The essence of childhood is playing. For me, the essence of that essence was not War, not Red Rover Red Rover, not baseball, kickball, badmitten, solitaire, smear the queer, acorn fight, not Battleship, Monopoly, Chinese Checkers, Life, Operation, not dress-up, swinging on the door, birds, spying – no, the sum and mirror of childhood and, I think now, life was hide and seek. I look back over the vast and forbidding snowfall of years, I look back over the forbidding terrain of physical growth, short term memory loss, and the painful and constant realization of the drain of a million trivialities that has utterly wasted 99 percent of my spiritual energy, I look back on myself pintsized (a vision that substitutes a photo of myself for a tactile and living image – I cannot imagine being three feet high, it is beyond the limits of my imagination), and hide and seek looms up as the emblem of the labyrinth into which I had fallen from another labyrinth, that which extends on the negative side of the zero hour of birth and touches nothingness – labyrinth to labyrinth. Hide and seek involved the elemental spirits: an It, a countdown, hiding places, a base, and tagging. I still remember certain successful hiding places: the clothes hamper in the Colonial, a large cardboard box – a mover’s box in which to hang clothes – in Dad’s part workshop, the prickly vacancy between the pittus porum and the house on Nielsen Court, the upper branches of a pine tree in the bit of woods three blocks away, bellydown among the dust under a bed somewhere… Of course, finding a hiding place was only the first order of business, since the point was to creep out of it at the right moment and make a dash for the base without being tagged by It. The game involved an uneasy détente between the senses – the visible (hidden/not hidden) and the tactile (tagged/not tagged). We could easily come up with the semiotic wiring of the game through the putting into play of such oppositions.
We could do that. But I want to think about It. In a way, It was the most interesting figure in the whole drama. That It was called It may still be the most tremendously poetic event of my life; it is an unending source of wonder. I have read philosophers speak of the beginning of their vocation as a wonder about how things were made – how, to be more general, there was something instead of nothing – but my vocation started with the wonder of It. It seemed distilled from the adult metaphysics that papered over all the mysteries with farreaching linguistic assumptions. It rains, it happens, it is what it is, how is it out there, how is it going – that it is the old mole for true. It, in other words, is a premonition in ordinary life of what Nietzsche called the Ubermensch, and I’d really like to know if the young Fritz played hide and seek, and if the German version of the game calls the counter It.
However, It is not just about the more-than-human. It is about the transmission of negative power. It is about being the King of the Golden Bough. With one touch, an It conveys its succession. This is the origin of politics,
I think – politics begins and ends in hide and seek.
And it also speaks to touch, that especially uncanny sense, which we have a tendency to make the hands responsible for, although of course our feet touch, our sphincter touches, our lips touch, our noses touch, and we touch where we have the skin for it. We touch things outside of us. Living in this interface is no joke, and confusing enough that we need, quickly, to sublimate some touches and highlight others and come up with rules.
From these rules, the flowers of anxiety spring.
One of the great things about hide and seek is it casts that anxiety into the
form of art. This is something we can do. The music of hide and seek pitches
numbers (in the form of a countdown) against giggles. Giggling was always part
of the rivalry between the hiders and It. Hiders sometimes were discovered
because they giggled – but on the other hand, giggles tease the hunting It.
“Ces nymphes, je les veux perpétuer.” The It, like Mallarme’s faun, both
loves and regrets the tipping point moment when the nymphs recede –
when the hiders reveal themselves – not only because the It can then
transmit Itness to some lagging hider, but also because, opening his
eyes at the end of the countdown, he has in a sense reversed the world.
That is the point of counting backwards – backwards is the witchy direction,
the anti-dialectical motion, it is the motion of the Sabbat, reflected in
saying the lord’s prayer backwards, or in general in all backwards rituals
– and thus the world in which the It’s eyes are opened is not the world
of waking, but the world backwards, the world entered by a back door
(Kleist, in On the Marionnette theater, has his dramaturge speak of our loss
of Paradise in this way - "But Paradise is locked and bolted, and the cherubim
stands behind us. We have to go on and make the journey round the world to
see if it is perhaps open somewhere at the back." This is a precise description
of hide and seek). That is of course the world of dream, which in so far as
it is identical with itself, is simply the world. At the same time, it isn’t,
that is the dream world is a play world, since the dream is solitary, and
It –whose solitude is so extreme that it is an It – is about to cast off his
solitude and his It-ness in an act of contact. He couldn’t do so if the very
ground of the possibility to do so wasn’t encoded in hide and seek. Hence,
the giggles, which are – as any Kantian could see – transcendental. And this
is the proper way to take transcendental moments – they are funny.
It is the funniest thing in the world, being It, being a hider, playing hide
and seek. My intellectual development is arrested, or just arrested enough,
to see the glimmer of the messages here – but I have spent my whole life
trying to decode them.