Crooked Finger (crookedfingers) wrote,
Crooked Finger
crookedfingers

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when it does it feels like a gift, a freely given transcendence of self

It is in the flow of my days 4:09 PM Tuesday late afternoon. I took a nap down in the lower level. I am still down here in the lower level looking at my books. I woke up remembering that I wanted someday to quote something I read this morning in a book titled, "The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age" by Sven Birkerts.

"Now I have occupied the book and the book has begun to occupy me. Its atomspheres bleed obscurely into mine. Because I am immersed I carry the work everywhere, returning to the narrative every time there is an opening in the day. And for the duration of my reading-and maybe less vividly after-I will shift between two centers of awareness, the one required by my more worldly functions, the other felt as a petitioning of my subjective inward self. I find the back-and-forth movement-an abstract sort of friction-invigorating. Attending to two very different kinds of reality, reconnoitering between inner and outer focus, enriches my overall responsiveness.

In the course of a fifteen-minute subway ride I drop into Haggard's world as into a well. I heed the outside signals only enough to insure that I don't travel on past my stop. Not until I feel the train decelerating do I close the book and look up. For an instant everything swims in a milky sort of haze; then the eyes readjust and the sensations of reading begin to ebb. I look around at the other passengers-the students, the mother fiddling with the strap on her child's knapsack-and I feel irradiated with a benign detachment. The inner and outer are, briefly, in balance. Haggard is as present to me as these people. And that specious equivalence brings me closer to them, though I'm not sure why. Their boundaries seem porous; I have the illusion that I could enter and understand their lives. The feeling passes. The life of the book dims out as I get to my feet and jostle through the doors.

But Haggard does not simply disappears until I next return to the book. When a work compels immersion, it is often also has the power to haunt from a distance. I don't just mean that my thoughts now and again turn to the characters and the story-though this, of course, happens all the time-I mean that I feel haunted. Just as in a true "haunt" one feels the presence of spirits from the "other side," so do I sometimes feel the life of the book suddenly invade me. As if, for a moment, that life were my life-the walls come down. This only happens with certain books, but when it does it feels like a gift, a freely given transcendence of self. I'm not sure how to explain it, except maybe as a kind of cognitive "short circuit," where some triggering association suddenly shunts my readerly preoccupations, my subliminal self, into the foreground. Or as a consequence of some linguistic alchemy that brings a portion of the book so vividly to life that it overwhelms the affective centers." pg. 100,101
Sven Birkerts
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