The key to shadows is verbs.
Verbs fascinate ghosts.
“Light floods the room and drives shadow beyond shadow to where they hang in folds inscrutable. What does this central shadow hold? Something? Nothing? I do not know…” That is the sort of ghost I am talking about. It is a passive ghost, yet it exerts a powerful force—you keep returning to it. It haunts you.
Like a compass, a verb orients a relationship. A verb tells how something happens, and to what and whom. It takes in the energy that passes from subject to object, gives it the right momentum and sends it on in the proper direction. But there are no verbs in the shadow realm ghosts inhabit. There is a kind of residue there—if a reflection of an image can be called a residue—of our world, including its verbs, but it is insubstantial, and less satisfying to ghosts than dry bread is to us. The order verbs give to our utterances seems to ghosts a rare and alluring power, like beauty; they would like to exercise such power in our world. They are jealous of verbs—verbs are a kind of ghost that has managed to insinuate itself into human intelligence so as to be inseparable from it. No other ghost has been so successful (except, maybe, electricity).
Ghosts crave direction. Action. Something happening because of a cause that can be examined. They aspire to rationality with fervor. But, because of the effects of a reflection through realms, they appear to us to aspire to the inverse of rationality—mystery, magic, confusion.
(It’s as if the back of your head were pulled through your skull along an axis that enters and exits through your nose, and your entire existence turned inside-out, so that the front of your face now looks at the back of your head.)
And we who aspire to mystery, magic, and confusion (because such things sell, and because we are lazy) appear to ghosts to aspire to rationality.
Copulative verbs fascinate ghosts libidinally (although technically ghosts have no libido). They are attracted to copulative verbs the way certain kinds of compound eye are attracted to light. They will keep circling, circling the verb in a sentence like this one: “He is me.” Whereas the same arrangement with a different verb interests them very little: “He represents me.” “He appears to me.” “He touches me.” They are drawn much more vigorously to a copulative arrangement. They want to catch a glimpse through the mask of language at the real power of a verb in action—the power to pass freely among categories, to turn one thing into something entirely different: alchemy. They want to see the attraction these verbs have on subjects and objects—is it electrical? Gravitational? Is there heat melding the parts of meaning together into sense? What is the source of a copulative verb’s energy? They want to go there, insert themselves there, haunt us at the source of our apparatus for making sense. They want to flicker inside of ideas—inside the idea that ideas have insides—and haunt the deep structures of human intelligence. They want to cast us out of language, have it to themselves like an empty mansion where nobody lives except an old groundskeeper in a hut, peeling potatoes and muttering. These ghosts want to haunt language, and verbs are the keyhole through which they attempt to enter it.
Before I give you your assignment I will read a poem to you. Not only is it a personal favorite but also it pertains to today’s grammar lesson:
So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well
into that world inverted
where left is always right,
where shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea
is now deep, and you love me.
Your assignment is this: find a way into the mansion.