Wednesday, July 23, 2003

Magic Words

A lot of people overlook books these days as just another commodity. Some Thing that is bought, sold, collected and ultimately, forgotten about. Nothing more important than a souvenir of some sporting event; far less important than a good TV set. This is a false assumption. For proof, just look at the number of people who are so eager to burn books that contain ideas that they do not approve of.

And that is the key to the mystery. It is because books contain ideas that they are so revered, feared, loved and hated, or at least used to be. They are a focal point for ideas. If we want to get philosophical, you could look at a book as a tangible manifestation of an intangible idea. This attitude is what gave us the concept of a Holy Book in the first place. Our ancestors regarded Books as vessels containing ideas so important to a society that to treat the pages and binding as anything less than Holy was a crime.

We consider ourselves more enlightened these days and more egalitarian. A Book is just a book after all, just wood fibers pressed into paper, printed with inks made from common minerals. The ideas contained in them, well, thatís an intangible thing, best left unmentioned.

Well, letís mention it.

A Book contains ideas, Memes, in the current jargon. Memes get lodged into the brain of the reader, entering through their eyeballs. They stay there and they collide with other Memes, with childhood memories, parental and societal conditioning. Memes are promiscuous, they rub up against each other in cramped spaces and no space is as cramped as the mind of a well-read individual. Itís an orgy of ideas, begetting all manner if unquiet, improper little notions. Ideas that want to spread out, stretch and dance. So they find their way back into books, if the individual can quiet the chatter outside long enough to listen to the chatter inside and write it all down.

So then the books get passed around like the bottles of beer on the wall, never really ending, spreading memes, ideas and the intangible things associated with them all around. Hereís where books get weird.

Thereís a phenomenon, it has no name but everyone Iím sure has experienced it in some form or another. It happens like this: Someone gives you a book for your birthday. Letís say itís a copy of Hamlet. A nice copy, not some cheep Mass Market thatís all dog eared and highlighted form years of being read in school but a nice cloth bound copy of Shakespeareís most highly regarded play. One of your personal favorites that you havenít read in a while. The next day your walking downtown and you pass by the local art house theater and what are they showing that night but Hamlet. Only itís not the Ethan Hawk version. Or even the Mel Gibson version or the Kenneth Branagh version but the 1948, Laurence Olivier version of Hamelt. The one you saw as a kid on scratchy, often watched VHS.

Oh but thatís just a coincidence. Thereís nothing spooky about a small town theater showing a fifty five year old film. Maybe, maybe not.

Try this one on then. My friend Jason sent me an e-mail today, informing me of some family legal problems that neither he nor I can get into right now. But this is the part that got me thinking:

Do you believe that books sometimes appear in your life for a reason? Well, not long ago I was given, by a co-worker, Mikal Gilmore's Shot In The Heart , about his brother Gary Gilmore, the last man to be executed by firing squad in the US, and the subject of N. Mailer's The Executioner's Song . The book is about family secrets, the shock of dealing with them, and the long hard look into the past that such coping requires. A more apropos tome could not have insinuated itself with more Jungian synchronicity than this little bastard did. It's a great book, told in a beautifully spare, rugged tone, by a man who is trying to get at the root of his own problems, which are meager compared to the other members of his family, but nonetheless share the same twisted genesis. Show me a man who believes that something like this is a coincidence and I'll show you an ostrich with its head in the sand.

So all you ostrichs, call me superstitious. Call me drug addled. But what if books really are focal points for intangible forces? Obviously some will be more than others and I think this has to do with our cultureís propensity to mass-produce, that it dilutes the power of a book. Obviously 100,000 copies of Stephen Kingís The Stand is going to attract far less synchronicity than say, Shot in the Heart. In this case, burning a book only makes the remaining copies all that more potent. Something the anti-Harry Potter/ Jesus freak crowd should chew on next time they advertise a bonfire.

Of course thereís a whole causality issue here; which came first, the book or the synchronous events but thatís an old riddle pertaining to chickens and eggs that I donít have an answer for. I just wanted to ask the question.

Someday soon Iíll write something about my own very weird experience that started the day my copy of Robert Anton Wilsonís Cosmic Trigger I arrived in the mail. For anyone familiar with RAWís writing and especially the Cosmic Trigger trilogy Iíll just say it was damn spooky and has never fully been explained in any way satisfactory to my mind.

But as Mr. Wilson would say, it does give cause for one to wonder fiercely.


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