Thursday, December 6, 2018

Isherwood: The One Who Was

The painting 'Lost Youth' by Deng Chengwen

“And now, before I slip back into the convention of calling this young man ‘I,’ let me consider him as a separate being, a stranger almost, setting out on this adventure in a taxi to the docks. For, of course, he is almost a stranger to me. I have revised his opinions, changed his accent and his mannerisms, unlearned or exaggerated his prejudices and his habit. We still share the same skeleton, but its outer covering has altered so much I doubt if he would recognize me on the street. We have in common the label of our name, and a continuity of consciousness that I am I. But what I am has refashioned itself throughout the days and years, until now almost all that remains constant if the mere awareness of being conscious. And that awareness belongs to everybody; it isn’t a particular person.
“The Christopher who sat in that taxi is, practically speaking, dead; he only remains reflected in the fading memories of us who new him. I can’t revitalize him now. I can only reconstruct him from his remembered acts and words and from the writings he has left us. He embarrasses me often, and so I’m tempted to sneer at him, but I will try not to. I’ll try not to apologize for him, either. After all, I owe him some respect. In a sense he is my father, and in another sense my son.”

Christopher Isherwood, whose close observation of the man in the mirror evokes for me a Buddhist sense of the ephemerality of self.

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