Wednesday, October 06, 2010

What the ghosts want

{Photo by rocketlass.}

From Expiration Date (2010), by Duane Swierczynski:
”What exactly do you think I am?”

“You’re a dead man.”

“But I’m not.”

“Right. Sure. You’re not dead. Maybe I’m dead. Maybe I’m a dead woman floating around a sea of living people, only I don’t know it yet. Maybe I’ve been dead since I was a kid.”

“I want to ask you about DeMeo.”

“He’s good to me.”

“What does he do up there? What kind of experiments?”

“You mean you don’t know? I thought dead people knew everything. That’s why you come back. To taunt the living. To show us how smart you are, and how dumb the rest of us are.”
In fairness, I should acknowledge that the man isn’t a ghost. The only ghosts found in Expiration Date are, like those in all good noir, those generated by the secrets of our pasts, come back to haunt us.

But I couldn’t resist sharing that pessimist’s view of what ghosts want from us, especially because it serves as such a good lead-in to this passage from Thomas Browne’s Urn Burial:
The dead seem all alive in the humane Hades of Homer, yet cannot well speak, prophesie, or know the living, except they drink bloud, wherein is the life of man. And therefore the souls of Penelope's Paramours conducted by Mercury chirped like bats, and those which followed Hercules made a noise but like a flock of birds.

The departed spirits know things past and to come,yet are ignorant of things present. Agamemnon foretels what should happen unto Ulysses, yet ignorantly enquires what is become of his own Son.
Which leads me to this, from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain, picked out by D. J. Enright for his indispensable Oxford Book of Death:
But the calling back of the dead, or the desirability of calling them back, was a ticklish matter, after all. At bottom, and boldly confessed, the desire does not exist; it is a misapprehension precisely as impossible as the thing itself, as we should soon see if nature once let it happen. What we call mourning for our dead is perhaps not so much grief at not being able to call them back as its grief at not being able to want to do so.
If there's a month to call the dead, October is it--but do you know what would you say? Do you know what you would hear?

1 comment:

  1. A rare, original quotation from Browne's 'Urn-Burial'!