Here is, courtesy of Thomas de Quincey, the awesomest analogy ever. I’ve been reading his collected works all afternoon and had to post this essay (which states, human brain = palimpsest) because it was so good I felt I needed a cigarette after. Note that this piece was written a full 11 years before Freud entered our roiling world through his agonized mother’s tattered loins. Also note that I have been immersed in Quincey’s prose for hours, thus you must forgive me if mine is currently ever so slightly empurpled.
Anyway, this kind of awesomeness was why I tried to be an academic in the first place, and a Romanticist specifically. The reason why I could not stay an academic is that, when confronted with a text such as this, my natural response is not to apply or relate it to other texts, or to place it in a historical context, or to take little pieces of it to inscribe in my own essay. My natural response is to write a story in which the mental landscape of the protagonist is rendered in a series of overlaid images. No, wait–my natural response is to squeal in delighted recognition because I am already writing a story in which the mental landscape of the protagonist is rendered in a series of overlaid images (there often turns out to be unexpected resonance between what I am writing and what I happen to come across in my reading adventures).
(And yes, of course, written last week: “Oh how happy they are! The man has finally made the girl a woman. Reach out to the image to warm your hand with its soft glow. But when your finger skims it there is a sound like dry leaves and the music stops. You notice it is ever so slightly frayed in the corner, you see? Pull a little and it comes up, it is overlaid on top of something else, another image. Pull some more, it makes a sound like tape being torn up, and expose what is beneath, still dewy and crinkled and unsure of the light like a butterfly unfurling from its chrysalis. Blurry at first, snow. Covering the ground as far as the eye can see, it sometimes stirs itself in rising whorls when the wind breathes on it, and there, in the distance, galloping in from the horizon—a Cossack.”)
Anyway, random advice to aspiring writers out there: yes, support the careers of current authors. Buy their hardcover editions at independent book stores and go to their readings (especially, ahem, the ones whose first books are coming out next February, wink wink nudge nudge). But don’t forget to read dead dudes. Don’t forget that when you’re writing a framed narrative that acknowledges its own “storyness,” you are not being clever in a never-before-seen, post-modern way. Don’t forget that what you’re doing has been done centuries ago, then erased, then done again. Don’t forget that you too will be erased. Yearn for it. Dream that one day you will be a mere particle breathed in by a text that does not yet exist.