Tuesday, May 8, 2012

On the magic of the written word

It's been a while since I watched Carl Sagan's iconic series Cosmos, but I remember the flights of fancy that every episode sent me on. G. who'd watched the series when it was originally broadcast tells me he's been rediscovering it post-exams all these years later.

He emailed me this quote from the episode The Persistence of Memory, a couple minutes ago. And since it makes my heart sing with joy, I'll put it here for safe-keeping. 

"What an astonishing thing a book is. It's a flat object made from a tree with flexible parts on which are imprinted lots of funny dark squiggles. But one glance at it and you're inside the mind of another person, maybe somebody dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, an author is speaking clearly and silently inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people who never knew each other, citizens of distant epochs. Books break the shackles of time. A book is proof that humans are capable of working magic."

I have always admired Carl Sagan, his ability to explain complex concepts in simple words without being reductive, his humanism, his deep respect for all life, his unflagging devotion to the cause of spreading knowledge. He inspired a lot of the scientists of our generation and he's always inspired me, too.

But tonight he's given me more to think about. This feeling of belonging I get, when often I read something that strikes a chord within me, or write something that leads to a conversation with strangers, occasionally turning them into friends. It does feel like magic. I am grateful for it. And for Carl.