Now that was a lunch break. But I don’t want to gloat, readers, so if a description of a picnic on the Heath will just make you sad while you eat lunch at your desk, you would do well to skip the next three paragraphs. Emerging from its hole, the duck-rabbit walked briskly and was at the top of Kite Hill within ten minutes, where He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved met it.* He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved pointed out the flopsy duckits who could be seen, two little figures in the distance, walking very carefully and deliberately at the bottom of one side of the hill. They explained, when we reached them, that they had been navigating a thistle patch. The younger flopsy duckit presented the duck-rabbit with a small posy of yellow flowers that she had gathered for it. Making our way gingerly through the thistles, we found a shady spot under a tree to eat our lunch.
It was a lovely spot, indeed. Dragonflies buzzed; blackberry bushes laden with berries beckoned; and a wagtail alighted nearby. We were clearly not the first to be charmed by this spot. Detritus from an earlier happy occasion was strewn in the grass, much to the delight of the flopsy duckits, the younger of whom gathered the balloons and the elder of whom collected the empty nitrous oxide canisters. When all the treasures had been found, we fell upon our lunch. He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved had packed cheese, apples, and hard-boiled eggs. There were carrots for the rabbit and marmalade sandwiches for the duck. (I’m not being cute; this is actually what we had on our picnic.)
Soon enough, though, the duck-rabbit felt the call of the darkness and the need for coffee and solitude, and loped back to its hole, leaving the others to gather blackberries. So, let’s pick up from where I left off, then. Where was I? Ahh, yes, for Hume, “When a philosopher contemplates characters and manners in his closet, … the sentiments of nature have no room to play.” Yet I don’t think the point, for Hume, is that the closet is a moribund space. Rather, what he finds productive is the traveling back and forth between closet and the social world. It’s important, Hume says, that we experience the fact that “When we leave our closet, and engage in the common affairs of life, its [i.e. the closet’s] conclusions seem to vanish,” but it’s also okay, Hume insists, to revisit those conclusions, to return to the closet when one needs to.
Once again, here, I feel that in reflecting upon something academic I am also talking about something personal. One needs to leave the duck-rabbit-hole, yes. But it’s also okay to yearn to return there, isn’t it? It’s all right to shift back and forth between the outside world and the world inside one’s head and to get outside one’s own head not only by stepping out into the sunlight but by tapping characters on a keyboard, conjuring black marks on a white screen, and disseminating them here, in this in-between space, that is neither wholly public nor wholly private?
You see, my family don’t live down here with me, exactly, and sometimes they get impatient. They want me to come up and breathe the fresh air, and stop faffing around in this bloody hole. They want me to come out and play with them and read to them and help with the laundry and buy groceries and do all sorts of other important things that the duck-rabbit knows are important but which would never get done if it were left to its own devices because we’d only do laundry when it was truly a clothing emergency and we’d live on live on marmalade sandwiches, and the flopsy-duckits would play on the iPad as much as they wanted.**
To the duck-rabbit’s family (even to you, dear readers), it might seem rather claustrophobic and terribly solipsistic down here in the duck-rabbit hole. But there’s a lot of fecundity to be found, I’d argue, in closets and recessed spaces. Narratively speaking, they’re not dead ends at all. Think about it.
Closets can be terrifying (think of Carwin hiding in Clara’s closet in Brockden Brown’s Wieland); they can be the stuff of great comical tension, as in Byron’s Don Juan (“She whisper’d, in great wrath—‘I must deposit / This pretty gentleman within the closet’”); and they, of course, lend themselves perfectly to voyeuristic erotic pleasures, as Cleland’s Fanny Hill discovers: “One day, about twelve at noon, being thoroughly recovered of my fever, I happened to be in Mrs. Brown’s dark closet, where I had not been half an hour, resting upon the maid’s bed, before I heard a rustling in the bed-chamber, separated from the closet only by two sash doors, before the glasses of which were drawn two yellow damask curtains, but not so close as to exclude the full view of the room from any person in the closet.
I instantly crept softly and posted myself so, that seeing everything minutely, I could not myself be seen …”
Moreover, they can be magical, their apparent limitations yielding to gentle pressure (“‘This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!’ thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. ‘I wonder is that more moth-balls?’ she thought, stooping down to feel it with her hands. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold, ‘This is very queer,’ she said, and went on a step or two further.”) Queer indeed!
And see, this dispatch illustrates what I mean about the narrative fecundity of recessed spaces. I mean, I was trying to describe this closet of sorts, the duck-rabbit hole. But I got swept away, and soon found myself “sailing,” as my self-described most-devoted-reader recently observed to me, in a phrase I love, “down the stream of [my] own intellectual consciousness.”***
I want you to feel like this too, reader. This is aiming awfully high, I know, but really I’d like you to feel just as Walter Scott imagines the reader of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones. That is to say, I don’t want you to feel like I’m just traveling up my own arse and dragging you along with me. Rather, I hope the reader of this blog “slides down the narrative like a boat on the surface of some broad navigable stream.”
With that, I’ll bid you farewell for today, and wish you fair winds and following seas.
* This is a very slight adaptation (to protect the innocent) of the moniker coined by dear SaJane for the duck-rabbit’s spouse precisely because He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved is so obviously the one you should stick with during the zombie apocalypse. Just to give you a quick example: when He-Who-Must-Be-Preserved and the flopsy duckits returned from the Heath, He threw together a crumble made from crab-apples and blackberries foraged from the Heath. See? He knows how to forage. ’Nuff said.
** Here, then, please spare a thought and a prayer for the duck-rabbit’s long-suffering family, because living with the duck-rabbit is challenging, to say the least. The duck’s a total slob, just lies around watching telly all day. The only thing he reads is Vogue (remember, he’s a visual thinker) and a few cooking blogs if they have good photography (not that he actually cooks, you understand). The rabbit is more ascetic, reading philosophy and nibbling on chia seeds. But both duck and rabbit are utterly self-absorbed in their own way, which means that, together, they are not particularly helpful, as the duck-rabbit’s mother tartly observed recently, when it comes to “running a household.” But, it should be noted, the duck-rabbit is not throwing up its hands (because it doesn’t have any) and protesting, “I’m just incompetent! That’s my excuse.” The duck-rabbit is keenly aware that putting the peanut butter back in the fridge requires, not expertise, but simply a modicum of effort.† The duck-rabbit is resolved to do better. The duck-rabbit is trying.
***I’m talking about you, Miss Honey! Miss Honey also declared notes from the duck-rabbit hole to be “richly allusive and quite aggressively bookish,” an assessment that I took, as it was intended, as a compliment of the highest order and which I have accordingly embraced as this site’s tagline.
† That being said, the duck-rabbit maintains that it is so much easier for everyone if we just keep the peanut butter on the counter! That way it can be handily reached without all of the effort of having to open the fridge; I mean, it’s such a drag to have to open the fridge when one is peckish, don’t you find? Who’s with me?