Suzanne Leblanc (trans. by Oana Avasilichioaei and Ingrid Pam Dick)
The Thought House of Philippa
In a world where stimulation from one's outer environment exponentiates over time, it should only be expected that one's reactions and perceptions to this external stimuli dramatically increases as well. From casual encounters to in-depth conversations, the heightened awareness that is cultivated by society's complexities easily has the ability to not only allow one to become incredibly mindful of these happenings, but also to deeply experience each and every one of them individually and as a whole. In a way, it becomes some sort of a skewed balancing act—the more you face on a daily basis, the more you are able, or unable, to take in. The mind acts as a filter, delicately picking apart each extremity, delight, sorrow, and so on, choosing from the subconscious what the mind will become sensitive to—and sometimes the mind becomes hypersensitive to all. Even when the impetus has been drastically reduced, however, the mind can still remain in this overly observant state. This is the situation at hand for Philippa, the central voice of Suzanne Leblanc's book appropriately titled The Thought House of Philippa.
Philippa lives in complete isolation, alone with her thoughts and reflections, left alone to contemplate past events and feelings. The openness and honesty found in these words allow the reader to become fully one with the speaker. Instead of the reader and speaker existing on two separate planes, the reader almost becomes a confidant, friend, and student of Philippa and her extensive thought process, even though Philippa is only sometimes speaking directly to the reader. However, it still feels as if one is walking beside Philippa as a concerned friend, guardian angel, and curious ghost aware of most.
The book is set up as the layout of a house itself, with each room becoming the home of a certain thought process of Philippa's, giving the reader a guided tour through the real estate of her mind. In "Chorale II East Servant's Bedroom, Third Floor," it is explained how Philippa has linked an intellectual image to an emotive one, with the connection being arbitrary. Meanwhile, in "Foundation III South Nursery, Third Floor," Philippa speaks of despair and lost hope, and explains what is birthed from the isolation bestowed upon her:
"The old world has foundered. From an isolation, farther away, the new continent emerges, where Things and Nature are allied while Humanity is spurned. It will no longer be possible to belong to Humanity willingly. It shall become essential to distinguish oneself from it, to settle Reality elsewhere." (22)
Each excerpt accompanying each room is fitting—the servant's room insinuates feelings of disconnect and separation, and the nursery shares the idea of a figurative new birth. Each section of the house has both a literal and figurative interpretation.
It is not until nearly halfway through the story, during "Foundation XV," that the reader realizes that Philippa is not completely isolated, but has instead found some solace in a mystery character referred to as Professor S. Their friendship introduces conversations into her universe— spending countless hours talking, enjoying many meals together, and walking through the city. For the first time, one sees Philippa not only as an observer but a participant in life—an active member of society, a public contributor. It is here that one finally sees Philippa in a different, lighter sense—visions of a smiling face and an individual with feelings and emotions for someone external to herself. The reader soon sees that Professor S. greatly fills her physical life with activity and companionship, but also has the ability to permeate Philippa's being in a way that profoundly affects her.
Throughout this book, I could not help but wonder exactly why Philippa was so isolated, so much so that it caused her to live mostly within her own mind. Do those closest to her view her acute awareness as a flaw simply because they themselves cannot relate? Why are Philippa's thought processes and emotional and mental states stigmatized and seemingly misunderstood? Philippa's observations about even the most infinitesimal of life's aspects are quite heavy and nuanced and could be overwhelming to a non-thinker, but they all come across as revelatory and incredibly honest reflections. Her habitual deep thought and analysis of life have allowed her to become aware of even the smallest and generally overlooked details. Because of this, her appreciation and connection with the world, although emotionally burdening at times, allows her to exist fully on physical, emotional, and mental levels, though her physical being is sometimes tried by the latter. Throughout the book, I found myself wishing that I could sit beside Philippa and delve further into her psyche so that I could learn more about who she is and what her life-long intentions are.
Philippa is enigmatic, relevant, honest, and intuitive. Read her story.
Natale is a writer and curator who currently lives and works in Bushwick, Brooklyn. She is a contributing writer for Bushwick Daily and has curated large-scale art exhibitions focusing on emerging artists. In her free time, she can usually be found writing, collaging, thrifting, or getting her aura photographed in Chinatown. Follow her on Twitter at @brittanynatale.