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Have you ever considered opening a book and pulling back pages is like curtains and gazing from the window up high into another world? Like an interstellar traveller, untouching, not interfering but probing the characters and the world as the alien you are?
I have often wondered about the function of human imagination and have come to the conclusion it exists for our sickly desires. The fascination that these paralleled worlds bring. It is like how we watch the refractions of white in the rain – the reflection of many viewpoints that are not quite our own.
We are all trapped in the monotony of our lives- this you must agree. Our lives follow a monolithic formula, to study, grow up, get a degree and work, we are so sick of it, so self-consumed that we’d pick up a book, and jump through a window just to escape. We are all guilty of this, whether looking out windows as we studied, the stain-glass panels as we prayed or the symbolic as we travelled; standing on the precipice and admiring the valley below, we’d reach for it but wouldn’t dare cross.
Though we would dare open a book.
We are all trapped, staring into the distance from up high, the fabled Rapunzels’ bored in a grey, empty room. In the corner, there is a door that refuses to open and outside this door, a guardian that prevents us leaving. A dragon that guards out imagination. What does it guard us against if not from ourselves?
Stuck at these windows that separate reality from imaginations, we sit, perpetually sighing. The world outside this room of mine, the world of my imagination must be great; we’d say to ourselves, Just a touch, a glimpse you would say.So we sit back down, pick up a book, and we read the machinations of another mind. A sicker mind, one not dissimilar to Rapunzel’s own.
If you agree to these premises so far than what part of the narrative entertains us?
There are three things we see through the window and each of these plays similar but different roles. Is it the world building (setting) that grips us? The ability to watch worlds develop and unfold? As an audience, we sit and watch the author like a contented audience and admire his work. We look at him as the little god of his little fictional reality, where with a simple action, a brush of pen to paper he rewrites worlds. Do you perhaps know of the book of Genesis?
With a sick fascination, we watch as the author goes back to Genesis for inspiration. The little god creates a utopia and then God goes wrong. He destroys his little world, his little garden of Eden. Sometimes deliberately, sometimes unintentionally but it always begins with something small, like one ring that can rule them all.
It’s to drive the narrative we say to ourselves, nodding in our justification, but imagine if God or the equivalent deity in which we subscribe were to act this very way. A simple action God justifies to himself, to drive the narrative of my little project, it’ll make the people good and less sinful. Imagine us, watching with horror and despair through our little window, safe from the hands of this God. What can we do but wait you say? Nothing – but pin our hopes on some little creature, littler than God- some hobbit to save ourselves.
Are we then, as an audience watching a madman at work? Are we rejoicing at genocide or love or salvation for a fictionalised sense of emotion? Don’t we readers wish it so much so that we turn a blind eye and gather in cultic followings for this fake?
Or perhaps we admire the plot, that sick feeling of anticipation of a narrative written in past tense. That we can rest safely with our sense of anticipation, knowing that because someone existed to write the narrative, that someone must have survived this predestined tragedy.So we creep at the window and watch gleefully as societies destroy itself.
Or what of the characterisation; how we readers experience omniscience and view conflict from the intimacies of another’s mind. We rejoice in it, the emotional attachment, the romance and drama of characterisation knowing very well that we will never fully experience the level of the character’s anguish and loss. What of the ability to destroy a character’s propriety? Where is the privacy as we sit in intimate moments, third wheel every moment, every thought and aspect of some couples live.
What of the narrator in this? That author, that good that could create a character so twisted, so depraved that the character resonates as one of us? How else can we admire these dark heroes unless we sympathise, that we can empathise and think the hero is just like us.
What a sick and depraved reality it is, what worlds those little gods, that little author creates. It’s an atrocity, that such an action is allowed in society, and worse that we find it so fascinating that we rejoice in it and take part.
Why then, are us readers and authors so blind, that we can judge worlds, play gods and with all our introspectivity we haven’t considered the possibility – that our imagination is an ethical dilemma of its own. For centuries, this has been the ground of epistemology. What would happen, if this one variable of society were changed, philosophers would ask, this was the proven formulae of judging morality.
How then, is an author any different, and us as readers, participating in these experiments?
Next time we read? I would like you to think of your sickly joy and that lack of guilt that our conscience enjoys.
Be thankful for it, or I doubt you’ll never read again.
Agree or disagree? Leave your thoughts below.