The first time I read Baltasar Gracián’s short fiction, “Earlids,” I assumed it was about eyes, ears and the differences between the two. The second time I was sure I knew what it was really about, and I simply knew that Gracián was discussing defense mechanisms. I come to you with my third interpretation: Baltasar Gracián wants us to think about being emotionally open. He wants us to consider opening up more, and he wants us to discover why we shut down in the first place. Gracián writes in a deliberately emotionally open way as he explores his own fictional image — earlids. There is a sense of fluidity throughout the piece that gives the impression you can mold the words into something new and different as you read. He reminds us we have eyelids, he explains why we do not have earlids to close our ears, and he notes that mankind is special in its inability to control what it hears. All through his writing, there is a sense that he is discovering the ideas and implications of earlids as he creates the piece.
Gracián could discuss emotional openness directly. He choeses a fictitious image, a body part God did not create — earlids. He crafts man into a being with an additional body part, and tempts us to think. “We have eyelids, but not earlids,” Gracián begins, dragging us into the image from there. As he writes, he discovers and explains where the power of this image comes from by blaming Nature, because he knows if we acknowledged the absence of earlids to discuss emotional openness, we would realize, just as he does as he writes, that we must explore the painful parts of that openness. Gracián gives us nature to blame for the absence of earlids. He chooses to create a scapegoat because humanity requires one, and he does this halfway through the piece because he himself does not discover humanity’s need until he put the words on paper.
In fact, Gracián writes: “Man alone holds [ears] motionless, always on alert. [Nature] did not want us to lose a single second in cocking our ears and sharpening our hearing.” In creating this scapegoat for humanity, Nature, he robs us/himself of our/his power. In blaming nature, he inadvertently gives her the power. He chooses to write in a way that we are robbed of our control, and then, almost as if he feels guilty, comforts us with the idea that we are more emotionally open this way. His fictitious image, the earlids, are not there, and we should be grateful, at least in Gracián’s view, because it allows so much more room for the goodness that comes with being emotionally open to come in. This is what he wants to persuade us to believe as he writes, at the same time as he is persuading himself.
It is human instinct to be afraid of vulnerability. Gracián suddenly realizes we are going to be afraid of openness. Hell, he is afraid to even discuss the idea of emotional openness, because to do so, he has to remain open himself. We can almost see Gracián sweating over his work, realizing he is offering us this fictitious image we cannot have, and the implications of doing that to humanity. “This is the difference between seeing and hearing,” Gracián tells us. “For the eyes seek out things deliberately, when and if they want,” he continues, “but things come spontaneously to the ears.” He tells us this, and we cringe (maybe he also cringes), so he swoops in again with the fictitious image, calling out its flaws to soothe us. He coddles us, writing that “we must grab that opportunity” to hear because unlike eyelids, which can be opened and closed, ears can only be closed by a lazy mind that stops listening.
It is insinuated that the absence of these earlids is a good one. The piece makes us feel like emotional openness is advantageous. Gracián offers us a solution, should we find ourselves too afraid to be open in this way. Gracián does not force us to behave in a new way, but merely suggests it. By being emotionally open himself, he is able to do this. He gives us the fictitious image we cannot actually have, but he reminds us of what we do have: “I realize that half, perhaps more, of all things heard are unpleasant and even harmful, but for this there is a fine solution…one walls up the ears with the hands.” He realizes we can’t have it, but whispers, with a note of encouragement, that if we are still afraid of openness, we have our hands. We may not have earlids, but we do have our hands. All of this he seems to be saying to convince himself as well as us.
Writing on the topic of being emotionally open, Gracián depends on his own emotional openness to create the imagery needed to speak to us. He allows us to see earlids in our mind, even though they are fictitious. He creates this image so we can assess what he wants to say about openness. He wants us to see what it really means to be open by remaining open as he writes. He is visual with his words. Gracián offers us the image of something we cannot actually have and Gracián admits, almost to himself, that it is appealing. However, he then offers us a different view of the same image in order to show us why it is not the best thing for us after all. At some point, we forget that the image is earlids, and we consider the subject of being emotionally open on its own.