Commonplace

Ann [Sheila’s Jungian therapist]: You remember the puer aeternus—the eternal child—Peter Pan—the boy who never grows up, who never becomes a man? Or it’s like in The Little Prince—when the prince asks the narrator to drawn him a sheep. The narrator tries and tries again, but each time he fails to do it as well as he wishes. He believes himself to be a great artist and cannot understand why it’s not working. In a fit of frustration, he instead draws a box—something he can do well. When the prince asks how it’s a picture of a sheep, the narrator replies that it’s a picture of a sheep in a box. He is arrogantly proud of his solution and satisfied with his efforts. This response is typical of all puers. Such people will suddenly tell you they have another plan, and they always do it the moment things start getting difficult. But it’s their everlasting switching that’s the dangerous thing, not what they choose.

Sheila’s heart beats up in her chest…

Sheila: Why is their everlasting switching dangerous?

Ann: Because people who live their lives this way can look forward to a single destiny, shared with others of this type—though such people do not believe they represent a type, but feel themselves distinguished from the common run of man, who they see as held down by the banal anchors of the world. But while others actually build a life in which things gain in meaning and significance, this is not true of the puer. Such a person inevitably looks back on life as it nears its end with a feeling of emptiness and sadness, aware of what they have built: nothing. In their quest for a life without failure, suffering, or doubt, that is what they achieve: a life empty of all those things that make a human life meaningful. And yet they started off believing themselves too special for this world!

—Sheila Heti, How Should A Person Be? (2012)

About Walter Biggins

Walter Biggins is a writer based in Athens, GA. His work has been published in RogerEbert.com, Bookslut, The Comics Journal, Salon, The Baseball Chronicle, Jackson Free Press, and Valley Voices: A Literary Review. Follow him on Twitter (@walter_biggins), and check out his bimonthly newsletter (https://tinyletter.com/Walter_Biggins).
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