Affective is a collection of fresh reads, perspectives, and thought pieces

Second Person


Universalist

April 23

The Second Person is a project exploring the various identities that converge into who we are, the hundreds of worlds we inhabit in a day, the roles we play that are always changing. Through second person prose pieces, we try to bring out various versions of ‘you’, virtual and real, internal and external, and create an archive of self by examining interactions, beliefs, experiences or moments.


You keep returning to the same idea, again and again. It’s a Buddhist quote you used to think was nonsense, but it comes back to you at the most unexpected moments. Something about you being a river, and life as the water flowing through it. Or time as a river, leading us along. You don’t remember any more.

It usually comes back at difficult moments when you question who you are, how you define yourself. You think about the mechanics of your life so far, how statistically absurd everything about it seems, how unlikely. At the times when nobody is around you, when you are on edge and contemplating the universe, you feel sure that none of it can be real, that you are part of some gigantic experiment. But then you tell yourself that everybody feels this way, sometimes.

For some reason, there is great solace in the idea that other people have felt this way, faced the same troubles or struggles or exaltations, that the world can be understood or explained despite all signs to the contrary. That somebody has experienced this before, and felt the same. Even as you travel across continents every few months, see the massive networks that run the globe, and question your own position or self or the roles you are playing, as what you know about the world goes up in smoke, there are so many people wondering about the same things.

You often wonder if that is all that art is: a demonstration that there are these universal human commonalities, across nations and identities, despite so much evidence to the contrary. You think about the maxim that all great stories follow the same structures, that life can be simplified into drama or tragedy or a voyage or a triumph, that everybody knows and connects with these tropes, even though it feels so shallow.

In fact, you wonder if the things and tropes that connect us are growing all the time, with the same networks spreading around the globe. You see so many similarities between the mega-cities you go to, so many of the same political and legal quandaries, so many of the same kinds of problems and struggles, so many parallels in the way people live. You begin to think about how everybody is simply passing through these moments and identities, going from being a citizen to a public transit passenger to an employee to a lover to a consumer to a phone addict to some other self, that there are these universal moments or identities that everybody is living through.

You know that there are millions of them, that it is like trying to capture drops of a river, but you begin to analyse and list them, to chart them out as some kind of universal account of an urban life in our time. The river keeps flowing, but you are collecting glasses, seeing how the water changes and trying to learn more about it.

 




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