STEVE KEMPLE  /work  /&c.
/visible  /audible

(previously published in Brighton Approach volume 2)

There is no me, I do not exist.  There used to be a me, but I had it surgically removed. - Peter Sellers

I don’t exactly remember when it struck me, or really anything about the occurrence itself.  Surely, it must have happened at some point, because I know it now and can clearly recall a time when I didn’t know it at all.  The thing, that at which one point I was unaware of, and that now I am all too aware of, is that I don’t exist.  I am not joking, nor am I indulging in some sort of solipsistic amusement.  I mean, in all seriousness, that I do not exist.

Thinking back to when I did not know I do not exist, I believed that I was the sole recipient to a distinct, unfolding sensation, only describable as being Steve Kemple.  In my memory, I awaken every morning to this sensation.  I eat food as Steve Kemple.  I breathe air and walk across rooms.  Steve Kemple.  I make up jokes, sit in chairs, go to the bathroom, ride in cars, and think thoughts, all as Steve Kemple.  But now, fully conscious of my non-being, I no longer find myself pursued by this shadow me, this outline of an imaginary being.

How long have I not existed?  I called home late one evening to ask this.  “Do you know what time it is?” my mother responded.  For some peculiar reason, mystics always seem to answer one question with another.  I considered that my wristwatch and the microwave clock beside me did not agree.  I thought about the famous clocks in Greenwich and about the mysterious determinism thought up by the Mayan; I concluded that in reality I had no idea what time it was.  Following the exchange of pleasantries and goodnights, I hung up the phone, my un-existential dilemma still un-resolved.

More mysterious, how long have I known I do not exist?  Could it have been since I was seven?  Fourteen?  Twenty-three?  Though I clearly recall having had the sensation of being Steve Kemple, I struggle to remember any particular instance of it.  I have no idea at what point my un-revelation must have un-occurred.  While the question “how long have I not existed?” may be answerable by some outside means, this new problem seems solvable only by me, my unawareness apparently private.

Even if some clever person managed to delve into my unawareness and extract information directly out of my un-skull, it seems they would encounter something un-recognizable to me as what I experienced as being Steve Kemple.  Since a necessary condition for being Steve Kemple is that I am recipient to the sensations that comprise it, the very notion of someone else peering into or intervening on this flow of sensations categorically violates this condition.  In other words, my own encounter with the world is necessarily first hand, while any external encounter could not be anything but secondhand.

In order to gain fruitful insight into what is intrinsic to being Steve Kemple, an observer would necessarily have to be Steve Kemple.  But even if such a person gained comprehensive insight into my thoughts and sensations, and consequently my self-knowledge (or ignorance thereof), the problem would persist.  They would still be unable to escape the compromising circumstance of being someone knowing about someone else.  Even granting some skewed iteration of my first-person point-of-view, such an individual would have to resign his or her status as a separate person in order to fully encounter that which is being Steve Kemple.  In other words, one cannot simultaneously be someone else and themselves; a necessary condition of being Steve Kemple is to be under the impression that you aren’t also anyone else.

A scenario worth entertaining is one in which I am my hypothetical observer.  Something strange and intriguing about the act of introspection has long fascinated me, insofar as reflection on one’s own mental state is itself a mental process toward which reflection may be directed.  This spiraling self-awareness plays out an endless game where I am both the tortoise and Achilles in eternal pursuit; an iteration of Zeno’s bewildering, un-resolvable paradox.  Perhaps I have taken on both roles of observer and observed; as such, my perceived point of locality is abstracted to non-existence.

How do I know I don’t exist?  It is a misconception to say that I know or do not know anything.  I can rightly say, “I do not know I do not exist” insofar as I don’t actually know anything.  But that I don’t know anything is misleading, because the statement is generally taken to mean something other than what it says, namely in regards to some specific context or circumstance.  Insofar as knowledge is, for me, a cognitive impossibility, I do not know anything because I simply do not know at all.  That I do not know that I do not exist implies there is something that I know I do not know.  Though it appears I have contradicted myself, I actually have made clear a statement that merely reflects something radically unconventional so far as an existing person is concerned.

But the obvious question remains: If I don’t exist, then where do these words come from?  Though certainly not without allure, such a line of thought is fundamentally misleading.  If I don’t exist, it is insufficient to say, “I am nowhere” or “I am nothing,” as the concepts of location and being do not apply, even in their negated form; these merely are concepts thought up by thinking creatures to impose coherence on an otherwise incoherent state of affairs.  To the skeptic who would counter my assertions with Descartes’ infamous cogito, I would respond that I am unconvinced of my ever having had a thought.  If I have ever had one it must have happened without either my knowledge or my prior consent; at very least I am certain that I have never actually caught myself in the act of thinking.  As to the origin of this sentence, I am at as much a loss as anyone; to be on the safe side I will keep a close eye on myself.  This, however, may already be the case: I know I am being observed.  I know this because I have seen myself watching me.  But I do not think that I know that I am watching me, or else this sensation, however uncertain, is merely a pretense into which my observing self has unwittingly led me.  But for all the strangeness and guise brought on by this encounter, I still have never sensed that any thinking of any kind has ever been undergone by me; I still know neither how long I have known I do not exist nor how long I have not existed.  It remains conceivable that I may yet find my inconceivability conceivable, but for the moment I will be content in my inability to fathom my condition.