All the World's a Stage

I have always been a fan of the Bildungsroman – a word which here means 'the artist's novel,' from the German Bildung or 'education' + Roman 'novel.' Favourite titles include Portrait of the Artist, A Writer's Diary, and Enchantment and Sorrow. I love these books because through them I commune with the lost souls of Joyce, Woolf, and Roy. Who, after all, does not derive comfort from the thought that someone else is equally if not more confused about the meaning of life than themselves?

This explains, perhaps, appeals to transcendentalism and French existentialism. Camus' notion, for instance, that life has no ultimate purpose or meaning is as liberating as it is stifling; the tumultuous ups and downs of the everyday carry no weight with the protagonist of L'Étranger, whose flat indifference to his own crime are both his salvation and his undoing. This is not to champion moral relativism or nihilism, but only to put crises into perspective. Are all of our follies and cares worth the time and energy it takes to mend them? Or are we rather so focussed on the minutiae of life, that we forget to see the Big Picture?

Change is anathema to us all. When we lose something (self-confidence, a relationship, a job), we feel an overwhelming desire to replace it, to fill the lacunae of our souls with material goods, busyness, or prestige. Even the most introverted dread emptiness and silence, especially in a digital world that facilitates constant distraction from our own states of mind. There is nothing more terrifying than confronting the realization that everything is transient, that our identities are not tied to any one particular person or thing.

Even now, after a year of mucking about in my post-Cantabrigian state, I am anxious to return to a sense of normalcy and purpose, where everything is defined by clean, straight lines, and black and white boxes. I am caught up in the delusion that happiness is a point on the trajectory of my life, if only I could be disciplined and ambitious enough to attain it! But when I really think about it, when I step back from myself and my conception of who I ought to be, I see happiness in its truest form: detached and selfless, a free-floating lightness that exists now and forever, and only in the present moment:

Now, he thought, that all these things have slipped away from me again, I stand once more beneath the sun, as I once stood as a small child. Nothing is mine, I know nothing, I possess nothing, I have learned nothing. How strange it is! Now, when I am no longer young, when my hair is fast growing grey, when strength begins to diminish, now I am beginning again like a child. He had to smile again. Yes, his destiny was strange! He was going backwards, and now he again stood empty and naked and ignorant in the world. But he did not grieve about it; no, he even felt a great desire to laugh, to laugh at himself, to laugh at this strange foolish world!
— Hesse, Siddhartha

A wise friend once told me that the only constant in life is change. This is a paradox, but who's to say that Truth cannot come in contradictions? In reaching for the stars I have fallen even further than before – past my assumptions about life and Cambridge, undoing even my own conception of myself. I have been so humbled, so overwhelmed by the vast richness of life, that I cannot place myself within it!

If there are an infinite number of universes, then there are an infinite number of dimensions, or planes, on which we might exist. I do not think any of us can know ourselves until we have dwelt in the emptiness of that dimension where we do not exist as anything. What are we without our identity markers, except small children in a company of actors, ignorant of the roles we might play? If life is a stage, as Shakespeare says, then all the men and women are merely players...

They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts
— AYLI ii.vii 139-42