If sleep disintegrates us then the waking human being is a magnet that flings the particles back together. We must be magnets. Proust thought about us going down into sleep, becoming something that was not our dayish selves, being disintegrated, metaphorical, and yet coming up every morning as us again, and not a stranger, not someone else, the fragments reassembling themselves: a "great mystery of annihilation and resurrection," translated Moncrieff. "Habit is the ballast that chains a dog to his vomit," Samuel Beckett wrote.*
All fragments, fragments: the sorting-out of daytime observations at night, the open-eyed hoovering-up of detail during the day, an automatic sunlit occupation, widespread and massive; and so I felt uneasy while I was watching my first 3D movie because the backgrounds blurred out when the 3D objects came forward, and it was as if the filmmaker had told me that that now I had to watch the story through a telescope, with everything obliterated outside a little piercing focussed circle. The eye was not supposed to roam. But eyes want to roam, and the senses fly like eagles, picking up details -- in The Man Who Loved Children we have the peaceful dip of an oar and the cry of a bird going on while the fighting parents pause to catch their breaths: "Exquisite were those moments," even though Sam is "biting his lip in stern scorn" and preparing to shout at his wife who hates him. Still, the bird is crying, and a stranger is rowing unobtrusively down the river, on what mission who knows?
The eye of the author roams outwards, it points to the Pollits but it nests in the trees and rivers, and this fighting, it might say, is part of nature, as water is, as is the kingfisher, and this balance of angry and relaxed forces is "exquisite." Here is a jungle of possible viewpoints. The rower might be able to hear the shouting faintly from the boat, they might be having thoughts about it. The bird might have paid attention briefly, just long enough to work out that these alien noises aren't connected to any other edible or dangerous animal, so never mind, thinks the bird; this ra-ra-ra is irrelevant, and other sounds crowd into its attention, the hum of a beetle, the plash of a fish.
All of this is detail.
So: at the outdoor Maryland Parkway Music Festival last weekend I looked over the shoulder of one of the guitarists, who was chopping at his instrument, and there, crossing the intersection behind him, I noticed the figure of a woman, pale, remote, removed, carrying a shopping bag, moving at a pace of her own, which was the interested pace of a woman who wanted to a buy a carton of milk, and not the pace of the man over whose shoulder she flew now like a distant evangelical spirit.
What did we look like to her? What did she look like to someone walking behind her? (This is one of the good things about living in a reasonably safe place; I don't have to narrow my answer down to, "probably they see a victim," or "probably they see a rich person they want to rob." Maybe they do see those things but I can imagine others.)
The lead singer for the Neo-Kalashnikovs was wearing purple shoes, and the lead singer of the band that came afterwards was wearing purple shoes as well, but hers were dark leather-looking snub-toed shoes like plums with heels, and his were canvas sneakers in a lighter colour, and what do I make out of that? Nothing, it's a fact, and there it sits, and I don't see any evangelical spirits in it, I can't force them in there, but it's a fact, as surely as the woman over the guitarist's shoulder was a fact ...
But the brain tries, I think, automatically, the brain wants to draw together and connect and make conclusions, even incongruous ones, for example: I was reading an essay about J.S. Powers in James Wood's The Irresponsible Self: Laughter and the Novel, when I came across this part of a sentence, "love of the world rather than imitation of Christ"and without hesitation my mind showed me a picture of M.'s Level 85 Troll Priest in World of Warcraft. It was brilliant and sharp, not a vague picture, no pauses -- it appeared. I thought that was wonderful until I read on and saw that the word "priest" was on the next line under "than" and then there were the words, "a conscientious objector in the Second World War," and I realised that I must have pulled out the words "priest" "world" and "war" without consciously seeing them, and my mind had concluded, priest, world of warcraft, and given me a picture.
But I was not confused, and not for one instant did I think that the essay had switched topics to World of Warcraft. I was sure that the subject was still J.S. Powers. Yet when the picture appeared it did not seem immediately weird that I was seeing this troll, it seemed natural and normal, as these strange contrasts do in dreams, oh yes, American novelists, troll priests, everything sane here, but then I began to wonder what was going on.
My eyes must have scanned ahead, taking in a block of words rather than just the ones it was passing over, the ones I was consciously reading -- my eyes must have been rolling around like balls in a bathtub, taking in the lines below, and understanding them just enough to prepare me for the operation of reading them, taking a tour of the future on their own, without me, covertly, in a sneaky but businesslike way, when this idea struck them, and they threw up the picture in a spasm of insight, a brainwave, mimicking a genius.
* in his essay on Proust.