Monday, March 09, 2015

Referential Mania and the Writer

I first heard of the concept of "Referential Mania" from reading Vladimir Nabokov's short story "Signs and Symbols" many years ago.

It's the idea that everything that happens in the world is a reference to oneself. Innocuous events and coincidences are seen as having personal significance, despite the appearance that these are just random events having nothing to do with anyone.

Psychiatrists have identified a number of examples--that people on TV are talking about the viewer, newspaper headlines were written as messages for the reader, lyrics of a song are about the listener, and so on. See the Wikipedia article here. I take comfort in knowing Virginia Woolf thought birds outside her window were singing Greek choruses.

But surely someone who suffers from Referential Mania every day must be insane? People who think the TV and newspapers are discussing them all day every day are crazy. Who thinks such people are sane? And their insanity is surely obvious to all normal observers.

My personal examples of what would be called Referential Mania fall under a different category. In the Wikipedia article above, the examples suggest the others knowingly and deliberately discuss and make reference to the affected person. But I'm seeing the opposite: events occur that involve others, however, they are completely unaware of what is transpiring.


As if by coincidence, things approach and gather together around the person to his chagrin, resulting in a situation where his immediate intentions are thwarted in some way. I call this phenomenon "Convergence." For example, when walking down the street, I’ll approach an intersection. Along the way, no cars will turn to the right at the intersection and in front where I am about to walk off the sidewalk and into the street before arriving at the sidewalk as it continues on the other side of the street. Yet, right at the moment I step off the curb, a car appears as if out of nowhere and arrives at the same moment I arrive at the intersection. The car either waits for me to cross or just keeps on going and I have to stop until it passes by.

And after this little “convergence” is over, there are no more cars turning right until I approach the next intersection. And that’s when another car suddenly appears with the intention of turning in my path. It's as if some sort of synchronicity exists with my approach to the intersection and the appearance of a car that wants to turn.

But it seems silly to think the universe works that way. This sort of thing is chalked up as a coincidence, yet how can it be when it occurs countless times over a long period of time? And this is just one example of many.

Human Roadblocks

Inside a building, I walk through a hallway and approach an intersection with another hallway running perpendicular to mine. People stand at the intersection and talk while suddenly blocking my path across the hallway. A clear path to my destination is impeded.

I don't think the people are talking about me. I don't think they have even noticed me. They are like unwitting actors in a play. It's as if a secret puppet master guides them without their knowledge.

It gives me the impression a secret cosmological force it as work telling their subconscious to stand in a manner that blocks the hallway for anyone approaching from my direction, such as myself. They “converge” at a point that acts as an obstacle or “roadblock” to me. Yet they don’t seem to notice me. And this happens all the time, so how can I chalk it up to mere coincidence?

I find it hard to believe no one else experiences this. Surely I can’t be the only one. I suspect others simply accept it as coincidence, or it's just that most people aren't very observant and don’t notice what is plainly happening in front of their eyes. Unlike me, they don’t think, “It’s those secret cosmological forces at work again!” As I writer, I notice small details overlooked by the average person.

Coincidences are supposed to be rare events. Something that happens almost every day isn't a coincidence by any definition I've ever read. One could say it must therefore be Referential Mania since those are the two options, but my suggestion is they are neither and there are more possibilities not admitted by the psychiatrists or others.

Oddly, I've never experienced this "convergence" phenomenon at a café. Somehow, any café is a respite from these cosmological games I must constantly endure elsewhere. They act as a sanctuary and afford me a certain amount of immunity from these unseen forces.

And it’s not just because the cafes are indoors. I’m prey to those cosmological convergences at many other indoor places—shopping malls, restaurants, libraries, hotels, you name it. Something is here beyond insanity or paranoia.

My theory is every person experiences Referential Mania in some way and there is much more to the phenomenon than we know at present.

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