Ninja Snowflakes

They say every face you see in your dreams is a face you’ve seen while awake. Even if you were not aware of it at the time, your brain has taken a snapshot of some face in your everyday landscape and saved it – perhaps the old man with the big nose; the lady with a tight ponytail and huge, blue eyes or the awkward kid with a skateboard and acne. In the dream this unknown person tells you the way to the cinema that’s inside a bathroom with glowing walls where they’re showing a horror film from the eighties that suddenly turns into Harry Potter, and the screen drags you inside so that you’re hit by a curse and suddenly have hair growing out of your mouth.

the_dream_by_P_R_O

Or the guy who drives the taxi you’re in and who spends the journey (although the car is standing perfectly still) picking his teeth with a spatula and telling you that you’re going to be late for school because the prime minister has switched off all the traffic lights and the streets turn into the sea for no good reason. Waking up, you might forget everything quickly or you might remember the story accurately, distinctly recalling every feature, every wrinkle of one of the faces. And you think (at least for a while) “wow, I have such vivid imagination”, when in truth the face belongs to a person with a whole life and dreams of his own.

It is mindboggling to me that all these people may drift into my subconscious like ninja snowflakes and merge with my dreams in such a way that I’m convinced I’ve invented their faces, their voices, their clothes. Like I built them from scratch, rolled and patted every snowflake into microscopic snowmen and women. Gave them noses of carrots and eyes of potatoes and black pebble buttons and bent sticks as mouths, and then filled them with life with the ease of a young child. When I wake up they melt away because my conscious mind is too hot to hold them for long. And then it turns out that my brain tricked me into thinking that I moulded new individuals. That I somehow made up an entirely new person in my sleep. Out there in the physical world somewhere walks and talks and eats and shits the lady whose face my mind put on that awful bint behind the bar who refused to serve me anything but tomato juice unless I proved to her that I was truly a cat person.

What is she doing right now, that woman who (perhaps) sat on the bench in the park resting her chubby legs and who somehow sieved herself through my memory filter, glued herself to the walls and invaded my dream? What’s her life like?

I look at a map and I think that in all the streets in all cities and towns and villages in all countries there are people who dream of people they passed or encountered or observed all the time. Snapshot after inexplicable snapshot, seven billion minds are spammed with sneaky sub-memories of faces with other minds behind them. And then those other minds do the same thing to their owners’ dreams, although the mind behind the face we encounter in our dreams doesn’t match the mind from whence the face was copied. I just really wonder why; what drives my brain to choose one face over another?

Isn’t it absolutely tantalizing that other people may have your face pop up in their dream or nightmare one night, thinking that they invented you – or  wondering why on earth their brains picked your sweaty face for the pigeon salesman who wouldn’t take no for an answer?

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Book Horny

You know the feeling: that tickling, bubbling exhilaration that starts somewhere right underneath your bellybutton and spreads like a warm current to all limbs. Your cheeks turn slightly red perhaps, or your neck, or your ears, and your eyes get glassy and twinkle in the light. It makes you dizzy, a little out of sorts and slightly disabled because how on earth are you going to help that customer find something “a bit less philosophical; just something light for the beach you know” when you feel downright randy and want nothing other than to stroke the back of that gorgeous, leather bound book with gold-rimmed leaves all day?

Alright, I may have lost you there in that last sentence. When I say “book horny” I don’t mean “horny by the book” as in the definition of horny, nor do I mean the Fifty Shades of Grey soft porn kind of horny – I mean horny for books. Actually, horny by the book might be a better way of putting it, since it is a pun on the literal meaning versus the semantic meaning, and I adore puns nearly as much as I adore books. The Oxford English Dictionary defines horny as “sexually excited; lecherous”, which is precisely what a beautiful-looking novel will do to me. I am horny by the book (i.e. dictionary) and horny by the book (i.e. the one I am pressing passionately to my chest right now). It doesn’t happen every time I’m in a bookshop (which is at least those two afternoons each week when I work in one), but every so often there is a new book in stock which will cause me to whinny or purr with a yearning and a pleasure that is not exactly by-the-book public behaviour.

You know the saying “don’t judge a book by its cover”? Well, that’s exactly what my over-the-top bookish brain does. The cover of books can make me go positively crazy for various reasons. Sometimes the vileness of the illustration makes me want to rip it off, put it in the toilet and flush thoroughly because it’s not worthy of the treasure it guards. Like that horrid cover of The Casual Vacancy by Rowling – it looks like a warning sign in an amusement park. Or the cover for the Norwegian edition of The Ultimate Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Ghastly!

Other times the putrid covers represent perfectly well what’s inside, like those absolutely gruesome novels for fifty plus-women with covers depicting ladies who gaze longingly out in the distance; their cheeks flushed with deep emotion and their surroundings blurry. The mere sight of those makes me feel like I’m fifty and menopausal. There are the covers that are so dull they make me sleepy, and covers that give me the feeling of being reprimanded by a teacher with horn-rimmed glasses upon a pointy nose and an underbite, and if I don’t like the text inside it’s because I’m an imbecile who doesn’t know how to take in the subtleties of such a complex work of art. Susan Sontag’s On Photography and Leo Tolstoy’s War and Peace are examples of such fear-inspiring books. I haven’t yet dared to do more than read on their backs, and I carefully put them back afterwards and am still trying very hard to ignore the nasty glances they send me every time I walk past their shelves.

But then there are the covers that will turn my entire day around. It may be the gorgeously formatted title, the burgundy leather back or the artful illustration; it could be the fact that it has a lovely silk bookmark sticking out or that the pages are trimmed with gold. If a book is beautifully bound I will nearly always get somewhat affected, although it does help, of course, if I know that those seductive, silkily shining covers hold between them a little piece of the world’s best literature. A dazzling new edition of The Hobbit or the complete works of Jane Austen, for instance, will be more arousing to me because I already have a well-established relationship with their contents.

Sometimes the book’s physical beauty will fool me and its insides will be a disappointment. Kind of like a promising date that turns into an unpleasant one-night stand. Other times I have already been married to the book for years and so it feels safe and natural to be standing in a bookshop with the luxury edition of A Game of Thrones in my arms and slowly slide the book in and out of its slip. I don’t care about the odd glances I get when I stand behind the counter, moaning over The Lord of The Rings Anniversary Edition or drooling over a particularly pretty Poe-collection. I tell myself that customers like my enthusiasm and that their averted eyes and uncertain smiles merely reflect their lack of experience. Because books are sexy.

Concerns of a Modern Housewife

A couple of thousand cups of shelves filled with plastic boxes in loud colours; ten times as many tablespoons of stressed – bordering on mentally unbalanced – primates in suits or slacks (the latter group is the largest) running around with little suitcases dangling behind them; plus a few hundred pinches of kids of different ages – but with a very similar migraine invoking straining of their vocal chords. Add to this a handful of smiling faces with dollar shaped pupils; mix it all into a writhing pulp and shove it into a concrete box of umpteen cubic metres. What are we baking? Third world war’s a good guess. It’s not far off anyway. I can hardly claim that I’m an expert on the human psyche or anything (even though I did take one of those introductory psychology courses at Uni, and I go to a wonderful zen meditation lesson with a real guru every week), but when the Tax Free on Heathrow has turned into a helter-skelter of manically material Homo Sapiens who don’t know how to control themselves, I quite simply cannot keep my head from shaking disdainfully.

I sigh heavily and attempt with increasing futility to inch myself away from the thickest crowd without stepping on anyone’s shopping bag and risk getting murdered. Suddenly I’m standing in front of a platform with a pancake flat, red “Lamborghini-something-Italian” written on it, surrounded by about forty-odd boys aged four to fifty, who are all quite literally drooling. It’s enough to make a strong stomach squirm. Truly, I am contemplating if I shouldn’t seek out a toilet as there is a risk that my breakfast soon makes itself known in my mouth for the second time. This place already smells of wanton waste and extreme extravagance. I take a long, brooding sip of my organic white tea (brewed on recycled leaves with ginger root and vanilla). On top of that they squeeze in one of the world’s greatest pollution problems and thereby make sure it is forever worshipped by half of the planet’s population (the greatest problem is cows, apparently, but no worries there: I’m a vegetarian).

Oh, here we go! A grinning man on the platform is announcing how the car can be won. The poor blokes. As if they weren’t brainwashed enough. After all, millions of these things drive on the roads daily, and in addition to that, the boys are looked down upon if they don’t know which hub covers are the most “awesome”; how a V16 engine works compared to a V8 or which GPS system is the best one (what does V16 even stand for?)

Men and cars! It really is a phenomenon. If you’re a man, you like cars. Full stop. If you love them it’s even better, and if you worship them, why, then you’re really one of the guys. Is there even an equivalent to the relationship between a man and his car? The wife is, of course, rather useful in certain areas (I chuckle to myself), and the TV is nice to look at, sure, but nothing quite surpasses the car – or his “girl” as he likes to call it. For cars, like boats, are always female. Jeremy Clarkson can stand there for hours talking about her bottom, and sweet-talk of the kind “Let’s go fer a ride, baby!” is daily routine for most proud, male car owners. No wonder we women are charmed to our knees by some macho man we meet at the pub; he’s simply serving us all of his best car-love one-liners and appears to be the most charming, attentive man. We are selected, seduced and seized, and before we know it we’re in a three-way relationship with him and his real baby. An aeroplane lands smoothly out on the landing strip. I wonder how many of the passengers have cars. My car is electric. My husband didn’t think it was powerful enough of course, so he cruises around in his huge Audi. No thinking outside the box there. He is such a typical man.

Who was it, by the way, who invented the abhorrence? (The car, I mean; not the man – apparently he popped out of God’s index finger or something.) I probably ought to know, but it must have been a man with an unbelievably bad ability to think ahead – or a woman with an incredibly sadistic sense of humour. What was wrong with horse and carriage anyway? My guess is that humans were happier some hundred years ago – men in particular. I’m having a hard time imagining, for instance, that they used to crowd around a carriage because it’s hub covers were so awesome.

To be fair I guess we need to go all the way back to the Stone Age and yell at whoever it was that invented the wheel – and those are rather handy sometimes. But not when the box they’re rolling spews out poison! You know, I’d be fine; just fine! with being a Stone Age female with hair growth in the most awful places so long as I wouldn’t have to worry about my species ending the world or something in its infinite stupidity. I sniff derisively. No wonder Mother Earth gets sick when millions of our growing kind buy up to several metal lumps with eight-cylinder engines because we need them. Imagine having to live side by side with an animal that has the intelligence to state “I think, therefore I am”, and at the same time is so half-witted that it gives its own basis of existence a death sentence. If I were an endangered animal I think I’d sooner become extinct, actually. I don’t believe cows are the number one problem after all (oh! how witty they’ll think I am at work when I just throw that out during lunch tomorrow!)

But which men care about things like these when they buy their penis enlargers? I nibble thoughtfully at my Organic Multi-grain Fair Trade Low-fat No Sugar chocolate bar and come to a realisation. Men just can’t allow themselves to think of nature, quite simply due to social norms. If they do care, they’re gay. No mercy. I’m getting positively giddy from the witty depth of my insight. It starts in kindergarten, you see, where the boy who doesn’t enjoy playing with toy jeeps is considered strange. When he goes to school he is a freak because he doesn’t like to play at war with guns and tanks, and by middle school he is forever branded as gay because he doesn’t have posters of car babes on his bedroom wall. It is, in other words, not easy for the poor men to escape from the vicious circle of the car producers. Car Magazine, Top Gear, General Motors, The Fast and The Furious, car video games, toy cars and car races are only a small part of what the market cleverly uses to remain in control over men’s brains. It is easily achieved, it seems.

I get shivers from watching the admiration shining in the eyes of the males around me. Like so many puppies wagging their tails at a particularly grimy tennis ball. I look at the car, and I simply do not get what it is they see in it that I don’t see. Is it the colour? In that case they might as well be staring at my top (which is brand new by the way). No, it must be the brainwashing. When a group of teenage boys nearly push me over in their eagerness to gaze at the marvel, “oooh”-ing in a very manly way, I remove myself quickly from the scene. Honestly, how happy am I that I’m not a man, obligated to be so spellbound by a material object that everything else is forgotten! It is positively absurd.

A jumbo jet takes off at that moment (gosh, how noisy the thing is!) as I walk over to a shop and critically consider their exhibition. I don’t want my son to be bullied and branded as gay, and my husband would most likely leave me if I tried to give the boy books, so I go inside and buy the toy jeep with pursed lips and an attempt at a scornfully dignified expression on my face. What don’t we women suffer in order to please the world’s men?

On the other side of the hall is another shop.

Oh god! They’ve got a huge discount on Louboutin!

Well, obviously, you know: one mad, material monkey to or from doesn’t really change all that much. And besides, shoes don’t emit CO2.

He hates her as he loves her

I returned yesterday from a study trip to Stockholm, arranged by my University for the students of an in-depth course on Strindberg. August Strindberg is probably the third most celebrated playwright in the world after Ibsen and Shakespeare, and one of the founders of modern drama. The first association a lot of people have when they hear his name, however, is “the man who hated women.”

From the current Norwegian production of “The Dance of Death”

Feminists and other critics have been pointing out Strindberg’s obvious loathing for women for a century now; revealed, they say, in several of his numerous plays. Thus the reception of Strindberg as a mean, mad, morbid male chauvinist has spread to innocent, virgin Strindbergians and polluted their judgement before they have even experienced one of his many productions. And true, in a number of Strindberg’s texts there lurk female characters that would make good friends with Cersei Lannister. In The Father, for instance, the manipulative wife tricks her husband into thinking that he is not the father of his child, and he goes completely bonkers, collapses into a pathetic toddler of a man in a straitjacket (she actually lures him into it), while she smoothly takes over as “head of house”, and the play ends when the poor guy dies from a heart attack. Classic bitch for you.

Though I must say that there are plenty of wonderfully profane hags in George R. R Martin’s epic too, and nobody is accusing him for hating women (yes, I do honestly try to keep my Game of Thrones references at bay). That is, I am sure there are those who do accuse Martin of sexism, but the feminists have been quiet compared to the flame war which Strindberg has gone through. After learning more about the famous Swede’s life I realise that “woman hater”, if that really is what he was, is an all-too narrow tag for Strindberg.

Alright. He looks a little scary

There are many reasons for admiring Gustie (my new nickname for Strindberg), apart from his schizophrenic-oedipal relationships with women (be they fictional or real). He was a painfully prolific artist, and in addition to plays and novels he wrote several articles on everything which concerned him, from literature to politics. He was also a brilliant chemist and he was into alchemy; moreover he painted quite a bit. My favourite is this one:

“Underlandet” (1894)

It is called “The Underworld”. He smeared it together in three hours, apparently. Peanuts. (You can clearly see Strindberg’s hatred for women in his aggressive brush, his obvious disdain for feminine colours and the camouflaged little man with the impressive moustache down in the left corner, who is stepping on a wailing girl’s face while smoking a cigar and waving his huge cane triumphantly.)

He hates her, as he loves her. The adding of a comma to the title would make a world of difference, as it would mean because instead of like like the lack of punctuation invites to. I poached this piece of writing from an analysis of Strindberg’s most famous novel, “The Defence of a Fool”.  The emphasis of the analysis is not on Gustie’s contempt for the opposite sex, but on the great ambivalence by which we must always understand his work. I agree with that. Strindberg’s ambivalence is a key aspect of his abundant writings. However, is that not nearly always the case with emotions – real or fictional? I catch myself frequently saying “must we choose one or the other; can’t it be both, and both of equal value?” This tendency is aggravated by my studying art. In art you cannot take sides – unless you are being polemical – because beauty is subjective. Nevertheless, by saying that we need to interpret this author and that painter through a spyglass in which the lens is oiled with ambivalence, we sort of cause the work of art to disintegrate into a shady void where nothing is wrong and everyone smiles and nods pedagogically at one another.

I’d be tired too if I were August.

My point is this: perhaps it is a tad narrow-minded and unfair to bluntly accuse Strindberg of being a sexist prick with mommy issues, but conversely it is cowardly and downright detrimental to defend him by pointing to the ambivalent nature of his work. I realise that I am being horribly circular. We can’t defend everyone by saying “he’s only human”, but neither can we base our judgement on a one-sided interpretation. So it all comes down to the healthy balance between empathy and acceptance at one end of the scale, and independence and critical thinking at the other. And there I am again, happily twittering in my best Mary Poppins voice that I don’t need to choose one or the other. Strindberg: I hereby name you woman hater for the sake of my own argument.

“Don’t worry about me, for I do not exist anymore.” Allegedly Strindberg’s final words, 1912

A Work of Heart

I’ll do as Donne and damn the rising sun

Whose greedy light consumed our precious hours

Embracing all clichés: she is the one!

(Might be her gold-eyes give Petrarchan powers)

I shall as Shakespeare claim my Mistress rare

Though my love’s voice is sweetest music sought

My Princess’ kisses are without compare

And summer’s day similes come to naught

The only romance worth my pen’s ardour

Is one that seldom inside love songs sat

Thus far, however, no man moved me more

No doubt some fools will think it vulgar that

My only sonnet – first poème d’amour

Is heartache for a royal jungle cat

I wrote this sonnet at three different airports on my way home from the animal refuge Parque Ambue Ari in Bolivia last August. I spent the summer of 2011 walking a puma on a leash through the jungle and I fell utterly and hopelessly in love with Wayra. Her name means “the wind” in the indigenous tongue, for her moods are as shifting and she can run as fast.

It was the best two months I have ever experienced. When I left I was pretty much heartbroken, and so I decided to call on my Muse and go Shakespearean (though strictly speaking – me being a literature student and all – it is a sonnet of the Petrarchan tradition).

This is for everyone who has spent hours sunbathing in the early morning rays in the jungle with a big cat doing her daily toilette and blinking peacefully at you from time to time, making your heart swell; the macaws shrieking in their colourful flights overhead; the heat just starting to affect the dew – clinging pearly to the leaves all around; the faint rustle of some small animal in the bushes behind; a little army of ants marching right next to your outstreched arm; and that is all the world…

…and then your cat suddenly leaps to her feet, alarmed at some sound from deep within the jungle (a devilish branch fell down; how DARE it?!) and she drags you to your feet and runs pell-mell up the tallest tree she can find, where she almost chokes on the leash which you are clinging onto for life. She hisses indignantly as you nearly cause her to lose her footing, you petty fool!, and the rest of the day is spent in the unforgiving presence of a Queen with claws who refuses to come down before you’ve groveled for at least three hours and then she hisses and growls and sneers all the long, wrong way back to her palace – where she bluntly refuses to let you unclip her from her horrid leash (it was you, maggot, who so cruelly forced this atrocity upon our person in the first place, so don’t you dare make any hasty movement or even remotely brush our royal neck with your clumsy, unworthy hands!); hiss hiss hiss – SNARL! And you come home sweaty, dirty, bruised and late for dinner.

But with that grin stretching across your face you’d think you had just spent the day riding rollercoasters and eating candyfloss.

 

Ambue Ari is an animal refuge in Bolivia whose main goal is to rehabilitate orphaned/ abused animals back into the wild. When this is not possible the organization strives to provide each animal with the best quality of life possible.

Please visit www.intiwarayassi.org! It truly is a wonderful place and they need volunteers all year round.

The Phoenix

and just like that, like coffee spilt one morning you’re in a hurry, like the nap that catches you unawares on the subway and suddenly, although the ride takes ages, you’ve got to fly out at your stop before the doors close. Like the irrepressible blush thundering up your cheeks when someone comments on your “striking new suit” (stained from the coffee, and you know they see it, but they hide their scorn or sympathy or some other horrible sentiment behind a sugary smile and a second compliment).

Like walking into a lamppost or a streetlight or a crate of oranges outside the local fruit-and-veggie shop whose owner is prone to demand payment if your glance lingers for too long on his precious pears, and you fluster about for a bit, confused, wondering at the tangibility of the Universe and your own blindness and how they keep colliding, physically, and you ponder the likelihood of Earth being malevolent and poltergeisty, purposefully placing objects in your way just for the heck of it and laughing at you afterwards: laughing so hard that there’s an earthquake in California – especially since it knows that you’ll have no choice but to blame your clumsiness, as you’re not very religious or superstitious in any way.

Like a flight of birds bursting out of a lush, leafy tree into a pale blue sky (and you realise with a start that the days are growing longer again), like a puddle of rainwater that never used to settle in that particular spot before, but now it’s almost the size of a pond and of course you stepped right in it with your new shoes. Like a ripple of laughter from a small child or a purring, soft cat happily rubbing its head against your hand and twining its tail around your legs that evening after your boss shook your hand for the last time – making you marvel that such a tiny thing can flip your mood around.

Like that overpowering sort of flutter in a part of your stomach you didn’t know existed, and perhaps it never did; a flutter that makes the corners of every house and every person around them gleam at the edges as if a beam of light always finds them – even if the sky is overcast – making them appear to you the way a skilled photographer attempts to lure the light into accentuating his objects’ best sides through his small lens and there capture them, perfect, always.

Like the emotion that lingers, persists; a greedy leech which drains you for blood and also, mercilessly, injects into your body some unearthly substance that throbs through your veins and makes you sense the caress of colours, bright, beautiful and warm against your skin even in the closing cold of autumn. You can smell the happiness in a sandy, busy playground and breathe the euphoria from the corners of a smile on a stranger’s face. You can taste the music of every clarinet laugh, every muted bass drum footstep; every cymbal cacophony of every sunset branch casting its yearly corpses to the ground, until you feel dizzy and have to watch your step – and come to think of it, maybe that’s why the owner of the fruit-and-veggie shop glares at you with such an exceptionally palpable menace nowadays, for although none of his fruit is outside at this time of year you still go to his shop all the time to buy tangerines if he has them in stock. You think that if you eat ten or eleven of them every day, maybe you’ll start smelling as fresh and sunny as a tangerine and everyone would sniff and turn when you passed them on the street. You would cry tangerine tears, slightly tart from the salt but still delicious when they trickled to your tongue, and you would read sad stories on the subway and on cafés and make sure you wept a little onto napkins and newspapers, and then leave them behind for people to pick up and get a whiff of tangerine melancholy.

Like lying on your back in the soft grass one of those summer days in July or August that would be too hot if it were not for a perfect breeze; one of those complacent days when nothing seems important because in that moment nothing is, and a spectre smelling of gall and guilt is fighting to flow to your consciousness, but losing pathetically to that loveliest of fires gushing down on you. And so you simply stroke your fingers slowly through the fresh, green pelt and you start breaking twigs that you come across and float away until you hear the baby screaming.

Like when the white stillness of snow has enveloped everything overnight, when nothing is recognisable (the game is always to only walk where no one has yet set foot) and it is winter, it is cold and just like that

Writing As We Read

Just as a tree that falls in the forest does not make a sound if nobody is there to hear it, just as Schrödinger’s cat is both dead and alive (or neither/nor) until someone opens the box to check, likewise does a closed book not contain any meaning or message of any kind unless, until, it is read.

And when someone does read it; every single time somebody reads The Great Gatsby a new version of the book is written as it is read. The text inside two copies of any novel may have exactly the same form, but the form of a text is not what truly creates it. It is impossible for us to read and see the form only, because the form always seduces us to suggest, feel, think, deduce, debate, assume, accept or understand. Neither the letters of a word nor the arrangements of words, sentences and spaces are, in their strict visual sense only, anything more or less than collections and chunks of lines and doodles upon a contrasting background. However, text never works in an objective manner, for the text is but a tool for conveying ideas, insights, fancies, stories. The most objective words are those which have only been created and never read – and even then they are the product of a subjective mind.

It is the same with colours. You and I can easily and eagerly agree that the colour of that lady-bird is red, but we both have a great amount of associations tied to the colour, and they may differ so much in so many directions that there are two or three or several reds. This is, of course, basic perception theory, and thinking only in terms of perception would, in the end, lead to rejecting the notion of one “absolute” world, as every perception is unique. I shall not go down that crooked, mind-boggling path. But think then, about the endless quanta of texts that exist and will exist and have existed; all those stories and songs and poems and blog entries and chat messages and commercials – they exist again and again in new shapes in all the minds that have ever encountered them. Every text has an innate ability of being created afresh, infinitely, as if the original is an imperfect mirror that reflects a different image every time. But it is not merely a reflection: words are there to connect and interlace thoughts and thinkers.

The text is the quiet bridge between minds, and you cannot read without crossing the bridge. It was designed, created for crossings, by another mind. Although the bridge has been built and stands there in front of you, seeming solid and unalterable, it will change the second you take the first step to cross it. And it will change and continue to change – for you only. I am the architect of the bridge you are crossing as you read these lines. But the architect of a mind bridge is dead the minute the bridge is built. There is nothing more a writer can do once the manuscript is sent to the publisher, except maybe read the text aloud to an audience. And even then the author can only do so much in order to sway the receivers, because they are each experiencing their own subjective versions of the story; writing their versions of the text; making the final adjustments to their bridge and anchoring it – for a short time – to the borders of their minds. Re-reading the text means that the bridge is altered again: maybe less dramatically, maybe more. Even though I am waiting (impatiently!) for the next novel in A Song of Ice And Fire, and I know (hope!) that George R. R. Martin is writing it at this very moment, his persona will not be present in the text as I start to read. I will be the engineer of Martin’s architextual masterpiece, and when I read the architect; the author – quoting Roland Barthes’ famous words – will be dead. Or at least in a coma.

The architect is comatose and the engineer must finish the bridge. Every time a book is opened. The bridge may continue to stand for all eternity, but its span between minds depends upon the presence of a mind on the other side. Thus the architect designs a bridge which in all sense and purpose is finished, but it may span from the borders of one mind and forever end in thin air – connecting to nothing but a bleak assumption. The architect must assume that the bridge will be crossed and, if it is, it will be crafted again and again every time someone crosses it. So the building of a bridge – the writing of a text – is a more or less conscious collaboration between the architect and the engineer; the writer and the reader.

Sometimes the bridge may be wobbly and shaky; its foundations unsupported and poorly made. This may be the fault of the architect, who has failed, to some extent, to build a bridge that is easy to traverse. However, the architect could be well aware of the difficulty his bridge presents to a traveller, intending for it to be challenging. Maybe it is steep or full of barbs and traps and potholes. Or maybe the obstacles are only experienced by some walkers and not all – maybe deadly thorns grow out of the bridge when one particularly troubled mind struggles across. The same bridge may for another mind be an arc unprecedented; magical; surrounded by falling feathers; beautiful to behold and when crossing it, the sound of a triumphant orchestra ripples through the pages.

Think of the magic that a talented architect and an imaginative engineer can create together – without ever having met or spoke or shared sketches!

This I believe is what makes reading so wonderful and so addictive to a lot of people. We write our own stories as we read any story. No text exists only once, and only our own minds set the limits for the stories that a text can communicate and toward what strange, sombre or silvery horizon the bridge will take us.

– G