I’m slowly working on an extended essay/ramble/thing with the working title of SPIRIT TRACK in my spare time. This is a fragment from the middle of it.
Ghost hunters roam the abandoned houses and haunted places of Britain with EMF readers, convinced that ghosts produce an electromagnetic field. There are pages and pages of guides on the net to buying and calibrating such devices, ensuring a clean baseline so that ghost fields can be differentiated from geomagnetic activity or the presence of human-generated fields such as those from pylons or electrical equipment. Skimming these sites, you see a growing conviction in some quarters that ghosts are electromagnetic phenomena, tying in with William Burroughs (of all people) and his fictional assertion that the human soul is an electromagnetic field. In the Seventies and Eighties, paranormal magazine partworks like THE UNEXPLAINED (which was part of my little trove of the weird) delighted in showing huge colour images of Kirlian photography, which purported to reveal the human electromagnetic field. The Kirlian process would be used on self-described psychic healers, and we would marvel at the great inhuman flares of electrical activity the photos would reveal.
I didn’t discover Burroughs until I was 15 or so, but when I did — THE EXTERMINATORS first, and then NOVA EXPRESS — the ludic shape of a personal fictional continuum began to form. One could imagine Gary Numan’s "Are ’Friends’ Electric" leaking out of an oldies segue on BBC Radio One, 275 and 285 on the medium wave, as I flicked through NOVA EXPRESS in the Oxfam shop, standing in front of the wire spinner rack. Are people electric? Are we just electromagnetic fields animating bags of meat?
Steve Aylett, writing as Jeff Lint: "We’re all just haunted beef, really."
It’s something I’ve played with in fiction several times, touching on it most recently in the beginning of the fifth volume of FREAKANGELS. Something about it is incredibly attractive to me, perhaps the part of me permanently distorted by having been raised on science fiction. It’s seductive, in a slightly insidious way that perhaps feeds the dogmatic atheist reflex I work to control, to have an "explanation" for ghosts that doesn’t involve an afterlife, or for minds or "souls" that doesn’t involve the holy spark of life pissed down from the heavens. There’s that slightly chilly, emotionally autistic, slide-rule-y element of old science fiction that loves having the spiritual and the supernatural solidly framed by cold equations.
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