Monday, May 30, 2011

The Phantom Tollbooth and Seeing

One chapter from the classic children's story The Phantom Tollbooth reminds me of how Reinhold stressed that seeing is an aggressive act.

In the story, the main character, a young boy named Milo, visits two cities. One is called Illusions, where nothing that is seen is real. The second is called Reality, where all the buildings are invisible. The people of Reality walk around with their heads down, unaware that their whole city is invisible.

A character called Alec tells Milo the story of how this came to be:

'Many years ago, on this very spot, there was a beautiful city of fine houses and inviting spaces, and no one who lived here was ever in a hurry. The streets were full of wonderful things to see and the people would often stop to look at them.'

'Didn't they have any place to go?' asked Milo.

'To be sure,' continued Alec; 'but, as you know, the most important reason for going from one place to another is to another is to see what's in between, and they took great pleasure in doing just that. Then one day someone discovered that if you walked as fast as possible and looked at nothing but your shoes you would arrive at your destination much more quickly. Soon everyone was doing it. They all rushed down the avenues and hurried along the boulevards seeing nothing of the wonders and beauties of their city as they went.'


'No one paid any attention to how things looked, and as they moved faster and faster everything grew uglier and dirtier, and as everything grew uglier and dirtier they moved faster and faster, and at last a very strange thing began to happen. Because nobody cared, the city began to disappear. Day by day the buildings grew fainter and fainter, and the streets faded away, until at last it was entirely invisible. There was nothing to see at all.'


'they can never see what they're in too much of a hurry to look's just as bad to live in a place where what you do see isn't there as it is to live in one where what you don't see is.'
Because the world around us is changing, if you don't pay attention, you might miss your chance to see something in quite the same light ever again.