"So what is it with you, exactly?" asked Bronwyn of me, last night. "Is it OCD? Why do you need to spend your time working on these blogs?"
She had me there. I'd just confided to her that I'd spent the day scanning the yellowing pages of my 1985 MA Thesis into the computer in preparation for putting them up online on yet another blogsite, so I guess there was some justice in her remarks.
The best that I could do on the spot was to say that I felt I was constructing a kind of textual labyrinth which people could enter at any point but which would then beguile them into following more and more strange corridors to unexpected destinations.
"So what you're saying, in essence, is: Look at me! I'm here! Admire me!"
The Victorians used to talk about a thing they called "Stone Disease." Basically it's the obsession that rich and important people get with leaving a memorial behind them - preferably an architectural folly of some kind: constructed at their orders and built according to their plans. The Academic who mentioned it to us at a meeting recently went on to say that it was particularly noticeable in Vice Chancellors of Universities. They all want to leave behind a building, a campus, a complex - something physical to remind us of their tenure. We're pretty familiar with it in the mayors of major cities, too. What recent Auckland mayor has not suffered from Stone Disease?
Not marble, nor the gilded monuments
Of princes, shall outlive this powerful rhyme
Poets have it too, clearly. Ovid said his verses would outlast Augustus's marble, and - suprise, surprise! - it turned out that he was right. Shakespeare echoed him in Sonnet 55, but went on to add:
but you shall shine more bright in these contents
Than unswept stone, besmeared with sluttish time.
Even better than Stone Disease! Let's call it "banking on posterity" ("BOP" for short) syndrome: the assumption - or hope - that future generations will have more time for your ravings than your contemporaries do.
But then there's the strange story of the Winchester House:
[The Winchester House (then)]
"The curious Winchester Mystery House in San José, California, might be described as a monument to death. Sarah Winchester, one of the most remarkable women in the history of the American West, spent nearly forty years alone in a house she never stopped enlarging.
The story goes that Sarah, who died quietly in her sleep (as far as is known) in 1922, believed that the spirits of all those killed by Winchester rifles had placed a curse on her, the last of the line, but that she might escape the curse by building a house, and as long as the building work continued she would avert ghostly vengeance.
The unhappy widow and mother, whose only child had died within a fortnight of being born, purchased an eight-room farmhouse and then proceeded to rebuild and extend it, work that continued every day for the remaining thirty-eight years of her life, including Sundays and national holidays.
She communed with the spirits each night and, in accordance with their wishes, built or added room after room, balcony after balcony, window after window, chimney after chimney, stairway after stairway, until there were upwards of 160 rooms connected by miles of twisting and turning corridors, indoor and outdoor balconies, steep and shallow staircases; not to mention the scores of trick doors, interconnecting or dead-end balconies, passageways and stairways.
The whole baffling labyrinth was devised by ghosts for ghosts, if we are to believe Sarah Winchester. Certainly, since her death ghostly happenings have been repeatedly rumoured (and reported): footsteps; whispering; the sound of rattling chains; cold spots, icy draughts; balls of red light; and phantom forms."
[The Winchester House (now)]
Is that Stone Disease? No, I think it's something stranger, deeper, more visceral than that - fear and guilt. Fear of oblivion, of nothingness. Guilt over misspent time and self-serving actions. Trying to set things right can hardly be seen as frivolous, however strange the manifestations it takes.
So, sure, it's important to live for right now (and any writers who don't have an eye on their present readers rather than some notional future ones is pretty misguided, it seems to me), but constructing a tower or a labyrinth can have a lot of symbolic meanings. Hopefully, even, it can serve a therapeutic purpose - and not just for yourself, either.
In other words, I shall be proceeding with the construction of my labyrinth, but I think I should probably tone down just how much time I spend doing it. It is (after all) by definition not the kind of project which can reach a definitive end - only temporary staging posts.
[Labyrinth (Barrier Island)]