One of the few things I still miss from my Midwest childhood was this weird, deluded but unshakable conviction that everything around me existed all and only For Me. Am I the only one who had this queer deep sense as a kid? — that everything exterior to me existed only insofar as it affected me somehow? that all things were somehow, via some occult adult activity, specially arranged for my benefit? Does anybody else identify with this memory? The child leaves a room, and now everything in that room, once he’s no longer there to see it, melts away into some void of potential or else (my personal childhood theory) is trundled away by occult adults and stored until the child’s reentry into the room recalls it all back into animate service. Was this nuts? It was radically self-centered, of course, this conviction, and more than a little paranoid. Plus the responsibility it conferred: if the whole of the world dissolved and resolved each time I blinked, what if my eyes didn’t open?
Maybe what I really miss now is the fact that a child’s radical delusive self-centeredness doesn’t cause him conflict or pain. His is the regally innocent solipsism of Bishop Berkeley’s God: all things are nothing until his sight calls them forth from the void: his stimulation is the world’s very being. And this is maybe why a little kid so fears the dark: it’s not the possible presence of unseen fanged things in the dark, but rather the actual absence of everything his blindness has now erased. For me, at least, pace my folks’ indulgent smiles, this was my true reason for needing a nightlight: it kept the world turning.
Plus maybe this sense of the world as all and only For-Him is why special ritual public occasions drive a kid right out of his mind with excitement. Holidays, parades, summer trips, sporting events. Fairs. Here the child’s manic excitement is really exultation at his own power: the world will now not only exist For-Him but will present itself as Special-For-Him. Every hanging banner, balloon, gilded booth, clown-wig, turn of the wrench on a tent’s erection — every bright bit signifies, refers. Counting down to the Special Event, time itself will alter, from a child’s annular system of flashes and sweeps to a more adultish linear chronology — the concept of looking forward to — with successive moments ticking off toward a calendar-X’d telos, a new kind of fulfilling and apocalyptic End, the 0-hour of the Special Occasion, Special, of the garish and in all ways exceptional Spectacle which the child has made be and which is, he intuits at the same inarticulate depth as his need for a nightlight, For-Him alone, unique at the absolute center.
David Foster Wallace,
‘Getting Away From Already Pretty Much Being Away From It All’