"Note down what you can see. Anything worthy of note going on. Do you know how to see what’s worthy of note? Is there anything that strikes you? Nothing strikes you. You don’t know how to see. You must set about it more slowly, almost stupidly." — Georges Perec
We like to believe, perhaps, that there is a surface of things that is transitory and, in the end, meaningless. Under this surface is what really matters: there lies the the truth of things.
But the world reveals itself, always and necessarily. Scratch away the surface and you scratch away life itself. The trick is to learn to see the world.
Usually, we don't see. Our vision is blinded by familiarity and fear — familiarity of what we know and expect; and fear of engagement with the overwhelming vitality of the now. And, of course, out of fear we rely on the familiar — we prefer to see the controlled dead rather than the sublime living.
Look around. Everything is right there. Not only all the information you need but all the information there is. You might have to poke about a bit. You might have to squint. You may even need to close your eyes. But you'll never have to sift it out because life happens in this world and nowhere else.
Now look at someone's face. Really look at it. See the overwhelming amount of information in the skin, the posture, the eyes, the rhythm of movements and twitches. It's unbearable. We leak ourselves continuously, relentlessly, necessarily. There are of course thoughts and fears and images in your head I can't see but if I look long enough and hard enough at you, I'll sense those thoughts and fears and images.
This is what psychics do: they read the wealth of information available, the information we tend to ignore out of fear. But just look and you, too, can see. It's obvious when we desire and are desired — you don't need the girl to say, "I want you," to know that she wants you and, at the same time, that she's a tad ambivalent, curious, cautious. You know all that. But still you ignore it, play dumb: "How am I supposed to know?" Because you do. You see it on others. You can tell when that girl likes that boy. But when it comes to yourself, your engagement with the world, you turn blind.
We wear our experiences. We wear our lives on our faces and in our flesh. We wear our fears and thoughts and desires and images and histories. We are a cinema screen (and a camera at the same time).
The trick is knowing how to read it. The trick is not just listening to what people say but to how they say it. We know this most of the time — so and so protests too much, we thinks. Which is to say, we read people's behaviors not just what they say. But we stop short of reading all the information they are giving us.
Look again at your lover's face while he or she is speaking, thinking, cooking, writing, sleeping. Really look. The complexity and plethora of pathos is sublime: it overwhelms.
And yet if we overcome this fear of sublimity, we'll be so much smarter. We'll understand why and how we feel the way we do, why and how we ended up here rather than there. We'll know that our lovers speak of nonchalance but are in fact profoundly afraid of loneliness, of stillness; we'll know that even though they say they love you, they in fact love love; we'll know all the ambivalence that goes into every kiss.
Sometimes, to see means not staring at your lover's face but standing back to take in the lay of the land. You need to see the map of the territory and the trajectories that landed you here and where they'll most likely take you next. Like all things, seeing demands both touring and mapping your life.
We live at the surface, always. This is not superficial, at least not in the sense of being false or "mere" surface. This is being empirical rather than blind.