The Devil’s in the Details

Most of us are lost in Plato’s Cave, though some of us are more firmly shackled there, and those who refuse to turn to the right or the left care only for watching the passing shadows on the walls. The shadows give us enough “substance” to discuss, argue, predict, and expound our great understanding of what we refuse to know.

I’m in Plato’s Cave. I’m not shackled there, except by my own self-limiting thought processes. I’m shackled by my own need to understand what I can’t see from my perspective. I woke here, on this damp earth–I woke facing red flesh, and my face is still planted there. I scrape at the flesh with a sharp rock. I peel off a pale green substance and hold it in my palms and sniff at it. I dig around the perimeter of the red-fleshed beast–I dig, and I search. I listen, I smell, I taste. I feel the soft dampness, feel the prickles that dig into my skin, feel the dampness in the space around me.

I’m confused. I’ve used my five senses, and I can’t figure this out, any of it. I can’t determine a name, an understanding. I can only chart my observations. I can chart them for the benefit of future understanding.

And just as I begin this lengthy process, in which I gather my wits and the materials around me and begin scratching out my data, I hear an irritated voice speak to me: “Are you still there?” the voice asks. “Are you still in the same place you were when you were born?”

I force my body around, even though it’s both painful and difficult. I look at the man who towers above me. “As soon as I figure this out, I’ll move,” I tell him. Without constant interruptions, such as his own, I might have finished years ago. There are interruptions, too many–they sway above, patter below, shriek circles around my head.

“It’s a tree,” the man says. “It’s a cedar. Look around you. You’re in a forest, and you’re missing it because all you can see is the bark of one tree.”

I’m a little irritated by his need to explain this to me–typical man. I could have figured it out on my own, eventually. But I rise, anyway, and admit that not only am I in a forest, but I’m in a forest with an entire eco-system at its floor. Beyond that, the ocean stretches with its own systems, and to the south, the sand hills stretch with worlds within worlds. Soon, I’m lost in these worlds, and when the man finds me again–he does, every once in a while–he shakes his head at me. I might as well have remained at the base of the cedar because I don’t get it, and I never will.

If I were to create myself as an archetype, I would be the researcher. Sadly, the researcher is a lost soul–not the hero, no, never the hero. The hero deigns to visit the researcher and discover certain facts important to his heroic mission, and then leaves the researcher in his cave, in his darkness, in his web of cryptic knowledge that can’t fit itself into a larger picture, at least not in the researcher’s mind. Meanwhile, the hero uses his instincts to save mankind, and nobody cares that the researcher translated the archaic language on the ancient map that leads the hero out of the cave.

At this point, I’m not about to change my archetype. In fact, I don’t think it’s a possibility. But I’m ready to circumvent the labyrinth. I’m ready to stop wasting my time planning, thinking, reading and researching in order to, at some point in the distant future, begin.

How have I come to this? Recently, I read Tolkien’s biography, and his method of writing was so eerily familiar to my own that it made me physically ill. He researched. He wrote. He edited. He edited again and again and again and conducted more research. I don’t want to edit and re-edit and research and dig deeper. I don’t want my magnum opus, whatever that may be, to remain incomplete at my death because I couldn’t wade out of the details. I don’t want the process to replace the work, and I’m firmly convinced that, to Tolkien, the process of creating legend was more important than any completed work of literature.

I need my story to have an ending. No longer ask me how far in I want to go, because I don’t want to go in. I want out. Some of us, deep inside, are asleep, and others are awake and studying shadows on the wall, convinced the shadows are truth. And others have left the cave. I want that to be my story, my end.

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2 comments

  1. Excellent musings on life!!

    Plato’s Cave, animated, on Youtube (I know you’ve seen this, but for your readers): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=d2afuTvUzBQ

    Please to write a story where the “Researcher” is the Hero… Can anyone think of any examples of this in lit/fiction?

    I am thinking maybe a Sherlock Holmesian type character??

    How about Erin Brockovich?? And a hot researcher-babe too!!

  2. Jed, I’m sure there are examples–Kinsey Millhone is a good one. Sherlock Holmes–sure. And Sherlock Holmes actually does have an epic journey which leads to battle with Moriarty, and ultimately both their deaths. Yeah, I guess researchers can be heroes, but they have to tap into their instinctive sides in order to battle and defeat their foes. Holmes, the ultimate researcher, doesn’t succeed in this, remember? Julia Roberts as Erin Brockavich uses her boobs, albeit fake, which doesn’t count. Who knows what the real person is like?

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