July 2, 2010

The Technology of Ghosts

Reading a book is the closest I get to conversing with a ghost. Reading is like a seance, and just like any seance, it is difficult to discern how much of what is experienced is me talking to myself and how much is the ghost of the writer whispering in my ear. Actors have a significantly different kind of immortal presence; they are both less substantial and more imposing. Much like the light of the projector their image leaps from, the actor can never touch us, but our faces can reflect their light.

Reading a book is a different kind of haunting, a more subtle and intimate exchange that does not exist (even in reflection) within the physical world. To read is not to be possessed by the writer, but to be possessed by the words. The voice that is generated by our reading does not seem disembodied; quite the opposite, it feels very centered inside of us. And while the voice is not wholly our own, neither is it entirely the voice of the writer. Rather, that voice we hear is the amalgam of two voices, is both purely the writer's and purely the reader's. In this way, the voice of a book is a ghost unique to each reader.

When I try to express my feelings about a book I've read and loved, Invitation to a Beheading or To Kill a Mocking Bird, I'm often frustrated by how ephemeral and fleeting the experience was. I will remember the emotions, but I can no longer feel them distinctly; I will remember the intimacy, but I no longer feel the voice's presence in the room.

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