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