Is the Writer Trying to Achieve Telepathy?


Imagine a world in which human beings communicated solely by telepathy, transferring thoughts directly from one person to another. Would this be a world in which writers were defunct? Because surely as a writer, what you are trying to do is to move what is in your mind and heart across to another’s mind and heart?

I’m not so sure. Take this passage from Salman Rushdie’s Midnight’s Children:

Oh, spell it out, spell it out: at the precise instant of India's arrival at independence, I tumbled forth into the world. There were gasps. And, outside the window, fireworks and crowds. A few seconds later, my father broke his big toe; but his accident was a mere trifle when set beside what had befallen me in that benighted moment, because thanks to the occult tyrannies of those blandly saluting clocks I had been mysteriously handcuffed to history, my destinies indissolubly chained to those of my country.

Is it possible - or even desirable - to try to reduce this passage to a single cohesive thought for telepathic transmission? The author’s colloquial repetition, designed to make the passage more approachable (‘Oh, spell it out, spell it out’); the birth as a tumbling ‘out into the void’ with its hint of comic pretentiousness; the clocks don’t just tick, they are ‘blandly saluting’; the narrator isn’t just born, he is ‘mysteriously handcuffed to history’. All of this can hardly be summed up in a way other than through the words of this paragraph - and so it is with innumerable passages of prose and poetry, which serve to pack in subtleties that would defy a mere ‘transference of thought’. Unless human beings learn a strange new telepathic language, they would lose something by not using words, even when the words, at first glance, seem to be striving towards the simplicity of telepathy.

So if pure telepathy is a step too far, and yet words are reaching towards it, what exactly is a writer trying to do?