The Mirror, The Street & Plato

Image: ‘La reproduction interdite’ (Not to Be Reproduced) [1937] René Magritte

For long periods of time Oswald secluded himself in his room.

Others assumed, those close to him anyway, that he lived in the bosom of his family — and not just in one room of the immense house. In his room he had a large mirror; he preferred one mirror to many, as more than one would accentuate his vision of things and that possibility tormented him.

His concept of loneliness was very clear: he told himself that he had within him an inexhaustible source of life and distractions. But — he also shut himself up in his room to ruminate on past pain and memories until, tired of it all and needing to talk to others, he sought the street.

In the street, he was familiar with the all the intricate games and trivialities. By savouring them day by day, he had come to rely on them. He suddenly wondered: Why is triviality so fascinating? But deep down in his being he sensed that there was something, besides triviality, that attracted him powerfully. That made him dress up and throw himself into this world of strangers who walked the streets.

On certain occasions he felt a vague — even fantastic — hope of meeting the messianic person who would speak the revealing word to him. His mission, as he understood it, was to know himself.

And he had tried a thousand times, to meet himself — in two different ways: through the looking glass and through other people.

He loved the mirror. Like any misunderstood being he loved to be listened to without criticism; the reason lonely men love their dogs so much. From a very young age he had lived with his mirror. Through it he could see himself, and he believed himself to be discovered — without being discovered. Because although he tried, with effort, to decipher his reflected gestures, the most indecipherable thing remained: his mask.

He felt great relief that the mirror did not, even remotely, know what was wrong — or beautiful — inside him. It was difficult for him to understand why he could see and analyse, even half know, others — and yet he could not see himself. He could observe the parts of his body but he could not see the most important things: the gestures of his face, his own gaze and the defects that emerged from within him. Looking in the mirror was frustrating and comforting at the same time.

Frustrating because he knew that the mask he observed defined a part of his being.

And comforting because it convinced him of how mysterious he must be to other human beings.

In his experiments with the mundane, in the street, he realised each person was looking for another to serve as a mirror. When we look for like-minded people, we call it sympathy. Even empathy, when we find those who make the same mistakes without realising it.

As Khalil Gibran says in his poem, My Friend, we show only our sympathy and try to ignore the differences and walk together despite the fact that sometimes one was lost at dawn and the other at midnight. We prefer to silence one another so as not to be disappointed — or perhaps even argue to convince ourselves otherwise, to avoid recognising that it is impossible to know each other.

We have innumerable differences — and we continue to pretend that we share the same world.

Reading Plato, Oswald had a revelation. According to Plato, man had originally been androgynous — woman and man, at the same time and in equal parts. Parts which were later divided. This explained the existence of the two sexes. Love was explained as the nostalgia we feel, the need to return to our original state. This explained why some lovers need so little to surrender and to manifest this feeling. They just say to themselves, “You are what I have been waiting for.”

This theory, in any case, allowed Oswald to decipher or differentiate when he had felt love and when he had not. He recognised that being with his ‘complement’ was not only about physical attraction — but also emotional need. The key that opened all the doors. He felt a fullness that allowed him to be more creative, calmer and answer more questions.

And so, when he stopped searching — he found himself. Because you don’t have to force things, they arrive on their own.

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Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at www.lidaprypchan.com

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Lida Prypchan

Lida Prypchan

Psychiatrist & Writer — Writing and meditating at the intersection of psychiatry, philosophy, Buddhism and the arts. More information at www.lidaprypchan.com

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