The Third Bear Carnival – Part One
This shall comprise of my serious contribution to the carnival, the silly one will follow.
Ontology, Perception and the Malleability of Reality in Lost
Et c’est encore la vie! – Si la damnation est éternelle! Un homme qui veut se mutiler est bien damné, n’est-ce pas? Je me crois en enfer, donc j’y suis. C’est l’exécution du catéchisme. Je suis esclave de mon baptême. Parents, vous avez fait mon malheur et vous avez fait le vôtre. Pauvre innocent! – L’enfer ne peut attaquer les païens. – C’est la vie encore! Plus tard, les délices de la damnation seront plus profondes. Un crime, vite, que je tombe au néant, de par la loi humaine.
Arthur Rimbaud – Une Saison en Enfer
The way in which we perceive the world around us has always been of interest to both writers and philosophers. In VanderMeer’s Lost, one of my personal favourite stories in The Third Bear, the nameless protagonist moves from one world to another, from the real to the fantastic, through one sphere to the next. But to what extent is the world ‘real’ in the ontological sense? Is there some relationship between the history and the emotions of the main character and the changes in the world around him? Is reality a concrete idea or something more abstract? Can it be shaped by perceptions? These were the questions I was left with after I finished the story, and something that I wanted to explore further.
Early in the story, during the first paragraph we get the first reference to the point where reality and the perceptions of the protagonist intersect, when VanderMeer writes,
Remembering the line of colour that brought me here: the spray of emerald-velvet-burgundy-chocolate mushrooms suddenly appearing on the old stone wall where yesterday there had been nothing, and me on my way to the university to teach yet another dead-end night class, dusk coming on, but somehow the spray, slay of mushrooms spared that lack of light; something about the way the runnels and patches of exposed white understone contrasted with that gray that brought me out of my thoughts of debt and a problem student named Jenna, who had become my problem, really, and I just
The first thing I noticed was that this was all one sentence and flows beautifully, with the stylistic break at the end creating a literal pause. The relation between the mushrooms and something inherent to his self brings to mind the recollection, as VanderMeer goes on to say, of the colour of his dead wife’s eyes. In this case, it is the sense of sight that brings him out of his thoughts of his life into the realm of memory. The question is where did the mushrooms come from? As he says they were not there yesterday, can it be a mere coincedence that they should be there today to remind him of that single phenomenon? The mushrooms become a trail, in a way of sort of yellow brick road, leading the main character further down the path. As he continues, further senses bring to mind the memories of his life with his wife, such as his sense of smell. The perfume of a passing woman reminds him of his wife’s and “the emerald color of the mushrooms”, although interestingly it is left out whether or not the perfume actually smelled like that of his wife’s. These things cause him turn away from the direction of the university and in doing so make a definite choice to leave his life behind.
I turned and turned and turned,
turned as if turning meant wrenching my life from a stable orbit.
We learn that he was raised in an orderly fashion, taught to make plans and follow them through. His life up to the death of his wife was lived in such a way, order was an important factor, like the world around him. After the death of his wife, who we are told dies in a car accident during an argument with the main character, something changes. We are told that he turns away from the university because it is unlike something that he would do, something fundamental has changed.
The path of mushrooms leads to the only place it really can. Away from the troubles and worries of his normal ordered life soaked in grief and loss and into the random, violent chaos of the festival night. Surrounded by the frenzy, the piss and vomit of human depravity and the madness of a fresh new hell, inter faces et urinam. His great revelation
I realised this might be
a break from the linkage
a severing of routine
a way out.
Had I missed how random my world had become since my wife had died? Had my grief obliterated the real world for me?
Faced with the very real threat of death at the hands of those subterranean indigenous fungal monstrosities of Ambergris, he realises that he is not lost after all, he may in fact, for the first time since his wife died, be found. The question remains, to what extent did his grief and his guilt lead him down that emerald lined road? Can emotions shape perceptions and in turn reality itself, turning the cosmic order on its head? Is the road to Ambergris paved with self-pity and self-flagellation?
To return to our old friend Rimbaud, Je me crois en enfer, donc j’y suis.
I believe I am in hell, therefore I am.
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