Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Crowding; Revelation

It's odd that practically no one ever talks about the centrality of invisibility, in The Lord of the Rings.

In Tolkien's world, to claim power and to disappear are often one and the same act. Or (to say the same thing, but reversing the poles) you can appear, or you can wield power, but you can't do both. (This is something somebody should probably have explained to President Trump: it would have saved many tears.) Those who choose power become invisible, and ultimately nameless. It's a disquieting idea, but I think it's one that bears a lot of rumination.

(The exception to the power/visibility trade-off is Aragorn-as-King-Elessar, and it's precisely Aragorn's oddly repeated revelation-of-majesty scenes that were most stirring to me, in my youth, and are now least convincing to me, in my maturity. When Tolkien tries even to approach power that is visible, everything starts to wobble, and his language gets ever more archaic and grandiose. I loved it, as a teenager, but as an adult I know the signs all too well: he's trying too hard.)

I've played for fifteen years, here, with the gratifications and drawbacks of being visible. The yen to disappear has never been absent, but lately -- lately it has crowded in on me. Visibility makes it difficult or imprudent, sometimes, to say exactly what I mean: one of my most characteristic things to do these days is to write out a paragraph or a couple pages in response to something... and to think: no. Not here, not now, not in this persona anyway. And {delete}.

I was reading the Wikipedia article on the pseudonymous Elena Ferrante, and found the longing overwhelming. Oh, to be invisible, and to say exactly what I mean!

On the other hand: "He did not feel invisible at all, but horribly and uniquely visible..." There's that, too.


Sabine said...

Age makes me invisible. I think it's a woman's fate. Possibly in a different way of what you are thinking of.

Dale said...

Oh, a totally different kind of invisibility, yes.

That's an interesting phenomenon too. I have not become exactly invisible, in that sense. I have noticed as I age, however, that I have become someone you don't need to take seriously. An old man is fundamentally a comic figure: which wounds my amour propre, of course, but it could be worse. I do at least exist.

Jeff said...

This post makes me ponder the connection between visibility and another adjunct of power: responsibility. For most of my life, I tended to be someone who stayed in the background, reluctant to be noticed, and only a little brush with book publicity a decade ago drew me out into the open air for a brief time. But three years ago I moved to a small town, and while I don't have much power, I've taken on a fair amount of community responsibility, which has made me the most visible I've ever been. I'm not sure how responsibility mucks up the Tolkienesque power/invisibility equation, but you have, as usual, gotten me thinking...

Peter said...

I reread The Hobbit last month. I think Bilbo, back then, was so attached to the ring only because it made him invisible. Bilbo changed his plans to tell his comrades about the ring when he realized its revelation would mean he'd lose credit for being a natural burglar, something Gandalf had claimed about him from their journey's outset. The other rings and the power trip didn't come until the trilogy, I guess. Apparently, merely being invisible isn't enough to sustain a protagonist through an entire trilogy.