Lunch with Virginia in Tavistock Square, where she has just arrived. The first time that I have been alone with her for long. Went on to see Mama, my head swimming with Virginia.
The present is always overwhelming in its persistence, so we resort to recollecting the past which is recorded in lower resolution by memory, photography, writing, records, scars, impressions, shadows, names, or titles. The present is always hesitant to successful speculation because we can never perceive the back of our heads, behind the wall, beneath the stone, under the floor, after the turn, beyond the horizon, without definitions. With recollections all the uncertainties are dissolved, we only record and replay that which was noticed. In memory all happenings are dissolved into events, but in present they are steadfast situations poised to writhe, turn, bite and twist on their own accord, running wild without consideration for our methods.
"Should our digital infrastructure – that born of the idea of a world-wide, connected web after all – be better at showing us actual connections, especially now that earlier limitations such as dial-up connections have been lifted. Do we now need architects of memory?
Key to the functioning of the Memory Palace, is the idea that nothing is ever lost, merely “misplaced”, a further parallel with the internet as the greatest human archive of all. If we now find ourselves creating digital memory palaces in order to navigate our mental memory palaces, does this take us yet further away from that which we are trying to pin down in the first place – human experience?
We have handed over our memories (and by default, increasingly our identities) for storage on the internet but somewhere along the way it seems we may have all but forgotten the art of remembering."
Digital media has done away with the very thing that created our sense of history: imperfect memory. The process of creating a historical narrative (or any story, for that matter) involves discarding an enormous amount of information. It’s like chipping away at a big block of marble until you’re left with a captivating statue. Forgetting is a feature, not a bug. It makes us feel like we’re moving forward through time, rather than standing still or running in circles. My grandmother and her ancestors knew this all too well. Artful forgetting, editing, and curation allowed them to craft narratives that helped their children understand the past and orient towards the future. The internet has undercut these time-tested practices of inter-generational knowledge transfer. It’s like an all-knowing god without any rituals of forgetting or forgiveness.
Faced with the inhuman prospect of total recall, we feel our only recourse is to turn to algorithms that help us sort through it all. But the algorithmic black boxes that power our media platforms work very differently than the memories we were born with. Our memories evolved to surface emotions, stories, and information from the past that might help us survive. We don’t have complete control over what we remember and when — there’s a subconscious system that “finds” old memories and “projects” them onto our mind’s eye.
In many ways, social media’s recommendation algorithms are an externalized version of this mysterious inner search process. But they’re not optimized to help us survive; they have a financial interest in prolonging our state of timeless confusion. Even the visual design of these platforms seems hell-bent on disorienting us: content that was published yesterday looks the exact same as content that was published a decade ago. In digital environments, there aren’t many signs of “decay” or the passage of time.
I was interested in writing the ghost of a novel. That was a big question—I didn’t know it was possible. I was thinking about art, and restoration. I have this uneasy relationship with how we have this desire to restore other culture; artifacts; art. Looking at the violences that we’ve done to one another as a species, I get anxious about restoration, because, in some cases, we are also erasing acts of violence. If it’s broken, we rebuild it; we lose the traces of what made those breaks in the first place.