“Homo duplex, homo duplex!” writes Alphonse Daudet. “The first time that I perceived that I was two was at the death of my brother Henri, when my father cried out so dramatically, ‘He is dead, he is dead!’ While my first self wept, my second self thought, ‘How truly given was that cry, how fine it would be at the theatre.’ I was then fourteen years old.
From: William James, The Divided Self, and the Process of its Unification
When True came to life, I separated her from myself because I was unable to contain her intensity and pain. I gave her rage and cynicism because I wasn’t allowing myself to feel them. I decided she would be the sort of character that didn’t need anyone and would only be driven by the need to investigate what was true and what wasn’t. I split the world in two and sent True into the world of pain, trauma and suffering, while I would have fun and pretend life went on as usual.
I decided True would go back to the crime scene in Paris where she would investigate the truth of what happened to me and ultimately, she would find out that she was a fictional character I invented to cope with trauma and loneliness. That’s as far as I got in terms of inventing the story. But how would she react once she’d find out she wasn’t real? What would she do? How would she feel? And would she be disappointed to find out who I was? What would be the confrontation between her – and me and would there be one?
Well, to be honest, I never even bothered to re-read the journals, not to mention thinking about how to use them in a narrative.
After about two hours of driving around Montmartre in a police car, I completely lost sense of where we were. I briefly noticed Moulin Rouge where only a day ago, I was happily taking ironic selfies while waiting for some people I knew from the conference. In the police car, I didn’t want to think of those moments from the day before because in comparison to them, the present moment seemed not only unreal but even impossible. Moreover I didn’t want to be carried away by these memories because I needed to be alert, present in the moment. The carelessness of the day before was false. It had to be! This was a matter of survival.
Several times during that night I questioned reality. It occurred to me that it all felt like a scene from a movie. Wasn’t it absurd that in a moment of intense reality, intense present, I felt like I was in a movie; that in the moment of immediate experiencing what came as a first aid to help make sense of that experience was – film? Maybe the reality was too much and therefore, the mind started turning towards fiction. I’d never felt the way I was feeling during that ride in the police car, not even during a film shooting. Especially not on a film set – shooting is real, the final product, a film, is the unreal, dreamy narrative. Is film a hyper-reality? We suspend disbelief because the emotions a movie triggers are real while the time and the sequence of images are a work of imagination and therefore, they’re not real.
Most likely, I was simply unable to process and accept what had just happened. I was outside of myself and observed myself as if I were the main protagonist of the moment – everyone else had a supporting role, my whole world revolved around me. This was not at all enjoyable because, ultimately, I couldn’t believe it. Why me? Why was I the main protagonist of the moment for so many people? And, was I really?
A detective recommended that I see a doctor. One of the documents I received from the police supposedly entitled me to a free medical examination. I never saw a doctor, even though I had an appointment. Today, I don’t remember why I never went.
As life took this turn, everything became strange and in need of reconsideration and reinterpretation.
I checked my mailbox and looked at emails without feeling anything. I sent a paper to my supervisor which he had requested earlier that day. I apologized for doing so past the deadline and I mentioned what just happened. Did I want to make him feel sorry for me? Or make him feel guilty by pointing out the pettiness of the paper compared to matters of life and death? No, I wasn’t even capable of that level of thought. The thing was, I felt that if I didn’t tell him right at that moment, he’d feel guilty later. Guilty of pettiness. I wanted to spare him that feeling and rather used it against myself. He later replied: “You’re sending me a paper? Don’t you need help?”
It’s not true that I didn’t care about his feelings. The pettiness was an expression of shock and panic. Allegedly, a large percentage of people are capable of acting very effectively during disasters and under stress. If a building is on fire, they’ll wait with a seemingly clear mind until the last person leaves the building, they will help others and call their families at home. I remained in the state of this strange calm and was fully aware of it even though I couldn’t do anything about it. What a civilised way to panic!
That night there was no sign of insomnia. As we say in Slovak, I slept as if I had been killed. When I woke up a few hours later with a very empty stomach, it occurred to me that I had no wallet and therefore no money to buy food. However, in the pocket of my dirty jeans, I had one voucher for lunch at the campus where the conference was taking place. It was almost lunch time so I got ready quickly and before I left, I set up a randez-vous with a doctor for 3.30pm.
On my way to Nanterre, I burst into tears several times. On one hand, I thought it was a good sign of the shock finally receding, on the other hand, it worried me that every time I cried it was because I felt fear. The first time was on a set of stairs, the second time in a lonely street, the third time in the hall of the underground and another time on the train and everyone looked away and made it worse. Did the blood stain on my jacket scare them? Did they see the cut on my neck?
As soon as I got off the train, I texted two people I knew and asked for money. No answers, as the workshops had already started. I went to the canteen and saw the last delegates leaving. A young volunteer told me the lunch was over but I asked if I could take whatever was left. She said I couldn’t and, to my surprise, I started crying. I felt powerless and the hunger wasn’t helping. I explained my situation to her, showed her the wound on my neck as it felt like it was the only currency I had. She took my hand determined to find some food for me. However, the canteen boss was not at all moved by my story and only offered me some yogurt and an apple, and for whatever reason, I then decided I didn’t want anything. The volunteer insisted on buying me a sandwich but after we found out that they were all gone I accepted the fact that I was going to remain hungry. What was worse – I had to call Juro, A Slovak guy I had met a couple of days before. I hated the idea of him being the person to help me but I didn’t have a choice so I called him and explained everything to him, asked if he could lend me some money and perhaps, if he were so kind as to accompany me to the doctor’s. He was busy and said he’d call me back later.
Very slowly, I set off to go catch the train when I finally received a text from Fabrice. We met up and I began to tell him what happened. After every word I took a deep breath determined to avoid crying but I couldn’t. Fabrice tried to comfort me. He asked how much I needed. I calmed down a bit so as to focus on counting and predicting my future expenses, which I concluded would be 20 Euros. He offered to go to the doctor’s with me but I said I had already asked this other guy. I insisted on returning the money to him the next day, after I’d have met with another friend. I thanked him and said goodbye.
Juro called to give me instructions for a randez-vous in front of a Louis Vuitton store on Champs Elysee, which was far from Nanterre, far from the doctor’s surgery but close to his place. I went.
He was 20 minutes late and – being all sweaty and out of breath, he started giving me an account of all that he’d been doing that day. He called the doctor to postpone the randez-vous. We talked about his day and I didn’t cry once. He invited me over for dinner, which I accepted. But the moment he put his arm on my shoulder, I had to leave.
That was the beginning of my second life that I later delegated to True.
After that experience in Paris, people would say to me “You should be happy it wasn’t worse because it could have easily been a lot worse.” As rational as it sounds, it’s precisely this hypothetical way of thinking that was most crippling to me. The reality and the ‘what could have happened’ were not mutually exclusive to me, they were parallel and multiple. They existed and complemented each other in terrifying ways. The things that could have happened were equal to the things that did happen, which meant I had no reliable frame of reference. I’d wonder – did I make the whole attack worse by fighting back or did I save myself from something worse? Was my experience just a little bit traumatic or very traumatic? Was the wound on my neck small or big? If it was any deeper, I wouldn’t be there to validate its severity. Did the fact that I was there, thinking, reflecting, alive, felt like a luxury compared to other alternatives. He could have cut my face, my eye and then the damage would be permanent and undeniable. He could have been sloppier and cut my neck more. Was the psychological wound going to be permanent? Undeniable? Was it going to be visible, observable to me, to others?
Then, months later, in New York, the discontinuities continued. My notes from lectures took the form of daseinist poems. Perhaps this was a way of me trying to reconnect with my previous alterego, the noble loser Babraque, the inventor of Daseinism, who was comfortable with chaos and the absurd.
Notes from a lecture:
What I call poetic implosion
Do you know, Joseph?
He’s all about ruins and
I was interested in fragments and ruins
I use trauma as a disruptive category, not a unifying category
Speaking of obscenity
Especialy considering your hermeneutic standpoint
is – kind of – the original ur-text
When does abuse become abuse?
And the second question is
One way to answer that
What the text itself
Something we can’t locate
And you refer to Umberto Eco
Text has intention
In the post-colonial
That certainly is
An intention of the reader
You were saying?
You don’t ever abandon this typology
Your mention of trauma
The word Persian is a floating signifier
The point I’m trying to make
There’s a vacancy in the center
Why is it so bad to create a cultural product?
What is the problem?
What is wrong is it’s false
Is to come to terms with the existence of non-American cosmopolitanism
In the context of the empire
I’ve been to numerous conferences
The force of the narrative
I’m not disagreeing with you
When you say hybrid
What I’m saying is this to me has no authenticity at all
And then you keep repeating methodology, methodology
They have their prejudices
I’ve been accused of eclecticism
We call it „intelligent“
My suggestion is
I don’t dismiss it
I’m not married to this
I’m a happily married man
The context of decontextualization
I would be a fool
Infinitely more knowledge can be produced than
The way you conceptualize
The moments are kind of moments of lack
We can talk about those figures of speech
I was wondering
I have no problem
Figure of speech
That’s what I’m after
Either by adding or subtracting
Everything is lost
Very poetic moment as well
The other thing are the cliff hangers
At the moment of the cliff hanger
There is evidence
That this story has
I wouldn’t have anything against this
As if I know and nobody else knows
I think we’ve reached a moment of implosion
In the religion of the twice-born, on the other hand, the world is a double-storied mystery. Peace cannot be reached by the simple addition of pluses and elimination of minuses from life. Natural good is not simply insufficient in amount and transient, there lurks a falsity in its very being. Cancelled as it all is by death if not by earlier enemies, it gives no final balance, and can never be the thing intended for our lasting worship. It keeps us from our real good, rather; and renunciation and despair of it are our first step in the direction of the truth. There are two lives, the natural and the spiritual, and we must lose the one before we can participate in the other.
Indeed: Once the outside world has been separated from me and has become distant, I find myself alone and discover myself as a never-ending task.
Psychologically speaking, the individual ego is just an illusion. Politically speaking, the self is a construct through which we are made into subjects to neoliberal governmentality. Poetically speaking, we “contain multitudes.” Anthropologically speaking, there are multitudes of ways people have contained and lived their multitudes. Spiritually speaking, we were meant to be born twice to overcome our biological predicament. Biologically speaking, we are equipped to change and adapt and further multiply.
Personally speaking, I think we were meant to be born more than once to gain a deeper understanding of life and the human condition. However, in our daily lives (under capitalism), there isn’t enough time for those born more than once to attend to their extra lives – the darker, more intense lives. The world seems to be better suited to the once-born people living their one-dimensional mono-lives, which leaves the twice-borns either trying hard to deny their second birth or just being strange. Indeed, what hasn’t killed us, has made us stranger.
The heaviness of my second life made me feel lonely and, to deal with loneliness, I multiplied further in order to become my own therapist as well as my fellow victim friend. In search of someone to understand what happened, I’d even imagine meeting my attacker – after all, he was the only person there with me, the only person who knew what happened. I wonder how he’d tell the story. Would he be a more reliable narrator than me since he was the one in control? I doubted it.
I don’t think I have PTSD anymore. Although, I’m not okay and am feeling very lonely. More lonely than I normally do.
I think that being a victim is a bit dirty. I feel the need to talk about it to explain my strange behaviour to people but people don’t seem to be able to know how to respond. Maybe because I always smile when I talk about it? Maybe that confuses them and they don’t know how to comfort me, so they don’t comfort me. I might talk about Paris or some other traumatic experiences. Then I often change the topic myself when I don’t get any reaction I can work with, anything that would make me think differently. I wish people thought about what I tell them but I don’t think they do. How am I supposed to understand anything and get over it?
So I’m reading Hemingway and watching Scorsese. I long for stories told by traumatized people who are suffering and are lonely.
Luckily, I’m forgetting how it felt when it was the worst. All I remember is that it was unbearable.
I wish I could find someone to talk to but I don’t think anyone wants to talk about such things and they’re just waiting for me to change the topic and make things light. That’s why I’m seeking stories about violence – I find understanding and comfort in them and some space for suffering and even aggression, which might be contradictory but that’s exactly what I need. This opposition. I hate feeling like a victim of someone’s compassion.
Compassionate people are terrible because their compassion prevents me from being angry and anger is the most important part of it all. I don’t think people understand the shame, the vulnerability and the extremeness of such a short moment, and the strangeness of a violent physical contact that involves blood.
When I say we need to live two lives, I don’t mean living a double life. I mean, living truthfully and acknowledging the other lives, the other selves and characters in these alternative narratives, no matter how intense they are and how unfit for our daily lives they might seem.
How does one attend to their other lives though? How does one allow the other selves to live?
Insomnia doesn’t help.
Writing helps, dancing helps, being alone helps.
The withdrawn individual gains mental intensity by isolating themselves monothematically. They learn from their inner other who they themselves are meant to be, and their daily self-examination tells them what state they are in. One must admit, however, that in this arrangement they remain a split subject for the meantime.
In December 2020, I read this in a New Yorker article: “We have unlived lives for all sorts of reasons: because we make choices; because society constrains us; because events force our hand; most of all, because we are singular individuals, becoming more so with time.”
This is when I realized, in my sleepless nights, I had a debt towards True.
I understood that if I wish to understand life and its meaning, I must not live the life of a parasite, but must live a real life, and — taking the meaning given to life by real humanity and merging myself in that life — verify it.
I had to look for True. Or was it that True has found me?