My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others (1)
How do you look through the eyes of others?
By reading novels of course.
I spent a large portion of my childhood looking through the eyes of cats, mice, doves, frogs, toads, penguins, lions, elephants, caterpillars (with an insatiable hunger), fairies, gnomes, magicians and even witches – since that is what most children’s books are about.
But why should your own eyes not be enough?
To enlarge your world I guess, or even better put: To inhabit as much of the world as possible, since one discovers soon enough that without the eyes of others one “inhabits a tiny world” (2) – like a prison.
I enjoyed reading children’ s books so much, I had a terribly hard time changing to adult’s literature when the time had arrived. When I finally did, I was utterly disappointed: These novels only depicted ordinary humans!
They easily could have been my neighbors, teachers, a girl in my class y I had never talked to because I had never felt the need to, or simply one of the hundreds that passed me by on the street every day.
But I did not give up – I knew there needed to be something in there – and slowly I was pulled inside and for decades to come I only saw the world through the eyes of other human beings.
And that’s how I understood that reading teaches you empathy.
I had though completely forgotten about the mice and gnomes. Only when I had a daughter of my own, I re-discovered all those other creatures one could look through. Which I immediately started doing again, but it didn’t stop there, for one reason or another I found myself putting myself in the position of everything I came across – inside and outside books: white whales, my own house cat, escaping trees, shivering bushes, and it didn’t even stop there, also the so called soulless things started imposing themselves on me: rocks, waterfalls, the sun and the moon, NASA’s Mars rover Curiosity.
So much, I had to ask myself at a certain point: But how do I look through my eyes?
I didn’t know.
I just looked in whatever way that came to my mind. There was no consistency in how I looked and thus in how I expressed myself. A sentence just felt good at a particular moment, it did not by definition reflect my point of view, even less my truth – one moment later I could express the opposite.
A frightening discovery in these times of individualism, a time in which one has to be able to explain who one is, what one stands for, believes in (especially if you want a job).
Did I have an identity crisis?
Maybe. But then the thought came to me that maybe we were not supposed to be only one person, but on the contrary: maybe we were supposed to contain multitudes. Maybe we were actually supposed to tell each other stories and look through each other’s eyes. Yes, maybe we were actually destined to be completely empathic creatures…
we had simply forgotten about it and had started moving in the wrong direction, the “individual look” one.
Or could it be that this is simply what happens to a lifetime reader?
Could it be that we are we simply talking about a reader’s deformation?
(1-2) C.S. Lewis, An experiment in criticism, 1961
(1) Rtc at en.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons, url
(2) Illustration by W.W. Denslow (d. 1915) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, url
(3) Charlotte Jones [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, url
(4) Eastman Johnson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons, url
(5) NASA/JPL-Caltech/Malin Space Science Systems/Julian Herzog [Public domain],url
(6) bpsusf [CC BY 2.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons, url
(7) Nuremberg chronicles – Strange People – Four Eyes (XIIv) [Public domain], url