Towards the end of The Testament of Orpheus, two children feed autographs of two “intellectuals in love” into the mouths of a three-headed statue.  Cégeste, the resurrected poet from Orpheus, explains that the statue is an “instant-celebrity machine” that guarantees “fame for anyone in a minute or two.”

“Beyond that,” he continues, “of course, it becomes more difficult.”

After devouring the autographs, the machine spews forth long strips of paper:  “novels, poems, songs and so forth,” Cégeste says.  “It stops until it’s fed by new autograph hunters.”

In the room that Matthew and I refer to as the ‘library,’ I have more than 100 signed books stashed in a corner unit that we bought off the street.  Back home, in Colorado, I have about 300 more.  I’ve been to readings where the bookstore staff handed out tickets for signings that went into the high four-hundreds.  I’ve been to readings where I felt the need to act extra-enthusiastic to make up for the vacant seats around me.

I’ve recruited friends to wait with me when the line proctor for Salman Rushdie announced, Only five books per person.  I’ve chased Orhan Pamuk down the National Mall after ending up on the wrong end of his cut-short signing line.  I’ve stood behind the rare-books dealers wheeling book-laden luggage with them, pulling out ARCs and foreign editions, first-editions with dust jackets lovingly Mylared — Signature only, they say.

Book dealers have a financial incentive to have their books signed.  My modest collection, on the other hand, would yield only a meager retirement account.  When asked if I want my books personalized, I waffle mentally before answering, Sure — not that I intend ever to sell my books.

Paul Bloom, in How Pleasure Works, suggests that, on a basic, cognitive level, people “assume that things in the world — including other people — have invisible essences that make them what they are.”  Works of art, in particular, have an essence that is “rooted in an appreciation of the human history underlying its creation.”  A painter signs his work to validate it; the signature embodies this essence of the work.

When I gave Matthew an inscribed copy of Hannah Arendt’s On Revolution, he was speechless.  He, of course, had already read it many times, but the fact that, at some point, Arendt had touched this book, held it, rendered him speechless.  Her essence now mingled with his.

There’s an old canard about how certain African tribes ban cameras because they believe that photographs can capture their souls.  Is this any different than the baseball memorabilia collector who believes that part of Joe DiMaggio resides in his glove?  Does he smell DiMaggio’s sweat in the creases of the leather?  If the collector slips his hand into the glove, does he taint DiMaggio’s essence or does DiMaggio’s essence infuse his hand?

I am a lepidopterist, pinning an author’s name into his own work.

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