A Passage from Luminous Airplanes, or Things As They Were: A Hyperromance

Cave exploration has turned out to be an even better metaphor for what I am doing here than I thought it would be. When I wrote this passage, about a year ago (i.e. in the late summer of 2011; now it is October, 2012) I was thinking of the durability of caves and of the stories they tell about the forces that shape them: stories about the flow of water (and seismic activity and volcanism), which I likened at length to the shaping effect heredity and circumstance have had on my own self in the passage you have just (presumably) read. But the other obvious feature of a cave system is the impossibility of seeing it from the outside. This is what makes cave exploration relatively difficult even compared to such technically and physically demanding activities as mountain climbing. You can overfly a mountain (or browse satellite images of it in the comfort of your home) and get at least a rough sense of what obstacles await you, but you can’t know what a cave will be like until someone has actually gone through it. By the way, this is also why cave exploration has become more interesting than mountain climbing. The mountains are all known, but there are still caves where no one has ever been; they are some of the last unexplored places on the planet. (Along with the ocean floor, but exploring the ocean floor is a whole lot more expensive than caving.) In caves, discovery remains possible.

But anyway, what I wanted to say is that the impossibility of seeing a cave from the outside makes it a good analog for this project, which (did you notice?) has a certain interiority. I’m trying to understand myself, to solve the problem of myself, to see, I could even say, what my problem is, and to that end it would be useful for me to survey myself from some aerial perspective, but of course I can’t do that. The only way I can know myself is the caver’s way, by going through. And in fact I wonder if I had already reached that conclusion when I came out of McFail’s Cave and began to think of myself as a subject to be spelunked. Sure, my thoughts were real; sure, they could be explored. But the other thing I might have understood, even if I didn’t articulate it to myself back then, was that I could wait the rest of my life to see the design of my being, and never see it. I might have realized that if I wanted to understand myself I would have to begin blindly, by wriggling into the first entrance that presented itself and seeing where it led. Maybe if I go far enough I will be able to make a map of my twists and turns. Maybe I will discover something. Maybe I will even find what I have wanted desperately for years, a way out, a place where I can stand in daylight and see myself whole and the world around me. Nothing is certain yet, except what I intuited at the exit of McFail’s Cave, that the way I’m working is the only way I can work: from within.

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