Wednesday, October 10, 2007
Round and Round
One of my favourite books is The Strange Life of Ivan Osokin by PD Ouspensky. The central character is a failure who finds himself at a dead end in his life. Broke, bereft, emotionally and academically ruined, rejected by the woman he loves and contemplating suicide, he wishes he could live his life over again, but with hindsight this time, knowing everything that he knows now.
Then he meets a magician who offers him that chance. But first the magician gives him a warning. “Remember this moment,” he says.
After this the hero is catapulted back in time, to the exact moment when he believes he had made his first great mistake, and in his confusion, finding himself a fully developed older man in a child’s body, proceeds to make exactly the same mistake again.
Thereafter the book is a catalogue of continuing errors, in which the character does everything he did in his first life while slowly forgetting that he had ever made this return journey. In order to fit in, he reverts to his younger self, becoming, once more, a child in a child’s body. But he is plagued by a sense of repetition, of deja-vu, as if he has been here before.
There’s a terrible inevitability about the story, like the wheels of fate moving inexorably on, and a sense of echoes-in-time. There is also something unsettlingly familiar about tone of the story - a kind of resonance - as if you yourself know some of this already: as if you, the reader, also exists in a time-loop, as if you’ve been going round and round in time throughout all eternity. It’s just that you keep forgetting, that’s all.
Which is - maybe - not so far from the truth.
I had a weird little revelation the other day. I was thinking about reincarnation. I suddenly thought, “what if time is not sequential”: by which I meant that maybe time is like that loop in the PD Ouspensky story, or like the ever-repeating cycle of events in Groundhog Day. Not a straight line but a circle, going round and round and round.
I which case, I thought, when we die we don’t necessarily go on to the “next” life as such, but we can go back to any of our lives at any time in history. Each life is the same life, but with a different historical backdrop. This was my revelation. We have to keep on coming back and back until we get it right.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently. Maybe each time we come back we set ourselves a new riddle. That is how we develop. It’s not that there is some outside force judging us. We judge ourselves. One part of us is eternal - consisting of the whole of our experience throughout time - while the other part, the familiar little bit that we consider ourselves to be, that lives out our small dramas on this planet, is on an endless journey to find our selves.
There’s a great line in William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. “Eternity is in Love with the Productions of Time.”
It’s a bit like a soap opera. If you already knew the outcome of the story then it wouldn’t be worth watching.
So it’s like the eternal “you” sets itself a puzzle - a plot-device, an interesting conundrum - which the mortal “you” then has to find the solution to, and that you have to keep on coming back and back till you’ve sorted it out. Then it’s on to the next sequence.
In the Ouspensky story the hero finds himself right back where he started, in exactly the same mess. Only this time he remembers that he has been here before. It is at this moment that he is able to move on. It is at this moment that he is finally free.
Anthony Peake links: