Notes on Paul Omeziri's Descent into Illusions
Idealism is the theory that reality has its roots in the mind. For instance an interesting argument for idealism comes from the eighteenth century British philosopher George Berkeley (1685-1753). Berkeley explains "our ideas are perpetually varied, without any change in the supposed real things" (Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous). For instance when we are moving away from an object the object gets smaller and smaller in our vision. But supposedly the real object is not changed at all, this means that the thing that changes (image of the object) cannot possible be the thing that does not change (the real object). This discrepancy between perception and reality leads us to believe that our perception provides us not with the actual things, but rather with copies or representations. Thus Berkeley goes on to explain that "the ideas we perceive by our senses are not real things, but images or copies of them... but as these supposed originals are in themselves unknown, it is impossible to know how far our ideas resemble them; or whether they resemble them at all" (Three Dialogues between Hylas and Philonous). Thus the belief that our ideas are the supposedly mind-independent real things is impossible because our ideas change while the real things do not, and the idea the our ideas are copies leads us to skepticism or a disbelief in our senses because we have no way of knowing if our ideas resemble real things or not. Ultimately the only solution to this problem is to believe that the things we sense are ideas and ideas only, and that these are the real things. The crowning of his argument is when he maintains that it is impossible to imagine something without anyone perceiving it. Even if one could imagine a house with no one looking at it, one would still be in a sense "looking" at it in one's imagination. But once all eyes (including the mind's eye) disappear so does the hypothetical house. Idealism goes back thousands of years in India, one of the most ingenious and prolific proponents of it is Shankara or Shankaracharya (788-820 AD) the ninth century Vedic philosopher-monk. He explains that "in dreams, when there is no actual contact with the external world, the mind alone creates the whole universe consisting of the experiencer, the experienced and the experience. Similarly, in the waking state also there is no difference. Therefore all the phenomenal universe is a projection of the mind" (The Crest-Jewel of Discrimination). In Paul Omeziri's novel Descent into Illusions idealism runs throughout the plot. The main character Nick finds himself perplexed by a life that is somehow dreamlike and dreams that haunt him because of their startling lucidity. An example of how Nick is lead to question his existence is found early on in the texts.
Why did he react to the dream as he did? Perhaps it was the feeling that it was real while he was experiencing it. It was as if he had entered another world, a world as real as the one he was experiencing now, sitting quietly at his desk. Perhaps he felt the way he did because it made him question the world he saw when he opened his eyes. If he could be dreaming and sense that the (dream) world was real, then isn't it possible that he's dreaming now? He looks at the room around him, a glass of water is on the desk, , some pieces of paper, and a typewriter. He picks up the paper and feels it between his fingers. Could it be possible that I'm dreaming now? That this paper is all in my mind? But I look at this paper and I see that it's real. Could it be that the paper is both all in my mind and real at the same time? (Descent into Illusions pg 15-16).
The main theme of the novel and the key to the unraveling of the plot is to be understood in light of idealistic thinking. The clue to what characters are involved in what, why they are involved in what, how it is that these things come about is all related to idealism.
Dualism is the idea that there are two parts to everything. An interesting formulation of this theory can be seen in the work of the French feminist philosopher Simone de Beauvoir(1908-1986). According to her "the category of the Other is as primordial as consciousness itself. In the most primitive societies, in the most ancient mythologies, one finds the expression of duality-that of the Self and the Other...The feminine element was at first no more involved in such pairs as Veruna-Mitra, Uranus-Zeus, Sun-Moon, and Day-Night than it was in the contrast between Good and Evil, lucky and unlucky auspices, right and left, God and Lucifer. Otherness is a fundamental category of human thought" (Introduction to the Second Sex). Beauvoir uses this concept of duality in her characterization of the position of women vis-à-vis men; woman is simply the opposite of man. For instance Aristotle explains that "the female is as it were a deformed male (Generation of Animals). Perhaps the most interesting dualist texts is the classical Chinese texts the Tao Te Ching written sometime between the 3rd and 6th century B.C. Here is an example of the texts.
We cannot know the Tao itself,
nor see its qualities direct,
but only see by differentiation,
that which it manifests.
Thus, that which is seen as beautiful
is beautiful compared with that
which is seen as lacking beauty;
an action considered skilled
is so considered in comparison
with another, which seems unskilled.
That which a person knows he has
is known to him by that which he does not have,
and that which he considers difficult
seems so because of that which he can do with ease.
One thing seems long by comparison with that
which is, comparatively, short.
One thing is high because another thing is low;
only when sound ceases is quietness known,
and that which leads
is seen to lead only by being followed.
In Paul Omeziri's novel Descent into Illusions. The idea of dualism permeates the story. Indeed the main character Nick is confronted by a strange man called Mr. Black. In order to understand the relation between the two one must understand the concept of dualism. From the first page in which two separate scenes of children, one dark and melancholy, the other full of joy and life, to the end where Nick finally discovers the truth the concept of duality shapes the course of the story. Here is an example in the novel of where Nick comes face to face with the reality of dualism and his humanhood
That night, shrouded in a desperate mist of despair and
solitude, plunged into the black ocean of his needs, he saw something he had
never seen before. He had these little wooden painted men you see. On one side
was a happy face. On the other side was a sad one. He watched them by the dim
flicker of candlelight, their shadows dancing over the table on which they
stood, their faces shifting with the undulating flow of illumination. And it was
in their face that he caught a glimpse of beauty. For he saw at that moment that
he was two. That all people are two. That inside us there is a hunger for war
and peace, for sharing our lives with others and quiet solitude, for loving
deeply and hating just as deeply. He saw that all his life he had denied
himself. For he had only explored on of his faces.