Books. What a blissful escape from the unbearable monotony of life. Books allow us access to the brilliance and grandeur of fantasy and the hidden beauty and ugliness of reality. How meaningful is this escape! But is it really an escape from reality? Or is it a letting in of reality. In fiction, we create a fantasy world of faeries, dragons, and lives happily ever after. But all of these are resemblances of what is real around us. We can try to create a monster or world so detached to anything we can imagine, yet when we look at it again, we realize that it’s a manifestation and a conglomeration of what we know is real.
Any creature we make, human or not, can only come from what we already know. We can make a creature so grotesque or delightful, or a human so evil or benevolent in a story, but no matter how far we try to make it from our reason or experience, it always comes back to the very reality we live in.
This reminds me of Kant’s idea of the phenomena and noumena. In short, this is the distinction of what we can know and what we can never know through our reason and experience. What we can know and experience (the phenomena) is all around is. It’s in nature, in people, in our day to day experience of our lives. The noumena on the other hand is far more complex and to describe what it is other than as something we can never know, will take a whole thesis paper, which may still not be sufficient.
I think books are our attempt in accessing the noumenal realm. We want to enter into a world unbeknownst to us and glean from the experiences, motifs, pleasures, and struggles of the characters. At the end of all, however, we are simply scratching the surface of the phenomenal realm. After all, right after we reading something that was otherwise unknown to us, it becomes known to us. What I see that is truly noumenal is that we will never have full knowledge of the phenomenal. There is infinite knowledge to be gathered, all of which is in a sense obtainable, yet impossible to fully gain or ascertain.
Think of a number line from 0 to infinity. We have minds to comprehend enormous numbers and combinations. We may take pride in creating machines that can calculate trillions of numbers at once, but when we step back and see how finite our access to knowable numbers is, we become humbled. Now transfer numbers into the infinite experiences, knowledge, wisdom, and phenomenons of the world. We can never know this infinity or even come close to fathoming what it’s like.
This is our reality. It’s a constant longing for more. When we stop moving or experiencing, we are doing a disservice to who we are. We are finite beings in perpetual motion somehow made to strive for infinity with the realization that we can never reach it. Some may be paralyzed by the gravity of how much is unknown. Others may embrace the infinite wealth of knowledge that we have access to. We have this privilege that no other being on this world has.
Now books offer us different path to this infinity when our current paths are exhausted. When life becomes routine and unremarkable and this eats away at our soul, we turn to someone else’s world as if it was our own and live it. When this happens then our world is transformed. It is no longer monotonous or unbearable because we are no longer stagnant in our thoughts. Our mind and soul is put back into motion towards the noumena of infinity.