In his play The Wild Duck, Henrik Ibsen (Norway) shows that it is better for some to live with an illusion than with the truth that would devastate them. In his book of essays, "The Myth of Sisyphus," Albert Camus (France) explains that, since hope and despair are equally absurd guesses as to the quality of the future, one might as well choose hope. Another work this song calls to mind is Umberto Eco's (Italy) novel The Name of the Rose, which discusses-- since knowledge is power-- who gets to know what, and whether it might be better for certain people to not know certain things.
And then of course, there is good old Jack Nicholson (America), in the film, "A Few Good Men," frustratedly asserting that we cannot, in fact, "handle the truth."
Whether the speaker in our song is aware of any of these works is beside the point-- he would certainly understand them. He has tried to fathom something about reality, and it confounded him most horribly. He has nightmares about the unknown: "Through the corridors of sleep... my mind dances and leaps in confusion."
He is not sure whether the reality he perceives is, in fact, real... or is perhaps all in his head. He is unsure of even his own status as "real." It would be one thing if his the "dark and small" image his mirror reflects was himself, for at least then he could try to come to grips with his insignificance... only, he's "not sure at all it's [his] reflection."
Understandably, he seeks explanations in the usual places-- "God" and religion, science and philosophy-- only to find that such intense "light" leaves him "blinded." It seems that he cannot, in fact, handle the "truth."
Before, there were too many "shadows," and now there is too much "light"! So, it's back to the darkness, and "wander[ing] in the night."
In the end, he basically gives up, and goes back to pretending. Not out of fear, exactly, but because he did find an answer, of sorts. The logic is simple, really. One of two things is true:
Position A is that reality is objectively true. Yet, it is unknowable by his limited, human mind, which means that, as far as he can know, reality can only extend.... as far as he can know.
Position B is that there is no objective reality, and what is "real" is only whatever he says it is. In which case, his experience is real... because he creates "reality" by believing it into existence.
His conclusion is that, ironically, whether there is an objective reality or not, he is in the same spot: only able to know what he can know.
So, to be fair, in the end, he does not give up as much as he takes Camus' insighful nonchalance. Since he can't even know IF there is a "real" reality or it's all in his mind to begin with, he might as well stop worrying about it and get on with the business of living ("I must... face tomorrow"), as far as he experiences life.
As he puts it, "my fantasy becomes reality." Again, that could mean that (Position A) there is a true "reality" that he only has a limited awareness ("fantasy") of, so it's true for him... or (Position B) his imposition of his opinions and biases (his "fantasy") upon experiences atcually changes those experiences "reality") into what he says they are.
But it doesn't "matter," he realizes, if you "play" the "king" who imposes your will on reality (Position B), or a "pawn" who is moved about by hands unseen (Position A).
In either case, he sees, "I must be what I must be." In the case of Position A, this is so because he has no choice; he is fated. In position B, it's because whatever he wills (or stumbles) himself into becoming, he will become, due to simple cause and effect, even if he-- and not fate-- is the cause.
He started off by "hid[ing] behind the shield of [his] illusion." Ultimately, he returns there: "I'll continue to continue to pretend" as before [emphasis mine].
'As far as I'm concerned,' he decides, 'flowers don't bend when pummeled by heavy rains,"
For instance, he will ignore mortality and "pretend/ My life will never end".' Mortality is too disabling a concept, so best to ignore it and "pretend" it away. If one is focused on death, one does not live.
Why this example? If one thinks too hard about what is inevitable, one stops trying to move forward at all. Reality gets in the way; illusion permits motion. Reality-- or at least the acknowledgement of it-- causes the death of progress. Only by ignoring reality/death can one truly live.
Yes, he will continue to imagine a world that works the way he needs it to, with all the myths that help him stay sane and functioning... even if he knows now that, yes, they are myths. (In the movie Unstrung Heroes, we have this exchange between an atheist and a believer: "Religion is a crutch." "Well, a crutch isn't a bad thing, if you need it.")
Our hero will continue to hunt the Wild Duck, he will continue to push his Sisyphean stone uphill, he will continue to copy Medieval manuscripts without reading them.
At least he can handle the truth... that he can't handle the truth.
Next song: A Simple Desultory Philippic.