‘O place and greatness! Millions of false eyes
Are stuck upon thee: volumes of report
Run with these false, and most contrarious quest
Upon thy doings: thousand escapes of wit
Make thee the father of their idle dreams
And rack thee in their fancies.’
[Measure for Measure, 4.1.60-65]
Ours is an outward-looking world, our minds crammed with illusory impressions every moment of the day: news flashes on the TV and radio, images from the Internet, tweets and other instant messages from friends and foes alike. The stream of ‘information’, which is often little more than rumour, is constant and without shape: an endless story, tumbling over itself, as irreverent as it is impertinent. More often than not, we are following the lives and sayings of ‘the great and the good’. ‘Place and greatness’ (our old friend Pomp) are our preoccupation.
This unflagging stream of information feeds our fantasies, our fears, our wishes and colonizes our precious mental space. It is utterly lifeless, this stream. It allows us no time for the inward-looking or introspective life, which is an essential counterpoise to the extroverted—and which helps us connect with a sense of individual purpose. True life is diverted or postponed under pressure of these ‘idle dreams’, spun by the collective. As D.H. Lawrence wrote in Apocalypse, ‘The Logos which was like the great green breath of spring-time is now the grey stinging of myriads of deadening little serpents.’
Take Physic, Pomp!