Thrown Out of ‘I’: A Dream Reversal
And so, when he is being seen by the animal, he is being seen as his surroundings are seen by the animal.
— John Berger
When Nature looks back, the one who is being looked upon diminishes, like an exclamation reducing to a (.). Language dissolves and what follows this reduction is not so much of a receiving by the human witness, but an exposure, a paradoxical doubling of inclusion and absolute exclusion. Prior to this experience, the person is more like the title on the cover of a book, complete with distinctive art, copyright and authorial lineage. The words composing that cover appear sovereign, affirmative, like the other books on the shelf, still unique in an inclusion with the others. Pages within that book are the memories and latent thoughts, only open to those who are invited in, even if every version of the book is abridged and revised, according to the familiarity of the reader. Through the gaze of Nature — from the eye of a circling osprey to the raccoon in the brush — the one being seen is not seen through a linguistic distinction. Title and contents are meaningless and only the ‘book’ remains, the words within, no different from the pages they stain. Fear and curiosity ramble through the bushes while uncertainty flies ouroboroses, in an avian language of sweeping gestures and caws, as far removed from the human as self-propelled flight.
With relief, with humiliation, with terror, he understood that he too was a mere appearance, dreamt by another.
— Jorge Luis Borges
In that moment of exclusion, beyond the extreme reduction, a sweeping course of a cognitive ‘throwness’ can unfold its fickle wings. The silent shock of finding oneself without language to bridge the gap between one living thing and another creates a sense of otherness in oneself. Beyond a lack of actual wings or deft paws, a solitude of reverse solipsism occurs, one where the witness knows that not only she exists, but the air that distinguishes her and the living creatures that fill other spaces exist, too. There is no escaping ourselves, just as the labyrinth of language takes hold of us from our first cry into this world, but there is that ‘throwness’ when identity, the title of our own book, becomes nothing more or less than the markings on the tree, beautiful in its own right, yet no more distinct than the mottled bark on a plane tree. Just as humor thrusts the one who is laughing out of the moment and back into the about-face of some assumed truth, so the throwness of nature looking back at us reveals a hidden truth, one that is beyond language, a truth in itself that is only learned through ‘being’ amongst it. This throwness is the antithesis of the dreamer’s dreamscape, since nothing is a result of the mind’s construction, not even oneself.
What we cannot speak about we must pass over in silence.
— Ludwig Wittgenstein
That silent moment of this recognition can only be reflected upon through rough circumlocution. A dream’s richness tends to lie in the underlying song, not the shattered story of what unfolds, just as the title of our own story is meaningless in the face of Nature, only the book amongst countless others. ‘I’ contracts into another attribute, even if this attribute, ‘I’, will soon return to a scaffolding of mundane ritual articulated by language. Even if the paved street is as much a part of the world as the meadow, the throwness of the gaze tends to find us when the ground softens and gives way to sea, when the nature of dreams is extracted from ‘I’ and looks back at us.