A Tangled Skein


I have long been working at unravelling my semi-coalesced theory pertaining to the construction of a human mind, a life, a person in the fullest sense of that world. I encounter fragments of my theory-in-infancy in the works of other thinkers and writers, sometimes in an arrested moment, sometimes in a casual, almost unnoticed phrase or remark, but it always returns to me, such that I wonder if someday this will be my study, my pursuit, my magnum opus in a sense.

Today I was tracking down a volume of Virginia Woolf's diary, after having spent a few hours re-reading parts of Orlando, one of the best novels I have ever read, and so I was very caught up in the tangles of my non-theory, wondering about the thread of consciousness that makes a person appear to be so different at so many points in their life.

Proust helps as well--he is fantastic at elucidating the very thing that Orlando embodies: that human beings are both one and many, that they have many facets, each different and even opposed to the other; he asks how a person that one can know intimately, can spend every day with, can watch sleeping, waking, infuriated, enrapt will forever retain a core of mystery, a misty center veiled from view and most likely (most certainly?) unknown to them as well.

And musing upon this I came across an article on knot theory, of all things, in the latest issue of Cabinet magazine and was struck by the description of Borromean knot as a 3-dimensional knot made of 3 closed circles which do not intersect one another. These knots are described in Not Knot, a movie I was familiar with at the library, created by The Geometry Center at the University of Minnesota in the 80s.

I was struck bcause I had never thought of knots as a possible model in my own theory of personality. I used to imagine something akin to A.N. Whitehead's corpuscular strands with an enduring-ness about them, but not sclerotic or static at all. But knots seem to get to the essential this and not that about a person. The unmistakability, the undeniability that persists through the myriad of changes that any one person will experience. The links of the knot are boundaries, but they move and change and revolve, just as the triple helix of DNA is often shown as a spiraling strand.

The knot is clearly made up of three limits, the three links that twine together, but it is also clearly made up of necessary empty space, the space that creates the knot as it keeps the links separate from one another.

Just as any given personality will have some persisting elements, like Orlando's enduring desire for "Life!" or "A Lover!", the knot is composed of those three necessary links. But within them is the space for an infinitude of occurences; occurences which my mind, tutored rudely in Lobachevskian geometry, and even more rudely in modern physics, balks at thinking of.

But isn't it so much more beautiful to imagine a human personality as something which is clearly a specific thing, but which also wears a myriad of masks, costumes, habits, and even ways of being throughout its persistance. An ever-changing knot of life, a focus of energy with its own unique vibratory pattern (another one of my half-cracked theories), and always circling around the vein of the unkown, that essential artery from which everything must spring and to which everything must return.