The famous Thomas Brady of Scarriet in a private moment
Who wouldn’t choose private over public?
One would have to be insane to prefer the public.
Monday morning is public. Friday night is private.
The public is what finds us out and makes us do things. In private, we do whatever we want.
We are forced to act a certain way in public. In private we can be ourselves.
Here is what is so dreary and ugly about poetry: poetry is all about making something public.
Why in the world would we want to do this? Why would we want to take Friday night and move it over to Monday morning?
Poetry makes the private public—but for what reason? To spend all that time and effort getting published? What kind of fool would do this?
The public is the necessary place where work gets done. To “make a living,” we go to the public, but we go to the public wearily, warily, unhappily.
Even those who win the public’s affection “just want to be alone.” Fall into the clutches of the public, lose your privacy, and watch what happens. You go insane, is what happens. The public is where we go to die.
Those who “want to be liked” take the first foolhardy steps towards their doom. Because “being liked” is usually achieved in the public eye.
Even famous poets rejoice in privacy. As W.H. Auden put it in his well-known introduction to the Signet Classic edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets:
All of us like to discover the secrets of our neighbors, particularly the ugly ones. What today passes for scholarly research is an activity no different from that of reading somebody’s private correspondence when he is out of the room. Most genuine artists would prefer that no biography be written. Shakespeare is in the singularly fortunate position of being, to all intents and purposes, anonymous.
Even the joy of knowing “ugly secrets” is a private affair.
And yet it’s the public judgment which deems them “ugly.” Privacy enjoys things in a completely judgment-free zone.
The trick is to protect the private space with a good public wall, or fence.
Auden’s poetry did not reveal his private feelings at all. The poet, Auden, because he was a good poet, was simply making a public display to keep the public happy and out of his life.
Without further ado, let us ask: Does the public give us any joy at all?
If so much happens in public, if so much matters in public, can we really say it is a miserable, unhappy realm?
How can the infinitely important and consequential (public actions and responses) cause so much unhappiness?
Let us try and find some things which are public and also good.
First, we should ask the obvious: is one possible without the other?
We mentioned Auden, celebrating the private, yet known as a public figure by his public poetry.
Do we all need a public edifice in order to enjoy our private space?
And what is it, exactly that we do, and who exactly are we, in that private place behind our public wall?
We are not just saying you can’t have Friday night without Monday morning—that’s pretty obvious; we are asking more than that: we are asking: what is this privacy that we seek, exactly? And is this privacy something we seek, or something we are?
Can we have a private bedroom without first having a public house on a public street in a public city? Can we build a place to hide (a house) without work done in public to earn that house? Okay, more obvious stuff: we all have to pay the (public) piper; get dirty to enjoy our cleanliness. An interesting reversal of metaphor here? For isn’t private dirty and public clean?
But this apparent metaphoric reversal points to the very thing we are trying to do: fight through the obvious truth, the platitude, the truism, of the private space hiding behind the public wall, to ask: what exactly are these things? Public? Private?
So far we established without much effort, that private is good, public, bad; the private pleasurable, the public, odious, the private, true and genuine, the public, false and tedious.
But let us ask a few more questions and see if this is the actual state of things.
Is the beauty of the sky public or private? Public, certainly; we would not enjoy the beauty of a sunset if the sunset existed privately. The sky, then, is public. Yet all all of us experience the sky in whatever way we choose. We all experience the sky—this very public thing—privately.
Now this is interesting. For all of us to experience the sky privately it is necessary for the sky to be public.
Now what if we were to insist that all private experiences belong to this category: the public experienced privately?
What if we made this radical assertion: What we think is private is really public.
The private is merely a piece of the public—the public is the actual; the private is nothing more than a piece broken off?
The public is the whole thing (the whole sky, the whole universe) or, in terms of time, the eternal—what lasts is the only thing that is true, according to The Big Boys: Socrates, Shakespeare, etc. And thus the private, which we just got done lauding, is only a crumb, a morsel of what is true.
For a small (mortal) mouth, a morsel is perfectly suitable, but here’s the startling truth which is now insinuating itself into this essay: the private is nothing in itself—it is only the public cut down to a practical size.
We flee to our room to dwell in a private place, but we seek that privacy in vain. We cannot escape the eye of God—and another name for God is—the public.
The room we seek is our tomb, the privacy we seek, nothing.
We run to the public restroom for a little privacy; but how much more privacy if we were home in our own bathroom! If we had a thousand bathrooms, would we have more privacy? No! We just need one! Privacy cannot be quantified— it is like the point in geometry. A thousand bathrooms is a public fact, not a private one. (There is no private fact. Privacy is an infinite number of ideal, immaterial points, geometrically speaking.)
Privacy cannot be physically measured—meanwhile ‘the public’ is measurement itself—since privacy has no material existence; privacy is the One Person in the One Private Place—an Ideal, an impossibility, a part torn off from the One Public in vain, for Reality in its true state will not be torn off or broken.
We would have more privacy in our bathroom at home than in a public one; but perhaps not—what if our husband were home and knocked on the bathroom door, and wanted to come in? Or what if we had no husband and lived alone? Alone is the ultimate private existence, and yet the one state we all fear the most: for to be truly alone is to be buried alive; privacy in its true state is death.
The idea of the private is just that: an idea, and has no real existence: every thought coursing through that head of yours belongs to the public; your body is public, your whole existence is public in a manner you can barely comprehend, and so far as you don’t comprehend, you are absolutely ignorant—and this ignorance is nothing more than your pitiful (because nonexistent) privacy.
You have remained too long in the darkness.
Party like it’s Monday morning.
You have nothing to hide, because the hidden is nothing.
Not speaking, you speak.