I have one actual example of prolepsis that I can think of in my life; It involves a wall and two people much smarter than myself. I had forgotten about it until recently because I’d fallen out of touch with these friends. The story itself is a lesson in the consequences of forgetting so perhaps that’s appropriate.
The story is really simple. Two people proposed that I would stand on a wall. I, for some reason – the details of which escape me, was determined that I would never stand on the wall. Not in any possible future. Not any-when. It was not going to happen. There would never be any reason for me to stand on that wall of my own volition, unforced.
I guess prolepsis can only ever be a sort of accurate prophecy when applied to the real world. If prolepsis changes the question in narrative from ‘what’ to ‘how’, you can never really have real prolepsis in your life because you can never know for sure the ‘what’. I was fairly certain of this ‘what’, the idea that I would never stand on a wall, as trivial as that sounds.
It was a low stone wall, grass at its base. It fits your idea of what a wall looks like in your mind very well, I expect, apart from its lowness. The border between properties. The border between me and a different possible self. One who I never thought I would be.
Having been so sure, you would think I would have remembered my vow. No such luck. When I was next at their house, the two, very calmly walked up the lawn and onto the wall. I, having no idea what pre-meditated spell they had cast, followed. (It must be said in my defence that they made wall-walking very appealing). Mercifully, they did not gloat. It is not everyday that one gets to pull a person into a different universe and, as those of us who haven’t done it can imagine, it must be a very satisfying feat.
I was furious. Not with them but with myself. I had let myself become the person I never thought I would be. My other self, the self who never walked on that wall, had been forever abandoned. I don’t know why this was such a loss. Why would one self be more valuable than the other? At no point was I ever allowed both futures. I think it was the sense that I had betrayed this lost self that annoyed me the most. She had relied on me to keep her intact and my negligence had seen her vanish.
I guess what I’m saying is that prolepsis, in our temporal experience, is the point of realising your future has been already told. It’s a sardonic, “I told you so”, a reminder of our lack of control. It’s an exercise in humility. But it isn’t only that. It’s also a glorious point where things make sense, where ‘what’, ‘how’ and ‘why’ come together. And, for this reason, I’m grateful to have one example of this narrative magic.