Sunday, January 30, 2005

Rudy Rucker had the arresting idea (I think I read about it in his "Seek!" nonfiction anthology) that readers, in an almost literal sense, actually become the author whose work they're reading. He even had a cool science fictional word for it, which I forget.

When I read something by William Burroughs, for example, part of my mind sympathetically adopts Burroughs' literary persona and I briefly experience a ghost of what it must have been like to be the real Burroughs. I suppose it's an arcane form of immortality.

Franz Kafka is another author I'm sometimes able to "become." So are Philip K. Dick, Kurt Vonnegut, J.G. Ballard and, increasingly, Rucker. It's not as if I'm as capable as these writers, or can "channel" them; nevertheless, losing myself in a book has the effect of "uploading" my impression of the given author's persona. My mind becomes a platform for their thoughts and perceptions, which can be a pleasantly heady experience.

Of course, much is lost in translation. After all, I'm not really tapping the author's brain, but my own private simulation of it. It would be naive to think my inner Vonnegut is a faithful reproduction. Writers, by necessity, hold back. And as nice as words are, they're probably not the best way to convey information. I sincerely doubt I'm running a convincing simulation of myself when I write; so much for reproducing Kafka. Still, there's a compelling act of osmosis at work.

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