The Beauty of Invisibility

Jennifer Wilson at the Paris Review:

Why do we so often believe that secrecy must necessarily mask transgression? Busch unravels that association in How to Disappear. The laborious, sometimes caustic recipes for invisibility ink and potion included in the book (some from mythology, some from military history) themselves suggest something nefarious. Take for instance the hulinhjalmur, an invisibility-granting symbol from ancient Iceland that had to be smeared on a person’s forehead with a mixture of “blood drawn from your finger and nipples, mixed with the blood and brains of a raven along with a piece of human stomach.” Busch writes that our tendency “to associate [invisibility] with wrongdoing, degeneracy, malice, even the work of the devil” is not accidental. It is inscribed into many of our oldest myths, including the Ring of Gyges, retold famously by Kristin Scott Thomas’s character in The English Patient. Gyges, a simple shepherd who discovers a ring that confers invisibility, uses his newfound power to kill the king, marry his wife, and take the throne for himself. This idea, that invisibility can lead  “an otherwise ordinary and honorable person to commit transgressions and behave unjustly,” has stubbornly stayed with us.

more here.