Talking to Ghosts.
On communion with dead writers.
Epistle no. 3
June 29, 2022
565 Alnitak Rd.
For the longest time in my life, I have felt like an individual. I feel proud of the fact that I have been able to maintain that identity for myself– it is not easy. However, being an individual– and only an individual– is not always a matter of maintenance, but, rather, of imposition.
Imposed or otherwise, there is a definite boundary between myself and the people around me. For better of for worse, I am myself, and no one else is I. Solitude and solace, peace and claustrophobic frenzy. I struggle to connect as I feel I should, and as I know I can, with people. Whether it be life or my own temperament that gets in the way, I have end up for some time now spending life mostly by myself. I am not nearly as isolated as some other people are, but I am certainly my own companion for the better part of the day. It is not for a lack of trying for it to be otherwise that I find myself ever so slightly secluded. However, more often than not, it is my own company that I must bear or enjoy throughout my day-to-day. The barrier of entry and exit from who I am is rarely breached, and I have learnt that border control is achingly unpredictable.
However, we humans are social animals. And so, accepting the apparent truth that living souls fail to breach my city, I have to hope dead ones will lay a more efficient siege. And, they have. I live among the half-dead. Because, a writer, as long as they are read, is never truly dead. Limbo, as it turns out, is printed and bound– and such is my dwelling ground.
I would have hoped these people were here with me, and I would have hope I’d be there for them. However, we are bound to one-sided communication without hope for reciprocation. So it was with Dante and Virgil, and so it is with me and Marcus Aurelius. Nevertheless, communication it is and such a lifeline is invaluable. We are stars spread out in the obscure sea of time and space, but our works– our written records– trace paths and make of our correspondence constellations.
John Milton wrote in his Aereopagitica:
“books are not absolutely dead things, but do contain a potency of life in them to be as active as that soul was whose progeny they are; nay, they do preserve as in a vial the purest efficacy and extraction of that living intellect that bred them. I know they are as lively, and as vigorously productive, as those fabulous dragon’s teeth: and being sown up and down, may chance to spring up armed men. And yet, on the other hand, unless wariness be used, as good almost kill a man as kill a good book: who kills a man kills a reasonable creature, God’s image; but he who destroys a good book, kills reason itself, kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye…”
And so, seeking these images of the divine, it is that I find myself, late at night, among the company of people who have lived and died, yet never have quite gone away. Indeed, they are not alive, but something of them remains that is potent enough for me to appreciate. In the height of the seance– this deathly symposium– I act as master of a lively morgue. For, this communion is not as sombre as you may think. Within our danse macabre the pages may be dead, but their ink is as vital as the day it spilled. Beautiful language, wonderful thoughts, and sensible souls await your bedside tonight.
Perhaps in ten, or twenty, or one hundredth years there will be someone somewhere in need of a friend in the middle of a difficult night. Because, at some point or another, the world around them will have proven to be, at least for the time being, a strange and impenetrable place. I know a remnant won’t be enough, and that my ghostly speech will never fulfill their ache for living communion (whatever it is and unattainable as it may be). But, I do hope that, in their moment of timeless exaltation or quiet desperation, I may be summoned for some company and some wine. I hope that I am good company.