N tells us he is able to step aside from the world.
“It’s a trick I learned early,” he says. He learned by exploiting various childhood states. “Being ill, for instance. Or having your parents die: anything that gives you special privileges in terms of not taking part. Later, as an adult, it’s someone else being ill, but you don’t have to look after them. You don’t have the bore of that, you just have to turn up at the hospital with flowers. Births, marriages and deaths. If you learn to distance yourself from other people’s funerals, you’ll eventually learn how to step aside from your own.”
He believes that anything which reduces guilt or responsibility, the anxiety of having to fit in, can be turned into the ability to step aside.
“I don’t fade, I don’t lose anything. It’s not a question of purchase on things. There doesn’t seem to be a down side.” He smiles ruefully. “On the other hand, it isn’t much good for anything but itself.”
What is the step-aside experience like?
There’s a poverty of interpretation, N believes. “We have the traditional guidelines,” but these allow us to imagine only two possibilities: “a world of your own” in which the detached “you” has agency but which contains no possibility of contact with others; or a world in which everyone else is seen as if through a window, by an individual who has no agency. “It’s as if people can’t think up any other possible way of being. Both states emphasise loss of ‘true’ purpose, human purpose.”
As he speaks we hear his voice fade, as if he’s walking away down a corridor. “But I don’t find it like that at all.”