23: A telepathic transmission.

- March 12, 2017 -

One of the greatest joys I derive from reading has to do with something which the writer Charles Baxter, in an essay titled “On Defamiliarization,” calls the “pleasure [of recognizing] something without knowing what you’re recognizing.”

(My favourite books are the ones in which I feel this sense of unknown recognition more often, the ones in which I find myself smiling unconsciously and weaving my way through the story as though it were a well-trodden path from my own life.)

It was late at night when I first stumbled upon Baxter’s wonderfully familiar concept of recognition-without-knowing, and although I didn’t know what it was that so resonated with me about it, I did know that it was important.

I stopped to linger for a few minutes, half-closing the book and setting it down in my lap, until I realized that, no, this wasn’t something which could so neatly be unpacked in so short a span of time. The general concept was familiar to me, yes — deeply familiar, even — but its familiarity did little to aid in my understanding of its great depth.

I dog-eared the page, put the book back on the shelf, and continued to think about it for the next few days.

. . .

Soon after, and somewhat serendipitously, I came across a similarly striking idea in Stephen King’s On Writing, wherein he discusses something closely aligned with Baxter’s insight on unknown recognition. King, however, is more explicit in his explanation: according to him, reading involves a kind of telepathic transmission between the writer and the reader.

“Writing is telepathy, of course,” he writes. “All the arts depend upon telepathy to some degree…”

He goes on to explain just what exactly he means by ‘telepathy,’ situating himself in relation to the future readers of his book by describing how he, writing at his desk, is “in the place where [he does his] best transmitting,” just as readers, presumably, will later be reading his book in the place where they do their best “receiving:”

“Here we go — actual telepathy in action. You’ll notice I have nothing up my sleeves and that my lips never move. Neither, most likely, do yours.

Look — here’s a table covered with a red cloth. On it is a cage the size of a small fish aquarium. In the cage is a white rabbit with a pink nose and pink-rimmed eyes. In its front paws is a carrot-stub upon which it is contentedly munching. …

Do we see the same thing? We’d have to get together and compare notes to make absolutely sure, but I think we do. … We’re not even in the same year together, yet alone the same room … except we are together. … We’re having a meeting of the minds. … We’ve engaged in an act of telepathy.”

. . .

For me, these two individually powerful insights work beautifully together, each helping to better explain and amplify the other. We know that, when we experience them, these feelings (i.e., what King calls telepathy and what Baxter calls unknown recognition) affect us in a profound, soul-stirring way. But why is that?

It’s not something I have the answer to, and perhaps it’s something which we can never have the answer to, but I do think that these two closely linked insights have something to do with connection.

The feelings which they describe enable us to commune with our most intimate selves — but, significantly, they enable us to do so in such a way that invites connection rather than isolation. They enable us to reach down into the very depths of whatever it is that makes us who we are, yet, at the same time, they also supply us with the knowledge that we are not alone, that, in fact, we are far more connected to others than we may have previously realized.


Transmitting from my desk,
– J


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