Another story comes to my mind. It was Rosemary’s Verney’s prodigious girning abilities that had enamoured her to William Brown, eternal schoolboy and aspiring global potentate. His heart mellowed, William agreed to take Rosemary’s place at an interview and photoshoot for the Woman’s Sphere, so that she could go off and take part in a waxworks show at the old barn. Confronted with the vision of William dressed up as Mary Queen of Scots, the interviewer, a Miss Perkins, found herself veritably astonished. Extraordinary how standards were changing all the world over, she thought to herself. That this child should be considered beautiful! It was amazing. The effect, of course, of jazz and cubism.
Though she found herself in vague opposition to it, Miss Perkins was at least dimly aware that the world upheld some kind of principle of beauty (and consequently an inverse principle of ugliness). The Dufflepuds too, in their unshakable belief that they had been uglified must have believed in some fundamental standard of beauty, even if it were only they who ascribed to that particular standard. Their reactions to it were very different, but for both the Dufflepuds and Miss Perkins the problem was that same: the question of where to locate the locus of objectivity. I may have to become a little insufferable now.
The cosmological principle tells us that, looked upon on a large enough scale, the universe is homogenous and isotropic. This means that there are no preferred points or directions in the universe; no centre, nor edge, nor equator nor anything. If we look out into the vast expanses of space we’ll find nothing out there from which we can absolutely define our own position or direction. Practically, in order to make sense of the world, we have to orient ourselves somehow, but there’s no denying that, on a very fundamental level, the universe denies us objectivity. So, what to do? Let me digress a little.
The Arabic phrase shlōnek has a double meaning. The most prevalent meaning is ‘How are you?’, but it’s also possible to translate the phrase as ‘What is your colour?’. Being a part of everyday smalltalk, many a shlōnek gets passed about without much comment, but I had friend once (I daresay I still have him) who had a taste for terrible puns. Often were the times that we’d hail him with a casual “Shlōnek?” and he’d reply, delight dancing on his lips: “Skin-colour.” Now, as terrible puns go this was all very well and fine, but upon further investigation we discovered that he actually believed that his colour was skin-colour, rather than the kind of strange, mottled green that his skin actually was. That’s to say, he believed that the colour of his skin was the colour of skin, and anyone else’s colour, be it lighter or darker, was a variation thereof. In short, he took himself as a point of absolute objectivity, and I don’t just mean that in a sense of cosmological compromise. As far as he was concerned, he really was the centre of the universe.
As I write this I envy that prince of puns his surety. He seems to stand on such solid ground while I drift passed dying stars and empty space. I mean, yes, I’ve thrashed out the argument in my mind, coming to the resounding conclusion that taking myself as an absolute frame of reference is the only sensible thing to do, but my heart is not so easily convinced. More and more I experience those moments of existential dizziness, when I’m forced to wonder precisely why it is that I’m looking out at the world from behind my eyes. The full force of all those billions of other perspectives throughout the world bears down on me and the shock of it never seems to diminish. Much as it embitters me, my locus of objectivity has long ago flown from my breast and perched itself behind another’s eyes. I can see myself as nothing at all but another lost soul, wandering alone in the rain. This, of course, is no answer. I’ve posed the problem of objectivity, and as usual there are no real solutions. It seems all I can do is return to the realm of children’s literature where I began and whence I quote:
“It doesn’t matter who you are or what you look like so long as somebody loves you.”
Image lifted from C. S. Lewis's The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)