Martyn Pedler

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Ghost Boxes

A Ghost Box is an electronic device that serves the same purpose as a ouija board, but requires less effort from the dead than pushing around a planchette. It produces a mix of white noise and AM radio signals that ghosts can use to speak by tuning the broadcast, creating their own voice.

I haven’t been writing much criticism lately. My online presence is now mostly links and jokes and photographs of neighbourhood cats. It’s because I was afraid that too many years of reviewing, criticism, and academia had made me treat art like noises from a Ghost Box.

When watching a movie — even one I was enjoying immensely — I’d be drafting my review in my head. I’d have it half-written by the time the film finished. The same thing with books or comics: reading at arm’s length, always through a pane of glass. Even writing the necessary summaries of plot and style drained some of the original magic away.

There are different ways to engage with and enjoy art, and I think they’re all valid, none are more or less ‘pure’. I still read a lot of criticism, from both friends and strangers. For me, though, art sometimes felt like an excuse for my own thoughts; stories like topics shouted out at an improv comedy night, except for riffing and snarking and grand critical pronouncements.

So I’ve been making a conscious effort to change my habits. Not compulsively generating opinions or broadcasting them to the world. Other than in my own fiction, I want to hear less of my own voice. I don’t think it’ll last forever, but for now it’s helping me feel closer to stories again.