Closing your eyes isn't going to change anything. Nothing's going to disappear just because you can't see what's going on. In fact, things will even be worse the next time you open your eyes. That's the kind of world we live in. Keep your eyes wide open. Only a coward closes his eyes. Closing your eyes and plugging up your ears won't make time stand still.
Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you've never been. Once you've visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different. And while we're on the subject, I'd like to say a few words about escapism. I hear the term bandied about as if it's a bad thing. As if "escapist" fiction is a cheap opiate used by the muddled and the foolish and the deluded, and the only fiction that is worthy, for adults or for children, is mimetic fiction, mirroring the worst of the world the reader finds herself in. If you were trapped in an impossible situation, in an unpleasant place, with people who meant you ill, and someone offered you a temporary escape, why wouldn't you take it? And escapist fiction is just that: fiction that opens a door, shows the sunlight outside, gives you a place to go where you are in control, are with people you want to be with(and books are real places, make no mistake about that); and more importantly, during your escape, books can also give you knowledge about the world and your predicament, give you weapons, give you armour: real things you can take back into your prison. Skills and knowledge and tools you can use to escape for real. As JRR Tolkien reminded us, the only people who inveigh against escape are jailers.
Paradise was always over there, a day’s sail away. But it’s a funny thing, escapism. You can go far and wide and you can keep moving on and on through places and years, but you never escape your own life. I, finally, knew where my life belonged. Home.
Humans had built a world inside the world, which reflected it in pretty much the same way as a drop of water reflected the landscape. And yet ... and yet ... Inside this little world they had taken pains to put all the things you might think they would want to escape from — hatred, fear, tyranny, and so forth. Death was intrigued. They thought they wanted to be taken out of themselves, and every art humans dreamt up took them further in . He was fascinated.
Many have given up. They stay home and watch the TV screen, living on the earnings of their parents, cousins, bothers, or uncles, and only leave the house to go to the movies or to the nearest bar. "How're you making it?" on may ask, running into them along the block, or in the bar. "Oh, I'm TV-ing it"; with the saddest, sweetest, most shamefaced of smiles, and from a great distance. This distance one is compelled to respect; anyone who has traveled so far will not easily be dragged again into the world. There are further retreats, of course, than the TV screen or the bar. There are those who are simply sitting on their stoops, "stoned," animated for a moment only, and hideously, by the approach of someone who may lend them the money for a "fix." Or by the approach of someone from whom they can purchase it, one of the shrewd ones, on the way to prison or just coming out.
To read fiction means to play a game by which we give sense to the immensity of things that happened, are happening, or will happen in the actual world. By reading narrative, we escape the anxiety that attacks us when we try to say something true about the world. This is the consoling function of narrative — the reason people tell stories, and have told stories from the beginning of time.
Los Angeles was the kind of place where everybody was from somewhere else and nobody really droppped anchor. It was a transient place. People drawn by the dream, people running from the nightmare. Twelve million people and all of them ready to make a break for it if necessary. Figuratively, literally, metaphorically -- any way you want to look at it -- everbody in L.A. keeps a bag packed. Just in case.
People talk about escapism as if it's a bad thing... Once you've escaped, once you come back, the world is not the same as when you left it. You come back to it with skills, weapons, knowledge you didn't have before. Then you are better equipped to deal with your current reality.
Ive tried that. Ive tried aspirin, too. Rusty thinks I should smoke marijuana, and I did for a while, but it only makes me giggle. What Ive found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffanys. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffanys, then Id buy some furniture and give the cat a name.
I’ve tried that. I’ve tried aspirin, too. Rusty thinks I should smoke marijuana, and I did for a while, but it only makes me giggle. What I’ve found does the most good is just to get into a taxi and go to Tiffany’s. It calms me down right away, the quietness and the proud look of it; nothing very bad could happen to you there, not with those kind men in their nice suits, and that lovely smell of silver and alligator wallets. If I could find a real-life place that made me feel like Tiffany’s, then I’d buy some furniture and give the cat a name.
Haven't you noticed, too, on the part of nearly everyone you know, a growing rebellion against the present? And an increasing longing for the past? I have. Never before in all my long life have I heard so many people wish that they lived 'at the turn of the century,' or 'when life was simpler,' or 'worth living,' or 'when you could bring children into the world and count on the future,' or simply 'in the good old days.' People didn't talk that way when I was young! The present was a glorious time! But they talk that way now. For the first time in man's history, man is desperate to escape the present. Our newsstands are jammed with escape literature, the very name of which is significant. Entire magazines are devoted to fantastic stories of escape - to other times, past and future, to other worlds and planets - escape to anywhere but here and now. Even our larger magazines, book publishers and Hollywood are beginning to meet the rising demand for this kind of escape. Yes, there is a craving in the world like a thirst, a terrible mass pressure that you can almost feel, of millions of minds struggling against the barriers of time. I am utterly convinced that this terrible mass pressure of millions of minds is already, slightly but definitely, affecting time itself. In the moments when this happens - when the almost universal longing to escape is greatest - my incidents occur. Man is disturbing the clock of time, and I am afraid it will break. When it does, I leave to your imagination the last few hours of madness that will be left to us; all the countless moments that now make up our lives suddenly ripped apart and chaotically tangled in time. Well, I have lived most of my life; I can be robbed of only a few more years. But it seems too bad - this universal craving to escape what could be a rich, productive, happy world. We live on a planet well able to provide a decent life for every soul on it, which is all ninety-nine of a hundred human beings ask. Why in the world can't we have it? ("I'm Scared")
I think that pretty much every form of fiction (I’d include fantasy, obviously) can actually be a real escape from places where you feel bad, and from bad places. It can be a safe place you go, like going on holiday, and it can be somewhere that, while you’ve escaped, actually teaches you things you need to know when you go back, that gives you knowledge and armour and tools to change the bad place you were in. So no, they’re not escapist. They’re escape.
[All the ancient wisdom] tells us that work is necessary to us, as much a part of our condition as mortality; that good work is our salvation and our joy; that shoddy or dishonest or self-serving work is our curse and our doom. We have tried to escape the sweat and sorrow promised in Genesis - only to find that, in order to do so, we must forswear love and excellence, health and joy. (pg. 44, "The Unsettling of America")
Hence the uneasiness which they arouse in those who, for whatever reason, wish to keep us wholly imprisoned in the immediate conflict. That perhaps is why people are so ready with the charge of "escape." I never fully understood it till my friend Professor Tolkien asked me the very simple question, "What class of men would you expect to be most preoccupied with, and hostile to, the idea of escape?" and gave the obvious answer: jailers.
I sleep all day. Noises flit around the house- garbage truck in the alley, rain, tree rapping against the bedroom window. I sleep. I inhabit sleep firmly, willing it, wielding it, pushing away dreams, refusing, refusing. Sleep is my lover now, my forgetting, my opiate, my oblivion. [...] It is afternoon, it is night, it is morning. Everything is reduced to this bed, this endless slumber that makes the days into one day, makes time stop, stretches and compacts time until it is meaningless.
Thus he spent his whole life searching for his own truth, but it remained hidden to him because he had learned at a very young age to hate himself for what his mother had done to him. (...) But not once did he allow himself to direct his endless, justified rage at the true culprit, the woman who had kept him locked up in her prison for as long as she could. All his life he attempted to free himself of that prison, with the help of drugs, travel, illusions, and above all poetry. But in all these desperate efforts to open the doors that would have led to liberation, one of them remained obstinently shut, the most important one: the door to the emotional reality of his childhood, to the feelings of the little child who was forced to grow up with a severely disturbed, malevolent woman, with no father to protect him from her.
We have made it our overriding ambition to escape work, and as a consequence have debased work until it is only fit to escape from. We have debased the products of work and have been, in turn, debased by them. (pg. 43, "The Unsettling of America")
Träume und Märchen waren ihr eigentlicher Lebensinhalt, dachte ich jetzt. Deshalb hat sie sich auch umgebracht, dachte ich, weil ein Mensch, der nur Träume und Märchen sich zu seinem Lebensinhalt gemacht hat, in dieser Welt nicht überleben kann, nicht überleben darf, dachte ich.
There's no real objection to escapism, in the right places... We all want to escape occasionally. But science fiction is often very far from escapism, in fact you might say that science fiction is escape into reality... It's a fiction which does concern itself with real issues: the origin of man; our future. In fact I can't think of any form of literature which is more concerned with real issues, reality.
Yes, life is hard, whispers Erika, but knowing about other people, other civilisations, other ways of living, other places – that’s your escape route, a magical journey. Once you know about these things, no matter what happens, your mind can create stories to take you anywhere you want to go.
We left behind the other kids; their path-working, drinking, and being grown up- and rejected all that made them grumpy, uncreative and lifeless. We dumpstered, squatted, and shoplifted our lives back. Everything fell into place when we decided our lives were meant to be lived. Life serves the risk taker...
In the language of the day it is customary to describe a certain sort of book as escapist literature. As I understand it, the adjective implies, a little condescendingly, that the life therein depicted cannot be identified with the real life which the critic knows so well in W.C.1: and may even have the disastrous effect on the reader of taking him happily for a few hours out of his own real life in N.W.8. Why this should be a matter for regret I do not know; nor why realism in a novel is so much admired when realism in a picture is condemned as mere photography; nor, I might add, why drink and fornication should seem to bring the realist closer to real life than, say, golf and gardening.
Once I ventured the guess that men worked in response to a vague inner urge for self-expression. But that was probably a shaky theory, for some men who work the hardest have nothing to express. A hypothesis with rather more plausibility in it now suggests itself. It is that men work simply in order to escape the depressing agony of contemplating life – that their work, like their play, is a mumbo-jumbo that serves them by permitting them to escape from reality. Both work and play, ordinarily, are illusions. Neither serves any solid or permanent purpose. But life, stripped of such illusions, instantly becomes unbearable. Man cannot sit still, contemplating his destiny in this world, without going frantic. So he invents ways to take his mind off the horror. He works. He plays. He accumulates the preposterous nothing called property. He strives for the coy eyewink called fame. He founds a family, and spends his curse over others. All the while the thing that moves him is simply the yearning to lose himself, to forget himself, to escape the tragic-comedy that is himself. Life, fundamentally, is not worth living. So he confects artificialities to make it so. So he erects a gaudy structure to conceal the fact that it is not so.
I steel myself to ignore his taunts and his coarse language. I no longer care what he says or does. It doesn't matter anymore. I am detached, contained in my own private world where he cannot reach me. It is my last refuge.