do with me what you will. I will tell you frankly of my strange mental state, and you will quickly assess that I should be taken into an asylum for a period of time, rather than be left prey to the hallucinations and suffering that torment me. Here is the story, long and precise, of the peculiar trouble of my soul. I lived like everyone else, seeing life through the open, blind eyes of man, unsurprised and without understanding. I lived as do the beasts, as we all live, performing all the duties of my existence, looking and believing I saw, believing I knew, believing I understood my surroundings, when, one day, I realized that everything is false. It was a line of Montesquieu that suddenly enlightened my thoughts. I quote: In short, all of the laws which govern the human machine are particular to its form and would be different if that machine were not constructed in this particular way. I pondered on this phrase for months, for months and months, and, little by little, a strange clarity came to me, and that clarity brought with it the dark of night. Effectively, our organs of perception are the only intermediaries between the exterior world and ourselves. That is to say, the interior being, which constitutes the ego, finds its only contact with the external being, which constitutes the world, by means of a few neural fibres. Yet, beyond the fact that this external being s proportions, duration, innumerable and impenetrable properties, origins, future or ends, distant forms and infinite manifestations escape us, our organs merely supply us with fragments of that external world we can only know by such dubious and scarce information: dubious, because it is uniquely the properties of our perceptual organs that determine for us the apparent properties of the matter; scarce, because our senses being only five, the field of their investigations and the nature of their revelations are highly restricted. Let me explain. The eye indicates dimensions, forms and colours. It deceives us on these three points.
It can only reveal to us objects of middling dimensions, in proportion to human size, which has led us to apply the word large to certain things and the word small to others, uniquely because the eye s weakness does not permit it to fathom that which is too vast or too minute. From this it follows that the eye hardly knows and sees anything and that almost the entire universe remains hidden from it, from the star that fills the immensity of space to the microscopic inhabitants of a drop of water. Even if the eye had one hundred million times its normal strength and could discern in the air we breathe all the races of invisible beings, as well as the inhabitants of neighbouring planets, there would still exist an infinite number of creatures so small and worlds so distant as to remain impenetrable. Thus are all our conceptions of proportion false, since there is no possible limit to greatness or smallness. Our estimates of dimensions and shapes have no absolute value, being determined uniquely by the power of a perceptual organ, and springing from a constant comparison to ourselves and thus reflecting only our own narrow manner of seeing reality. Let us add that the eye is further unable to see that which is transparent. A flawless glass dupes it, confusing the glass with the air that it does not see either. But on to colour. Colour exists because the eye is formed in such a way that it transmits to the brain, in the form of colour, the diverse ways in which physical objects absorb and decompose, according to their chemical composition, the rays of light that strike them. All the proportions of this absorption and decomposition constitute the nuances of colour we perceive. Thus this organ imposes its manner of seeing on the mind, or better, imposes its arbitrary way of ascertaining dimensions and evaluating the relationships between light and the matter it strikes. Let us examine the sense of hearing. Even more than in the case of the eye, we are the playthings and the victims of this capricious organ.
When two bodies collide, they produce a certain shock in the atmosphere. This movement causes a certain bit of skin in the ear to quiver, which is changed immediately into noise, but is, in reality, nothing more than a vibration. Nature is mute. But the eardrum possesses the miraculous capacity of transmitting, in the form of sounds, which differ according to the number of vibrations, all the trembling, invisible waves in space. This metamorphosis accomplished by the auditory nerve in its short journey from the ear to the brain has permitted us to create a strange art, music, the most poetic and the most precise of the arts, as vague as a daydream and exact as algebra. What can I say of taste and smell? Would we know the scents and quality of food without the strange properties of our nose and palate? Humanity could, however, exist without ear, taste or smell with no notion of sound, flavour or odour. Thus, if we had a few less organs of perception, we would remain ignorant of admirable and curious things, but if we had a few more, we would discover around us an infinite number of things we had never imagined existed because we have no means to notice them. Thus we fool ourselves in judging the Known, and we are surrounded by the uncharted Unknown; thus everything is uncertain and perceptible in different ways. Everything is false, everything is possible, everything is doubtful. Let us articulate this certitude drawing upon the words of the old adage, Truth on this side of the Pyrenees, error beyond. Let us say, then, Truth in the organs of perception, and error just beside. Two and two may no longer add to four outside of our atmosphere. Truth on earth, error beyond from which I conclude that glimpsed mysteries such as electricity, hypnotic sleep, transmission of will, suggestion, and all the magnetic phenomena remain hidden from us simply because nature has not endowed us with the organ or organs necessary to understand them. After becoming convinced that everything revealed to me by my senses only exists for me as I perceive it and would be totally different for another being differently organized, and after concluding that a human species differently created would have absolutely opposite ideas to ours regarding the world, life, everything, because our unity of
belief only results from the similarity of human organs, and diverging opinions arise from slight differences in the function of our neural fibres, I made a superhuman effort to discern the impenetrable space that surrounds me. Have I gone mad? I said to myself, I am encircled by the Unknown. I imagined the man without ears who suspects the existence of sound as we suspect the existence of so many hidden mysteries the man observing acoustic phenomena, the nature and source of which he cannot determine. And I feared everything around me, fear of the air, fear of the night. From the moment that we can know almost nothing, and from the moment in which everything is boundless, what is the rest? The void does not exist? What is in the apparent void? And this confused terror of the supernatural, which haunts man since his birth into this world, is legitimate since the supernatural is nothing more than that which remains veiled to us! So I have understood the horror. It seemed to me that I was constantly on the verge of discovering a secret of the universe. I undertook to sharpen my perceptual organs, to arouse them, to make them perceive moment by moment the invisible. I said to myself that everything is a being. The cry that passes through the air is a being comparable to an animal because it is born, it produces movement, and is again transformed in order to die. The fearful mind, then, that believes in immaterial beings is not wrong. Who are these beings? How many men sense them, shiver at their approach, tremble at their unnoticeable touch? We feel them near us, around us, but we cannot discern them, because we lack the eye to see them, or rather the unknown organ that could perceive them. So, more than anyone, I felt these supernatural passers-by. Beings or mysteries? Do I even know? I could not say what they are, but I can always indicate their presence. And I have seen one! I saw an invisible being as much as one can see them. I remained motionless through endless nights, seated at my table, my head in my hands, lost in thoughts of this quandary, these beings. Often I thought an intangible hand, or
rather an imperceptible body, lightly brushed my hair. It did not touch me, having no fleshly nature, but rather an imponderable, unknowable one. And yet, one night, I heard the wooden floor creak behind me. It creaked in a peculiar way. I shuddered. I turned around. I saw nothing. And I thought nothing more of it. But the next day, at the same time, the same sound was produced. I was so frightened that I stood up, certain, so certain, that I was not alone in my room. And yet there was nothing to see. The air was limpid, transparent. My two lamps illuminated every corner. The noise did not occur again and I grew calm little by little; I remained, however, apprehensive, and turned round often to survey the room. The next night, I retreated early to my chamber, searching to know how I could manage to see the Invisible One who visited me. And I saw him. I nearly died from the terror of it. I had kindled a fire and all the candles of my chandelier. The room was brightly lit as if for a party. Two lamps burned on the table. In front of me was my old oak bed with its columns; on my right was the fireplace; on my left the door, which was carefully shut and locked; behind me a very high wardrobe with a looking glass in it. I examined my reflection. I had a strange look in my eyes and my pupils were dilated. Then I sat down as I do every day. The noise had occurred, the last two nights, at 9:22 pm. I waited. When the precise moment arrived, I perceived an indescribable sensation, as if a fluid, an irresistible fluid had penetrated my being through all the particles of my flesh, drowning my soul in an atrocious horror. And the creak sounded, just behind me. I got up so quickly, turning round, that I almost fell. It was as bright as at midday, but I did not see myself in the mirror! It was empty, clear, profound, full of light! My my figure was not reflected in it, yet I was before it! I looked at it with frenzied eyes. I did not dare move towards it, feeling certain, nevertheless, that he was between the mirror and myself, him, the Invisible One, and that he was hiding my reflection. How frightened I was! And then suddenly I began to see myself through a fog in the depths of the looking-glass, in a fog as if through water; and it seemed to me as if this water
were flowing slowly from left to right, and making my image clearer every moment. It was like the end of an eclipse. Whatever hid me did not appear to possess any clearly defined outlines, but was a sort of opaque transparency, which gradually grew clearer. At last I was able to distinguish myself completely, as I do every day when I look at myself. So I had seen him! And I have not seen him again. But I unceasingly wait for him, and I sense that my mind roams far and wide in my waiting. I remain for hours, nights, days, weeks, before my looking glass, waiting for him. He comes no more. He has understood that I saw him. But as for me, I sense that I will wait for him forever, until death, that I will wait for him without rest before this looking-glass, like a hunter lying in wait. And in this looking glass, I now begin to see demented images, monsters, hideous cadavers, and all sorts of frightening beasts, atrocious beings, all the incredible visions that must haunt the minds of the mad. Here is my confession, dear doctor. Tell me what I must do.