Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Sergio De La Pava writes of ghosts

I'm re-reading Sergio De La Pava's second novel, Personae, in advance of seeing him this weekend--and this afternoon I was surprised to find that it hadn't, after all, derailed my annual October ghost hunt. To wit, from the bleakly comic play that makes up the middle third of the novel:
CLARISSA But what could be more consoling than a ghost? Proof, as it is, of human transcendence and meaning?

ADAM Credit not its words, though, as death terminates all responsibility to the living and their notion of truth.
Which is an interesting thought. Our instinct is to assume that the dead speak the truth--after all, what now inhibits them? And why would they appear if not fired by an urgent need to communicate--a need that we naturally don't associate with dissemblance? Yet why not? What, as De La Pava's characters point out, could possibly tie a ghost to us so securely that it would adhere to our notion of truth and responsibility? Why would not a person who spread mischief and malice continue to do so after death?

Later, a character asks,
Is there a greater gap we feel than between living and dead? Take an orderly century's progression through life, from bulbous infant to vital adult until ravaged ersatz corpse. The subject may marvel at what he sees in the mirror, the family may gather in secret wish for the release that comes with resolution, but when the wholly expected comes it still shocks in its finality, doesn't it? That so much can instantly devolve into a nullity.

That gap again. Try bridging it but how? Memory's a poor substitute for presence and though I may chant their names into eternity their eyes won't alight, their lips won't curl.

Then am I damned to be both reflective chanter and sole recipient?
Thus we turn, century after century, to ghosts--but not to ghosts as that undeniable gap might create them, wholly different from us, inexplicable and untrustworthy, but rather as pallid reflections of ourselves, comforting even as they frighten. A message from beyond means not only that there's a beyond, but that our here and now is important enough to still matter there. It's a seductive idea as the nights lengthen and the chill sets in, the year draws in with nary an assurance that we'll get another.

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