I am increasingly aware of how much life takes place in the middle. It’s something I’ve intellectually understood — or thought I understood — or even professed — but it’s only just coming home to roost.
The middle is that place that is neither here nor there, that is both here and there. It is between you and me, between world and me, between words and me. Rather than understanding myself as either an actor or an object — one who does or is done to — I am beginning to understand myself as one who takes place in between myself and the world. I am beginning to understand myself as a sort of cog within a vast cosmic engine. (And, no, I’m not high right now.)
An idea comes over me (oh, god, I love that expression almost as much as I love that sensation — the erotics of being entangled, enmeshed, permeated, penetrated by an idea). It takes possession. And suddenly it — or is it I? — begin making connections between this and that. It — or is it I? — begin rereading the world, seeing it again, seeing it anew. To wit, the idea of the middle, of the in between.
Language, of course, always takes us out of ourselves, coerces us with its vocabulary — we choos words from what’s out there; its structural grammar; and its syntax of sense. For instance, once you begin a sentence a certain way, there are only so many options left as to where it can go next. The grammar leads us down certain paths. So just as we speak and write, we are spoken and written.
Even the imagination takes place in the middle. And this never ceases to surprise and amaze me. After all, the imagination seems like that place of absolute control, that infinitely private domain where I am god and civil servant, able to carry out any deed in any fashion. But this is not the case, at least for me.
My imagination feels its way. Which is to say, it doesn’t make its way. It usually begins with some kind of phantom that sits at the periphery of my consciousness — a flicker of a possibility, a fragment of an image. I go to it and begin exploring where it might take me — not where I might take it. Oh, I’ll try and move it this way or that. And sometimes it seems to heed my will. But this is not an obedience to my will but an extension of that phantom, of that possibility: it goes like that.
This is so abstract. So let’s take the example of an erotic fantasy I might have about a woman. In my imagination, the two of us can’t do any old thing. The canvas of my imagination is neither blank nor limitless. On the contrary, it is highly stipulated. Feeling its way, my imagination tries to kiss her — but, no, no kissing here. But, for some reason, I can kiss her neck. On my imagination goes, seeing what’s possible — a fondle, a grope, a lick. At each point, the scene works itself out, an ongoing negotiation.
But aren’t I the director, actor, and producer of this scene? Well, yes, I am. But it turns out that being those things does not give me absolute control. A film is not that different from my imagination: it happens in the middle, between actors, writers, directors, producers, set designers, wardrobe, make up, and so on.
Even the subject of the fantasy, of the imagination, is not up to me alone. It comes to me (as it were)! And I love that — I love when I find a woman in my imagination. How did she get there? Well, through some kind of affective resonance, some kind of harmonic convergence. Perhaps she’s an actress. Perhaps she’s a coworker. Perhaps she’s someone you just met in a bar. Perhaps it’s someone you’ve known for ages. Suddenly, there she is. In my head!
This is all to say that I can’t snatch any old woman, plop her into my imagination, and have my way with her. No, it is an event that takes place in the middle, between her and me.
I like to think that these negotiations in the imagination are real negotiations that remain virtual. And so the the line that separates the real from the virtual is not the same as the line that separates the real from the unreal. Because the virtual is real, too.
And so I believe that imagination, fantasy, is a possible world in the Leibnizian or Borgesian sense of the word. It is a kind of virtual parallel (or aparallel, it depends) life. So rather than these limitations to my imagination being frustrating, I find them beautiful: all these lives, at once virtual and real, streaming out of me.
All these possible lives all at once.