The other night as I was watching Russel Crowe thrust his sword into Roman warriors and blood splattered the screen of our TV to the applause of an enthusiastic crowd in the coliseum the steam kettle began to whistle and I began to wonder what it is to be dead. I don’t expect an answer from you on this topic, since, being dead, you may not have pens and stationary much less a computer in the abode of the dead, if, indeed, there is an abode of the dead. But is there? Is there an abode of dead? Or when we lose consciousness and our body falls into its final abatement and the spirit is released from its mortal burden, do we merely disappear? Like the steam from the steam kettle? Do we rise as a vapor and disappear into nothingness?
I’m assuming, since you made a number of wonderful engravings on the subject of death, as the magnificent door of death with the old man hobbling on his stick for support, his back arched under the burden of life and the frailty of the body as it ages and decays while, simultaneously, a younger renovated man seated in light and glory just above the great stone framework of the door looks into the heavens with awe as beams of light emanate outward from behind his body in an éclat of golden transcendence, that you may have some things to say on the subject.
Naturally, it is a mystery to me what materials are available in the afterlife and what methods of mail transport are provided to the population of spirits in order to have communication with we beings still wrapped in our mortal coils. No one that I know of has received a letter or phone call from the dead, not so much as an email, or twitter. But I present these questions to you in a mania of optimism and hope that there is in fact a post office in heaven and angels acting in the capacity of clerks to attend to the matters of written communication.
Meanwhile, allow me to entertain you with a few facts pertaining to my existence on planet earth in the new millennium, which I will not call a shiny millennium, but a drab and mechanical millennium, fraught with snow blowers and sportscasters. People walk in trances glued to electronic toys. Algorithms and lawsuits convert the joy of energy to career tracks and steering committees. The imagination is deadened with video games and role playing. Life is defined by digital download codes. Pestilence flourishes in fogs and standing lakes. Urizen blinds the fires of youth with promises of secure employment and swimming pools. Compassion and pity are set aside for the accoutrements of success. Los and Enitharmon sit in discontent and scorn.
There are entertainments that fall on the mind in shape of poetry, which as you well know is an eternal force, and cannot be destroyed by the gears and pulleys of industry which darken the human spirit at the same time they afford the body pleasures, patio furniture and androids.
I see you with your pen. I see your hand move on a copper engraving. I see your eyes aglow the fire of creation. And I wonder what you imagined this world would be when the factories of England stuffed the sky with their billowing black smoke.
The world I live in is filled with cars and computers. I don’t know how to describe the computer. It’s a thing of buttons and numbers. That’s all I can say. Buttons and numbers. It is based on a binary code.
Do you remember Leibniz? It was Leibniz who designed the binary code. It is a system that uses 0 and 1, and is similar to the ancient Chinese figures of Fu Xi. Leibniz was introduced to the I-Ching by a French Jesuit named Joachim Bouvet and he observed with fascination how its hexagrams corresponded to the binary numbers from 0 to 111111 and concluded that this mapping was testimony of religious significance, a system that converted the verbal statements of logic into purely mathematical ones, and so substantiated the universality of creation ex nihilo, creation out of nothing. This confirmed his theory that life could be simplified into a series of straightforward propositions. And oh, how I can hear you howling as I write these words.
The result is a planet distracted by electronic toys. Toys that are eating books. The libraries are being hollowed out. The written word is becoming digitized. The written word is being killed.
I belong to a minority of men and women laboring alone to preserve the written word.
And yes, it is no small irony that I am doing this partly on a computer.
Fingers dance on keyboards as the rain outside pelts the leaves of trees and shrubs. And the written word is inscribed on a screen, a realm of pixels and bitmaps, halftones and ghosts, so that I might reach you in your library in heaven.