On Being Small

As noted elsewhere in my different ruminations on the “death thang,” I first became aware of death or at least of its consequences for me personally when one day walking home from high school I had something like a mystic experience, although I don’t know what that is, or an epiphany, which I think is a sort of poor man’s version of mystic experience.  In any case, it was an experience with sensations of the hair standing up on the back of the neck variety that lasted all of maybe thirty seconds, and in those moments, while I felt the horror of it all, I also felt strangely exhilarated because I felt free.  As I put it to myself in a form of sub-audible articulation, you are free because you are small, oh so very small.

While I have thought about this moment over the years, I have not been able to add much to it beyond the bare bones offered above perhaps because it was a bare bones experience.  I do remember wondering at one time why I was free because I was small.  All that ever came to me was that being so small I might, like a grain, of sand slip through their fingers, the fingers of my tormentors, my parents, I mean.  I also wondered how small my smallness was: the size of a pea or perhaps atomically small.

I had this experience around 1963 I think and just the other day, in 2007, I was perusing the New Yorker and came across the review of the writing of a man, now long dead, named Robert Walser, who had also thought on the issue of smallness;  the reviewer writes:

            It [a particular passage] shows the tightness of Walser’s switchbacks from sweetness to sarcasm and back to sweetness again.  It also offhandedly announces his credo—everything small and modest is beautiful and pleasing—and establishes the depths of his affinity with Kafka.  After all, Kafka…makes the same curious declaration—“Indeed I am Chinese—and cherished the idea of smallness in a similar way: “Two possibilities: making oneself infinitely small or being so.”  For both writers, smallness implied a drastic aversion to power, the exercise of it as well as submission to it.

So it would appear I am not alone in my speculations on smallness, and indeed, Walser like myself, as the reviewer implies in another place, associated the idea of it with freedom.  The reviewer notes another dimension to the issue, if one may call it that, of smallness, by saying it marks for both Walser and Kafka a drastic aversion to power, to the exercise of and submission to.

I had not thought of that idea.  Having power makes a person vulnerable (to those who want to get it) and having it to use makes those upon whom one uses it also vulnerable.

But poor Walser checked into an insane asylum in 1927 and did not check out again until 1957 when he died.  So far I have not become that small.

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