30.4.09

syncope as a way of being

When I was a kid I was susceptible to faints, spontaneously, usually as a result of stress, trauma, over-excitement or something similar. Once, on Christmas Day, I fainted in the Anglican church in Martinborough and had to be carried outside by my father and laid under a tree. All I'd had to eat so far that day was a single plum. Even as an adult, this sometimes happened to me - I remember slicing open one of my fingers with a Stanley knife while making a bamboo aeroplane that was to be a prop for a Red Mole show, telling no-one, going downstairs, washing and binding up the wound, then going back upstairs - there was a house full of people - and fainting in the kitchen. There's other occasions too but what I'm thinking about now is the strangeness of the world as it appears just before, and just after, such episodes. Sound changes, slowing down and become both distant and yet very loud. If people are speaking, you hear their words break up into phonemes that are rapidly leached of sense. Visually the effects are as alarming: it begins to look as if the world is in the process of disintegrating, like the words, into constituent parts that have no inherent meaning, sense or even structure. It is like a trompe d'oeil curtain being pulled back, but what's behind isn't anything at all. Certainly not blackness - if pushed, I'd say white, the white glare of nothingness. I imagine that all these effects can be explained as the architecture of perception, your point of view, crumpling as unconsciousness advances. When you wake up afterwards, this process is presumably reversed, but what I remember most is the intense, almost repellent, physicality of the things of the world intruding upon that blessed blank state: faces, even loved, familiar faces, look grossly swollen with blood and tissue and pierced with hairs; textures of wood or stone are brutally hard; sounds too are transgressive, unbearably loud; and so on. There is a sense of fraudulence about the returning world: how, since it has shown itself to be an illusion, can it insist so importunately upon its physical reality? I don't think, since that first childhood faint, I've ever entirely believed the construction of the world that my senses bring to me. Of course drug experiences in my late teens, early twenties and intermittently thereafter have only reinforced this Berkeleyan skepticism. I don't faint much any more but quite often - like just now, or rather a few moments ago - I get what can only be called a feeling of imminence, as if the painted veil is about to slip once more and I am going to fall, not unwillingly, again into that white glare.

5 comments:

Kay said...

I've always wondered what it's like to faint. Thanks for breaking the experience down into these delicious little insights ... I can see how it might almost become addictive ...

Mary McCallum said...

My daughter does the exact same thing - and for the same reasons - incuding the slicing of a finger - she scared one of her teachers once who thought she'd died...thanks for your insights Martin - I'll show Issy (aged 12) your post and see if she concurs...

Annandale Dream Gazette said...

I've never fainted but know the feeling you're talking about somehow. I wonder: if people could fall asleep in the middle of the day, with noise and people around, would it feel the same way? I've always imagined that's what dying feels like---that collapsing that you described.

Adam Aitken said...

once, when I was tweleve, in a footie game I collided with someone and was unconscious for a few seconds. The mystery of the seconds lost still stays in my mind. I was in the air, extatically going for the ball, then next, on the ground, winded, coach and players looking down upon me as if I had died.

Adam

Martin Edmond said...

Something similar happened to me Adam - a cricket ball - one minute I was wandering along, the next I was lying on the ground looking up at this circle of revolving faces. I was about 8 or 9.