“What is this?” thought the emperor, “I do not see anything at all. That is terrible! Am I stupid? Am I unfit to be emperor? That would indeed be the most dreadful thing that could happen to me.” “Really,” he said, turning to the weavers, “your cloth has our most gracious approval;” and nodding contentedly he looked at the empty loom, for he did not like to say that he saw nothing.
This must be the earliest recorded case of Impostor Syndrome! The emperor does not even trust his own eyes and walks out naked to meet the crowd. The people around him claiming to see the most beautiful suit even as they see him naked. Only a child on seeing him speaks the truth. The crowd turns on him and points at his naked body. The tale ends, in its original format, with the emperor saying ‘I must bear this till the end’. Even if I know I am naked and the crowd knows I am naked, and I know they know I am naked, I must keep up the pretence of being dressed until the end.
I happen to have loved this tale as a kid. Themes in it echo those of The Prisoner in the next village where I am working at the hospital. Who can tell the most convincing lie? How having hierarchical power does not inoculate you from even the prisoner telling a good tale that can destroy you; the importance of what ‘a majority’ chooses to see and how that majority is easily convinced that white is black and black is now white. Questioning everything constantly and believing nothing.
I guess I will be having lots of sessions with the family this week after such disheartening messages about how humans can behave towards each other. I have my memory machine ready to record and also some tapes to show them memories of the great kindness and trust the family has shown to others now and in past generations.
Behind the scenes
Thank you to the lovely Jonah Stern for allowing me to remix his lovely image for this assignment. Thank you to our retired eminence in the other village for his animated gif that gave me just the right frame to transform and adapt to fit inside the coat. Little questions marks a png file put in place with free transform. Village font for the alternative take on the ‘I am not a number!’ the prisoner constantly repeats. Hoping I can add this to the ‘minimalist book cover’ assignment with a twist!