ex animo infinito symphonia maxima

The Goldfish

Any one who has common sense will remember that the bewilderments of the eyes are of two kinds, and arise from two causes, either from coming out of the light or from going into the light.

Plato, The Allegory of the cave

I don’t remember when I hatched, nor do I remember who my parents were. The earliest thing I can remember is swimming around my rock in a large tank with hundreds of other goldfish. I remember seeing “!elas no” on a big green sticker adhered to the glass wall of our tank. 

Life was good. All I had to do was swim around all day, and every evening the lights would dim and a great giant five-fingered tan being would descend from the heavens and, using its magical powers, would open the sky to sprinkle nourishing flakes of hazel-colored food. All the while I would swim around my rock, explore and hide amongst its crevices, and escape the bustle of the open water. 

But everything changed one fateful day. I remember being physically jolted by a harsh, rhythmic sound coming from the front wall. As I swam over to investigate, I noticed that the normally blurred images outside the glass were more distinct, and I saw a strange creature: it had a face like an oval, with a mouth full of smooth, rectangular teeth; it had red lips, wide brown eyes, and red hair. Every five seconds or so it would smash its fingers against the glass. It felt like it was pointing…pointing at me.

Suddenly two of those magical beings opened the sky and a long blue pole with a rectangular opening descended. A wide mesh net opened as it swept systematically across the tank. I could see those lips moving and feel the vibrations, but I couldn’t understand what was happening. Suddenly, I saw scores of goldfish fleeing to evade the net and I realized that the net was coming towards me. I must escape! I thought. I see my rock — all I need to do is swim a little bit further and I’m safe. 

But fate would not have it that way. Just as I had almost reached safety, the net trapped me, and before I knew what had happened I was lifted out of the tank and out of water through the sky. A bright, harsh light blinded me, and I couldn’t breathe. I writhed in agony. What is this awful, terrible place? All I want is my rock, but I’m sure to die….All right, I give up! I surrender myself to you, you omnipotent beings.

Fate, however, had other plans. I was flung from the net into a small water-filled plastic bag. Everything was confused and distorted — the world stretched like taffy and I could make out that same face peering gleefully into my very soul. Then they submerged me in a thick darkness — only transient cracks of light slipped through my leather prison. At last the light was allowed to pour in with giddiness, bathing me in a shower of warmth. The same creature from before tipped the bag upside down and I fell screaming into a new tank. 

I opened my eyes and I saw a strange sight — a large tree root straddling both halves of the tank. I saw a fellow goldfish coming out of the root and so I asked him, “Hey! What’s this root? Why is it here? Why am I here? What is here? Where is here?”

The fish gave a deep chuckle. “Here’s your answer to all of your questions — it doesn’t matter. None of it does.”

“But what about light and sky and the outside world? Is there really more beyond us right now?”

“Kid, it doesn’t concern you. Just make yourself comfortable and try to fit in.”
“But — wait!” It was too late. The fish had already left and would not turn around, despite my entreaties. I don’t know what to do now. I thought. If only…. At that moment I spotted something, something greatly and dearly familiar: my rock! I can’t believe they brought it all the way over here. Or did they? Did I even leave? I swam over to the rock and inspected the crevices and hiding holes — all there. You know, I don’t think it really matters. I have my rock, and that’s all that matters to me. I can push my questions aside because they’re irrelevant. And so I never thought of that day again. I swam around my rock, the lights dimmed, a five-fingered being opened the sky to feed us, and I swam around my rock. Life is good.

In this piece, I use the first-person perspective of a goldfish in a fishtank to establish the allegorical nature of this work (with hints from Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave): we are that goldfish, obsessed with the control of our environment. In controlling our environment, we are defining our reality, and in so doing we are building a mental fixation on what we choose to perceive as “real.” As with Plato’s The Allegory of the Cave, ignorance is bliss: the goldfish, after being exposed to light and freed from his chains, dismisses such questions concerning the truth as mere nonsense and returns to the simple bliss of the darkness. The goldfish even goes as far as to morph his new environment into his old one. Furthermore, the description of everything but the humans in the story hints at the disconnect between people at large today. As a final note, I’ll discuss the tense: it is in past throughout, as in the style of narration and reflection. However, the last line is in present; this shift reflects not only the end of the reflection, but also a submission to our inner desires and an abandonment of reason and learning in favor of what fits our version of reality.


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Ignorance Isn’t Bliss

1 Comment

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