“The thing about a spiral is, if you follow it inward, it never actually ends. It just keeps tightening, infinitely.”
– John Green, Turtles All the Way Down
it’s been a few days since I finished Turtles All the Way Down. I’m not necessarily comfortable with saying that I enjoyed reading it, but I can say that it made me feel: anxious, frustrated, confused. The plot was…unnecessary? So days later, it’s not the mystery of a billionaire’s disappearance or the various relationships in Aza’s life that give me pause and encourage introspect. No, the thing I keep coming back to is Aza’s spiralling thoughts.
Existence, in a Nut Shell
As a Philosophy major, I’ve had the Descartes “discussion” of what it means to exist. How we must forge ahead, confident of our own existence because we have the ability to doubt that we might exist at all. I never truly considered that I didn’t exist though.
Sure, it was fun to entertain the thought that I might just be a brain floating in a jar in some scientist’s lab, undergoing an experiment to see if I could make it through a lifetime without uncovering the truth. Or that we’re like the Men in Black Universe. Merely an ecosystem thriving in someone (or some thing’s) dirty locker. But I never truly believed, in any part of my being, that I didn’t exist as a wholly autonomous and sentient being.
Tightening into Infinity
So to spend most of Turtles All the Way Down watching Aza come to terms with her own existence was unnerving. Her thought spirals, while often centred around contamination and disease, also took her to darker places. Places where she found herself wondering if her thoughts and actions were truly of her own volition.
One of her recurring spirals centres around the thought that if her body is home to millions of bacteria that feed off of her to live, how can she be sure they aren’t driving her actions in order to secure their future? How can she be sure that her thoughts aren’t planted by the bacteria, to ensure their survival? And if her thoughts and actions are being manipulated by the bacteria controlling both her body and mind, what was left that she could point to as her defining feature? How could she consider herself as “Aza” if she couldn’t identify anything that was hers and hers alone?
Ultimately, I think that’s why I’m having such a hard time describing Turtles All the Way Down as enjoyable: it made me uncomfortable. Do I now question my existence or my autonomy over my mind and body? No. But can I empathize with how all-consuming it would be to live in a state where I did? Definitely.