One of the things that has always drawn me to the world of letters are the intersections. The footsteps of one writer stumbling upon the footprints of another in the deep, dark wood of the imagination.
On a recommendation, I’ve been reading Jorge Luis Borges, and came across a short story, There Are More Things, that borrows a mood from Lovecraft, from whom I’ve borrowed a not insignificant amount myself. In it, he remarks upon the works of Piranesi, which so happens to be the title of the book by Susanna Clarke that I finished just before reading this one.
I’ve never met most of the authors I’ve read. Many of them died before I ever drew breath. Yet there are times when I come across a bit of personal insight, and soon find traces of an earlier passage. I never am sure where I stand on the immutability of time, or the disposition of the self after death, or reincarnation, but there is a certain frequency that I pick up from time to time when experiencing the world through the eyes of certain other writers. It feels strikingly familiar, sometimes eerily so.
I’m hardly alone in this. As James Baldwin noted, “Books taught me that things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me to everyone who is alive and who had ever been alive.” History doesn’t repeat, it rhymes. A phrase which, incidentally, was not coined by Mark Twain, but instead psychoanalyst Theodor Reik. However, Twain did say, “History never repeats itself, but the Kaleidoscopic combinations of the pictured present often seem to be constructed out of the broken fragments of antique legends.”
Perhaps one reason I’m able to have the insights I do is because these paths through the underbrush of the collective unconscious have been cut before. They went as far as they could, in the span allotted them. In sublime moments of reflection, I meet their ghosts there, tip my hat in recognition and respect, then keep moving.
I no longer believe there is one answer to seek. Nor one correct way of seeing the great panoply of existence from our peculiar vantage point on this pale blue dot. But I know, on both a subterranean and statistical level, that there are paths uncut. Trails to be left for subsequent wanderers. As my own journey marches inexorably towards its eventual conclusion however many years hence, I find that I focus less on personal aggrandizement and more on leaving markers. This is what I found here. See what more you can discover further on.
In my second novel, Threnody, the Xaji discover that the landscape where they dream is in fact a discrete place, that their dreams are the same dream, explored from different angles. I sometimes believe that about humanity. All these intersections, shared sensations over long, noncontiguous lifetimes. It doesn’t seem unconnected to me. Not in those moments of communion across the ages.
It’s a common yearning, to be understood beyond one’s lifetime. Really, it’s the only form of extended lifespan I care to trifle with. Broadcasting into the ether and hoping someone picks up the transmission, whether in the present moment or well after. That’s the soul of art, in my estimation. It’s a sort of relay race, but one with no finish line or trophy. Just the eternal baton, passing from hand to hand, always forward, always learning.
So as the spectres of Borges, Lovecraft, and Piranesi pass me in the twilit forest, I bid them safe passage. They live, even if they do not know it. There’s only one moment, and we’re all living it together. Let’s make it a good one.