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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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