A creature luminous and vexed, the firefly flits in melancholic briefness, brilliant yet burning out, its light’s little lifespan mocked by the starry fixtures of the sky. The firefly’s illumination is a chemical process, like the flash of a camera but without the photograph’s sense of permanence and history. Instead, summer by summer, children chase down these natural lanterns and collect them in mason jars, glass enclosures for viewing their darkening demise. Aquariums of lost energy.
Literature is a protean phenomenon. Nobody seems quite sure how to classify it. Is it an object, immutable and self-contained? Or is it an event that happens when a self makes contact with a line of letters on a page? Nowadays, critics regard the text primarily as a resource. “There’s a lot of useful knowledge here,” we say, and our job is to show how this knowledge can help us in real life. Recently, I have come upon a fourth option. What if the text were an organ of perception, an extension of the body that structures our muddled, all-too-narrow picture of reality?