Fields of Perception. Inside & Outside. • 7 July 2008

I actually read a novel yesterday, on the plane. Long meditations on the narrator’s inner space, both despondent and lyrical. The influences are obvious, but it’s dumb to reduce to that so I’ll leave them unmentioned. The book also feels like a piece of a new genre—a kind of shellshocked post-9/11 novel that includes Pattern Recognition, Emperor’s Children, and even precient Underworld. A beautiful trance of a read, notwithstanding my complicated feelings about the protagonist.

Here is a bit that throws up his mindstate against the storm-shifting windows of the Chelsea hotel. So intimate and subtle, drawing a mind’s inner and outer space.  Elements of both trance and fluctuation.


…[I] didn’t look upon our circumstances from the observatory offered by a disposition to the more spatial emotions—those feelings, of regret or graditude or relief, say, that make reference to situations removed from one’s own.

At least twice a day I peered through the French windows and inspected the dirty, faintly glowing accumulation of ice. I was torn between a ridiculous loathing of this obdurate wintry ectoplasm and an equally ridiculous tenderness stimulated by a solid’s battle against the forces of liquefaction. Random mental commotions of this kind constantly agitated me during this period, when I was in the habit, among other strange habits, of lying on the floor of my living room and staring into the space under my brown armchair, a letter-box-shaped crevice out of which, I may have hoped, an important communication would come. I wasn’t especially troubled by the hours spent flat on my face. My assumption was that all around me, in the lustrous boxes thickly checkering the night, countryless New Yorkers lay stretched out on the floor, felled by similar feelings; or, if not actually poleaxed, stood at their windows, as I often did, to observe the winter clouds rubbing out—so, from my vantage point, it appeared—the skyscrapers in the middle distance.  The magnitude of the vanishing was wonderful, even to a spirit such as my own, perhaps because it preluded the seemingly miraculous reemergence from the clouds of towers dashed from within with light.

… I was, it will be understood, afflicted by the solitary’s vulnerability to insights, so that when I peered out into the flurry and saw no sign of the Empire State Building, I was assaulted by the notion, arriving in the form of a terrifying stroke of consciousness, that substance—everything of so-called concreteness—was indistinct from its unnamable opposite.

Kicking a rock or patting a dog is, I suppose, enough to rid most people of this variety of bewilderment, which must be as ancient as our species. But I didn’t have a rock or a dog to hand—nothing but the glass of a window under assault from a storm.

Netherland by Joseph O’Neill pp. 93-95