Thursday, February 17, 2011


“The world was full of holes … once on the other side of one of those holes; you were free of yourself, free of your life, free of your death, free of everything that belonged to you.”

After Paul Auster’s The Book of Illusions

There are times when one finds it necessary to conceal the truth. For whatever reason, the moment we hide something from plain view means we choose not to be known. This challenges the concept of existence; one cannot validate the human condition without witnesses. I believe the very delicate quality of memories is a tragedy in itself. Consider the careful obliteration of memories that can be reduced to a single thought. There are times wherein we will attempt to recover them all, and yet fail. What then of the memories that will never be made?

In Paul Auster’s Book of Illusions, the character of Hector Mann endured desolation and unthinkable humiliation just to hide his true identity. This series of Hector’s life was set in the 1940s, describing him as a promising young comic actor and silent filmmaker. He enjoyed the limelight with some of the film industry’s most beautiful women. However, he mysteriously disappeared from the public eye and was never heard of again. Many thought he had committed suicide. Some said he gave up on his filmmaking dreams and lived the life of a peaceful hermit. The latter speculation was acceptable, but his life was far from anything peaceful.

Hector struggled to hide from his faults. The life he had worked so hard for ended the day he had killed a past lover. At that point, he knew he could never forgive himself. Hector sought comfort in anonymity and took a new life by the name of Herman Loesser. Doing odd jobs left and right, he hauled fish crates in a market, was a salesman in a golf store, and even became a gimp performing live sex for private houses. He went as far as he could to hide from the authorities, and even farther away from himself.

Here lies the duality: the mask he wore hid all his guilt and it served as the same prison he was never able to escape from. Hector’s character takes a turn when he confesses everything that happened after his disappearance. By this time, Hector is old and very sickly. A writer by the name of David Zimmer is also intrigued by his life and disappearance as a promising filmmaker. But in the end, all roads lead nowhere when the bearer of the truth dies along with all significant writings about Hector’s life. Every piece of evidence representing his true self was burnt to ashes.

Here, we see how Hector attempts to reconcile with his past. He remembers everything, every sin, treachery, and ounce of love in vivid detail. But by then, nobody will ever truly know what happened to him. No one will ever acknowledge it, and there is no more proof to validate it.

I believe it unjust to deny man his right to conceal weaknesses and faults. Here, his privacy and human dignity is of great merit. “Façade” tries to capture a particular period in Hector’s life. The Book of Illusions not only dealt with duality, it may have well depicted the concept of eternal return.

Just when Hector looks through the eyes of his own mask, he sees more masks in the world outside. All masks conceal the valuable. Hector took part in the stage of manipulation. Like him, we take part and identify most with what we think is familiar because it goes back to our selves.

The novel quotes many verses from French author Chateaubriand, where he writes: Man has not one and the same life. He has many lives, placed end to end, and that is the cause of his misery.

We are responsible for what we communicate and leave undisclosed. Our way of life depends on it whether we choose to live in a glass house or behind walls with holes.

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