The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

6 March 2006

You think, therefore I am

Might George Berkeley have been right after all? Julie R. Neidlinger, on the persistence of memory, or the lack thereof:

Being remembered is important to people, especially if they think that this life is all they get. A new book, The Brief History of the Dead, touches on the importance of this by setting up an alternate plane of existence where those who have died only exist as long as someone alive remembers them. I find this horrifying, the idea that my existence would be wrenched from my control and placed in the wispy basket of memory, casually handed over to other people, people who might not cherish it as I would.

Julie? Oh yeah, remember her? Barely. She was like the color gray, nothing much, I imagine them saying. And then they toss me out of the basket.

Though this is only a science fiction book and not reality, I still allow people a fraction of that power every time I grasp at straws when I realize that someone is willing to let me "slip out of their reality." They are willing to let me go, in all ways. The check's paid up, the beautiful dinner is over, and they are out the door.

There is something else, though, something worse than being let go, being forgotten. What could be worse than someone letting you go when you don't want them to? What could be worse than being forgotten?

I was going to say "Not being noticed in the first place," but obviously that's wrong; if you've never had something, you'll never know what it's like to have it taken away from you.

As close as I ever came to the heart of the matter was the day I turned forty-nine:

[M]ost people tend to wilt just a little when contemplating the Grim Reaper. Some of us are better at sneering at it than others — "Yo, Death, I got your sting right here," said James Lileks — but we laugh at Death because we know Death will have the last laugh on us. (Christ, I'm quoting Lou Grant now. And it's not "I hate spunk," either.)

[K]nowing I'm going to die isn't what scares me; what scares me is knowing I'm going to die alone. Some day, more likely some night, that "finite number of breaths" will be reached, everything will come to an end, and no one will know until two or three days later because some mundane task wasn't performed on time, some phone call wasn't returned, or, most absurdly, because this goddamn Web site wasn't updated.

But this would seem to defy Berkeley: if I exist outside of other people's perceptions, at least long enough to expire unnoticed some weekend, then that existence cannot be dependent on those perceptions.

Still, there's a part of me which believes, insists even, that I make no particular impression, that I leave no footprints in the sand, that the moment of my demise means not only that I no longer am, but that I never really was.

Or, as Julie says:

It isn't the fear of slipping in and out of someone's reality. It's realizing you've never even made it in.

Another reason, I suppose, to keep on writing, on the off-chance that I might make it in, somewhere, somehow.

Posted at 7:24 AM to Immaterial Witness


Huh. I just can't get too worked up about this idea. I'm pretty sure that once I'm gone I'll be remembered by few and soon forgotten by all. So what?

Posted by: Andrea Harris at 8:24 AM on 6 March 2006

So maybe being a student of history in its various forms, genealogy included, is a way of "paying it forward" -- of setting up an ongoing database of memory in which we help keep past others alive in hopes future others will do likewise for us?

Maybe. I'm one of those God-belevers anyway. If I do right by Him, He'll remember me.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:30 AM on 6 March 2006

This idea sounds a lot like the premise in Neil Gaiman's book American Gods. The old gods (or a copy of them) came to America with the first settlers who came here and sacrificed to then. The gods only existed as long as someone still worshipped them in a meaningful way otherwise the truly died. New gods like Television and Internet (every bit as powerful as the old gods) sprang into being, for the much the same reason as the old ones...

Am I sacrificing to the God of Internet right now? (shudder)

Posted by: Dave at 7:28 PM on 6 March 2006

Am I sacrificing to the God of Internet right now? (shudder)

If using the Internet is taking the place of a life, maybe so. ;-)

Posted by: McGehee at 8:55 PM on 6 March 2006

Hey, at least the internet god doesn't ask for money and insist you send it right away ..... well except for that guy in Nigeria that needs my help :)

Posted by: Ron at 8:44 AM on 7 March 2006

Well that settles it. Charles is an Internet god and I am not.

My divinity must have been forfeit years ago. Come to think of it, Charles was the first to corrupt me.

I smell a conspiracy.

Posted by: McGehee at 2:58 PM on 7 March 2006