I just finished the book The Melancholy Android by Eric G. Wilson. I really enjoyed it. It covers much of the same material as another book I’ve read: The Secret Life of Puppets by Victoria Nelson. I want to blog about those books later on, but thinking about some of the ideas from those books reminds me of the story of The Velveteen Rabbit. I never read that story as a child, but its become a favorite of mine since I read it a few years ago.
What does it mean to be real, to be alive, to be human?
“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by
side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does
it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”
“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that
happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just
to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”
“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.
“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When
you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”
“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit
“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It
takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who
break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept.
Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved
off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very
shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are
Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”
This resonates with what I was saying in my comments in my blog post Personal Public Problems. I was speaking about Bob Arctor in A Scanner Darkly. Philip K. Dick was interested in what is reality, but this relates to what it means to be real. Maybe Arctor is like the Velveteen Rabbit. Isn’t there a hope in suffering? Isn’t that what the Christian tradition teaches? To be real is in some sense to be saved. What we’re saved from isn’t suffering per se, but the illusions and lies that keep us from seeing suffering clearly. Our suffering can’t be avoided… it must be faced. We must let ourselves be transformed by fire.
“I am the nursery magic Fairy,” she said. “I take care of all the
playthings that the children have loved. When they are old and worn
out and the children don’t need them any more, then I come and take
them away with me and turn them into Real.”
“Wasn’t I Real before?” asked the little Rabbit.
“You were Real to the Boy,” the Fairy said, “because he loved you. Now
you shall be Real to every one.”
Human love may be where it starts, but that only awakens in us the awareness of a greater possibility, a greater Love. To be Real in the deepest sense is to find that sense of Realness within ourselves… not dependent on specific relationships. And this brings up the question of what does it mean to be autonomous, to be free? The Velveteen Rabbit is saved by the fairy and goes to live with the wild rabbits. He is no longer dependent on the boy. What the rabbit does now is up to him. His Real life is only beginning.