December 2, 2015

The Life of a Ghost

I am teaching a literature survey this semester, and have come upon the postwar period, and so I asked my students to read an excerpt from Kerouac's, On the Road (1957). I was struck by a moment when the protagonist, having been aimlessly traveling for a while, wakes up and experiences an epiphany:
"I woke up as the sun was reddening; and that was the one distinct time in my life, the strangest moment of all, when I didn't know who I was--I was far away from home, haunted and tired with travel, in a cheap hotel room I'd never seen, hearing the hiss of steam outside, and the cracked high ceiling and really didn't know who I was for about fifteen strange seconds. I was wasn't scared; I was just somebody else, some stranger, and my whole life was a haunted life, the life of a ghost."
So compelling. Can you really forget who you are? I haven't experienced this before. I have, however, thought of my life as the "life of a ghost." I remember sitting in a bar with a group of friends in the summer of 2005. Someone snapped a picture of us all. I immediately imagined the picture, printed and placed in some album, being looked at my some person in the future, long after every one of us, the subjects of that camera's gaze, had passed. It was a strange, creepy feeling.