“A proliferation of lenses
in The Imagination Thief”
This is an era of lenses: webcams, CCTVs and hidden pinhole-cameras all around us; instant close-ups of live events from various angles, beamed around the world, with instant replay available; more film and video and photos on demand than could be seen in a hundred lifetimes; and the simple fact that no self-respecting Girls’ Night Out on the town is complete without numerous photos taken on many a mobile phone held up at arm’s length, with the lens pointing back down the length of that arm towards her who holds it aloft, ready for upload into global visibility on social media the next day when the effect of the cocktails has worn off—or even instant global visibility there and then, through upload from that mobile between cocktails number three and four.
Is this proliferation of all these glass lenses “unnatural” in some essential way? Probably. Is it contributing to our headlong rush away from the red-blooded, rain-soaked, face-to-face physicality of land and animals and crops and weather that we once inhabited—our retreat from the real space of town-squares and marketplaces—our ever more artificial and complex ascent out of the concrete and analogue, into the digital and mediated? You bet. And is that fun? Hell, yeah!
A proliferation of lenses
One of this book’s missions, as I discovered while making it, is the extension of that proliferation of glass lenses into the traditionally lens-less arena of literary text. Since this book contained a certain amount of self-portraiture—for which there is an established tradition using just words by themselves—my pushing of lenses into the substance of literary prose resulted in a matching amount of photographic self-portraiture to echo the written element. For although all characters draw mostly on pure invention and sometimes on real people, all the seven major characters (Jaymi, Alaia, Evelyn, Shigem, Kim, Angel and Pippa) do draw on aspects of me. The photographic result of this, mixed with the rest of the cast, is a depiction by me of the narrator Jaymi, rather than a depiction of me as myself, however, because the photographs in the book are stills from the twelve Films, where I’m cast as him.
Literary fiction has usually been a series of rectangular chunks of typeface assembled in an order that acts as a complex lens through which a two-way journey happens: readers look into the mind of the writer, and the writer looks out into the world and shines onto it some of the colours of his or her mind. And visual artists in most eras have often made self-portraits of one kind or another, in an attempt to understand more about what being alive means and looks like and feels like—and just what it is, this being-alive business that we were all thrown into with such a rude lack of consultation ahead of time.
Especially in its electronic versions, this book therefore combines those two venerable presentation formats, literary fiction and self-portraiture, with elements of the newer, more multitudinous formats of self-presentation and self-iconisation that occur online. In this, a series of ten further kinds of lens have been involved: (1) most concretely, there are the glass lenses in the devices that recorded and conveyed the images of Jen, Mel, Alexis, Cradeaux, Nadia, Paula, Matthew and me (an HDV video camera, a Super-8 film camera, and the projector and camera in the telecine set-up); (2) least concretely, located somewhere among or between the words, there are the seven lenses constituted by the seven major characters Jaymi, Alaia, Evelyn, Shigem, Kim, Angel and Pippa, in the sense that each of these is a lens-onto-the-world, possessing her or his own distinctive optical properties and tint of glass; and (3) as suggested by the presence of the nine names Jaymi, Alaia, Evelyn, Marc, Kim, Shigem, Pippa, Angel and Damian within the names of the twelve Films, there are the twelve lenses that these Films point into those nine characters.
Because our Imagination Thief narrator Jaymi Peek is quite often peeking into the imagination of one or other person around him (and occasionally into the imaginations of two other people simultaneously), seeing among other things how they look at themselves and at one another and at him, he adds to the above list (4) the lens of his own special sight. Positioned in front of three camera lenses (5, 6, 7), he also spends the tidy figure of ten sessions projecting different things out of his eyes (8, 9): one session projecting a huge live broadcast of material from his own mind; three sessions projecting material for a huge pre-recorded broadcast of his own mind; and six secret sessions projecting material he’s thieved from other people’s minds. This projection process is depicted with greatest simplicity in the Films “JAYMI 54”, “JAYMI 115” and “ANGEL 22”, but all twelve Films show it in their different ways.
The self-portraiture element of the book demanded that I assume the same position Jaymi does, i.e. in front of (10) an unblinking HDV camera lens, performing at this lens for the tidy figure of ten hours in total, so as to project all ten Parts of the book. This I did, and this was the process that created the ten-hour Video-Book version of The Imagination Thief, which is embedded live inside this ebook, alongside and in sync with the very first kind of lens I mentioned above—that series of rectangular chunks of typeface assembled in an order that still acts as the most complex and analogue lens of all.
The Films and their stills are also embedded in the ebook, alongside the typeface version and the Video-Book, forming an extension from those two formats. These three formats (text, Video-Book and Films) echo those three lenses (5, 6, 7) pointing at Jaymi in his hidden TV studio in the ruins of the Metropolitan Hotel, each of them positioned at forty-five degrees from the one beside it, in the sense that all three are aimed at the same target. Three styles of portrait are thereby made, from each of which Jaymi gazes out of the ebook and this website, straight into your and my imaginations.
One key to the maze under The Imagination Thief is to be found in the beauty of plane-crashes (I mean those rare plane-crashes where everyone escapes unhurt): I’m thinking here of the crash-landings of its characters into the rock-slopes of the hillside upstairs from the labyrinth, which is where they landed in that world. Just as for us flesh-and-blood cousins of them out here in the real world, it was hardly comfortable for those characters to have landed and survived in that world there, but the walking plane-crashes of their advent into that life are nonetheless as beautiful as ours here.
Like many self-portraits, the picture of Jaymi Peek’s self in The Imagination Thief contains elements of everyone, which may be why his personality is somewhat elusive. He’s a mixture of truth and lies, adding up to a fiction through which I suspect I’m wondering aloud what it is to be alive as a human being in a body on this particular planet these days. At least, that’s my best guess at what I’m wondering aloud through him; I’m not 100% certain of it.
Whatever the question is, perhaps it’ll become clearer in the course of finishing future novels. Or perhaps these two will prefer to show me the lovely confusion of a different proliferation of lenses, of other-coloured smoke and further mirrors…
Buy The Imagination Thief by Rohan Quine in paperback or ebook format.
(The text of the novel The Imagination Thief is identical in its paperback format and its ebook format. In addition to containing that text, the ebook format also contains some photographic content, plus links to films and to a video-book version and an audio-book version of the novel.)
Other introductory videos may be seen in the Vimeo playlist “The Imagination Thief—introductory videos”:
And in the YouTube playlist “The Imagination Thief—introductory videos”.