Point of Vanishing: Intermediary: Layer Two


A lot of my thinking in this new book has to do with memory. What can stop it, disrupt it. What we make of it when we say "I remember" or "I did x" or we enter the past tense at all. In other words, what that chemical process is, what metaphors can be employed to model it or to get it to take off its clothes for us (which would be our pleasure). One model I propose for memory, and thus for identity (since identity is predicated on memory, on our sense of what happened to us before, what was done to us, and what we did in response, in repose, did we pose frozen in the windowlight looking out over the frozen night, or did we do something else entirely) is the World's Biggest Ball of Paint.

Interrupt 1: the essays in this new book connect to the web in interesting ways. The website for Vanishing Point won't be live until March 2010 (unless my editor desires otherwise), but there's some video on it, some images, a lot of text.

Here's the idea for the book. Various words in the book are adorned with glyphs (daggers, or, if you'd rather, obeluses). You can type those words into the website for the book to access additional content. Additional thinking, really. And that's the idea. The book has to be published, and is no longer editable. It's not a wiki; I can't change it or add to it at will. But this way I can add to it as it goes. I can roll that ball, and keep rolling that ball to accumulate new material in it as long as I have energy. Sweet.

Return: The Ball, then, is like identity, layer painted on top of layer, nearly infinite, or at least regressing to the point where it's difficult for us to comprehend how much muchness is really in there. It might as well be infinite, though we understand it is in fact not. Would it be more interesting if it had started with an atom, slathered up in paint, and repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat?

A better way of thinking about memory, I realize, as I sit in my wife's family's house on Christmas eve, where it's apparent that we all remember each other based on slivers of experiences that we may not ourselves remember. A lot of the time we spend is trying to reconnect. Do you remember how we used to bike to store X for ice cream? What was the name of that store? That was a long bike ride. Yeah, it was an insane bike ride. Do you remember when you did Y? I don't remember that at all. So how we conceive of ourselves is based on what we are able to forget, what we are able to retain. When my brother reminds me how I hit him in the head with a fist-sized rock on some beach in Upper Michigan, that bit comes back and is reincorporated. How will I adjust my sense of self? Do I contain that kid, too? I erase something, I play over that bit of tape, I re-record, I revise. I will remind myself of that cruelty periodically in the future, at least bringing it back to the top of the consciousness stack for a little while before I let it sink back down.

A better metaphor for memory, for self, is the wiki. Infinitely editable. Not eraseable, since the system retains a memory of each edit (if the wiki is running properly) but the only layer we see is the current version. The story. The alibi. Unless, that is, we go back to see what User X edited out or added. Some wikis on Wikipedia, for instance, have millions of edits. Some have less than ten. Some of these are marked for deletion. Vandalization.

The saguaro.

The oyster with its minute irritation and its thousand layers of lining and smoothing over of the conflict, and generating something beautiful, valuable, tiny, shiny, rare.

Interrupt 2: well, it would be timely to let you know that this mess, this mass of words, is now a book, forthcoming. You can already feel it congealing, like the gelatinous cube of Dungeons & Dragons lore, and sliding along the dungeon floor. Graywolf will put it out in 2010. Maybe this will be revised at that point. I want the texts—this and that—to connect and interplay.