Nov 11

November 11, 2006 § Leave a comment

I spent some time this morning with the recently published, Electronic Literature, Collection One. Reiner Strasser and M.D. Coverley have a piece in this collection, ii – in the white darkness: about [the fragility of] memory. This interactive work, meant to “reflect” the experience of those suffering from Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s Disease, uses small pulses of light to draw responses from the participant in choosing fragments of sounds and images in activating the appearance and disappearance of constructed memories.

I have mixed thoughts on the work as a new media piece, but found the pulsing light interface to be affecting in illuminating that space between the choices we make in ‘calling forth a moment’ with anticipation and that momentary (but potentially powerful) suspension of meaning that follows even the most trivial and mundane of decisions — a brief glimpse at a temporary state of being where confidence in the continuity of flow is in abeyance.

I have a close family member coping with Alzheimer’s. Apart from all the emotional and practical struggles that accompany this illness, there emerges an opportunity to be mindful of memory. Like the small pulsing lights in White Darkness, I am a distant witness to my family member’s attempts at working through the structure and remnants of memory. I have been struck by how aware they are at times of the need to re-think how memory functions and what kinds of experiences “fill” memory. On a recent visit, they related a story to me — several times over — that seemed to have come to the fore as an essentially significant experience:
“I remember being a child in the car with her [an aunt] on a long trip. Somewhere along the way — during a stop at a restaurant, I think — one of us kids kicked her shoes out of the car. She was really mad that we had kicked her shoes out of the car.”

Later that day, the same story: “…she was so mad that we had kicked her shoes out of the car.”

Some Alzheimer’s sufferers actually develop more acute memories of the distant past, losing instead their grasp on the moment-to-moment events that constitute short-term memory. I am persuaded that the “shoe” in that story that came back again and again that day was its own kind of pulse, an encapsulation of an actual childhood memory, but also a kind of metonymy of things lost that leave traces, that refract the future by virtue of having gone missing. The shoe emerges as a kind of “dropped step” that, while signifying loss, also insists on finding its way back into the forward amble of narrative as its own memory.

I can picture my family member as a small child curled in the back of an old Packard, realizing twenty minutes out on I-40 that the shoes bounced out, fearfully maintaining the illusion of continuity, knowing that the story won’t change until the car stops and the discovery is made that something has been lost. I can think of an old black creased pair abandoned next to a trashcan in a parking lot of ice-worn asphalt. A very sad object, indeed.

Or, perhaps she crawled in the back of that car and subtly kicked those shoes from the side door, knowing all the way back to Pittsburg that Grumpy, Arrogant Aunt was remembering this trip very differently from how it actually happened. What power.

By next week, I’ll be back in CA — more visits with loved ones, and a return to my second home: Laguna

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