This piece, from The Independent on Sunday last week, has haunted me for days. It’s beautifully-written and affecting, deeply interesting, and touched me most because I can see myself reacting in just the same obsessive-compulsive way. It’s a rather horrible story – but the overall feeling (as noted in the article) is one of tremendous sadness.
Still, if I could find myself empathising with Jacobson, just as he empathised with the less fortunate in this story, perhaps there is hope that the very humanising act of sharing in the emotions of our fellow people on this planet could help prevent such inhuman, unfeeling atrocities from ever occurring again.
I wanted to single this article out because I think it’s exceptionally written. It’s the sort of “quality journalism” that is perhaps rare these days, and was an unexpectedly good (if rather unhappy) piece to stumble upon the other day.
Viewed from a distance, it is an unremarkable object. Place it on a corner table in any house, and it would probably pass unnoticed, for a while. Picking it up and holding it is another matter. The translucent quality of the material stretched over its eight panels should be attractive but isn’t. The lampshade has a curious, waxy texture. You might convince yourself that the covering was some commonplace form of tanned parchment, were it not for its yellow-green opalescence and the fact that embedded in one or two areas of the material are thin, white filaments, slightly thicker than cotton, that have the appearance of very finely minced squid. It seems somehow surprising that it has no smell.
When you run your finger around the edges of a small square that a DNA analyst cut out of one of the panels, you notice the surprising thinness of the taut covering. Leave anybody to examine this object for long enough and I think they would experience two reactions: a slow but mounting repulsion of the kind that occurs instantaneously when you see a rat, and an impulse to ask: “What is this thing made of?”
Before I handled it, I’d been sceptical of the psychological impact this lampshade is supposed to have had on people. Its last owner was troubled by dreams so grotesque that he felt compelled to get it out of his house. His nightmares continued. The lampshade’s current proprietor, the American author Mark Jacobson, won’t keep it in his home and says that, even now that it’s here, safely in storage, he feels more at ease when he knows the shade is shut away in its white cardboard box. The longer I am left alone with it, standing by a window as the daylight is beginning to fade, the more I can understand why.
[continues at link]