“In the White Darkness” Sheds a Bright Light on Memory

We often hear that life is fleeting, short, and that memories last forever. But what if they don’t? What if the memories once created slowly disappear as we move further away from them into the next minute, second of our lives. The electronic literature piece “ii— in the white darkness: about [the fragility of] memory” by Reiner Strasser (in collaboration with M.D Coverly) published in 2004 is an interactive flash poem (which is a poem that allows the readers to select certain places to explore within the poem) that challenges readers with the constant question of whether or not they believe that memories can transcend time itself.

Knowing the background of Reiner Strasser can lend as to what inspired him to take on such an idea. In his college years, he studied art, art history, and philosophy, which this poem utilizes art through photos, mixed media, and sound play. Strasser began his web work in 1996 and has had many publications since. “ii— in the white darkness: about [the fragility of] memory.” According to digital cultures blog, Strasser stated that “It assimilates and reflects the experience with patients fallen ill with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases, showing the fragility and fluidity of memory from a subjective point of view.” Strasser essentially created a poem that is a mere representation of how those who have Alzeimer’s or Parkinson’s lose something with their memories: themselves.

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With the start of the poem, the following quote fades in then out slowly: “Just a whisper, at least, of the persistence of this memory, this forgetfulness.” Just the fact that this quote fades away after reading it can show how a thought or even the sentence you just read slips away. Honestly, as I typed the quote, I had to go back to the page a few times to remember which word came next. This idea is something we can all grasp and understand as it happens. What came next in this poem was a semi-grey curtain image in the background with flashing and non-flashing white dots on the page. Now there is no particular order this needs to follow, but if you want to have a layout of which button to choose next, there is a button at the bottom right of the screen and a whole connect-the-dots map is there for the readers. This seemed interesting to me simply because when I try to remember something, such as how my day went, I typically have an order in which they happened in my head that all link together to lead to the current moment I’m in. Our minds navigate through so many memories, so to process it, we have to connect these dots or time gaps in order to understand something that puzzles us now or makes us want to see how we got to this specific point in our lives. When I read this poem, I chose the flashing dots at random. The first one I stumbled upon spelled out the word “remember” in letters that were made up of photographs, not all were easy to pick out, but the ones I definitely saw were ones of children and seagulls. It personally reminded me of having a flashback as each letter would fade and the next would appear, each memory flashing away. The other image that stood out to me was this moving image of a landscape passing by as you would see in a car and the words changed like this: “Pass by. Passed by. Past…” I loved the manipulation of using present then past tense, and then a different spelling or really meaning by using “past,” further indicating just how quickly a present moment can be placed into the past. One last quote that really stood out to me was, “We build our history through the experience of our life. Do we lose our history when we lose our memory,” as the words “soul” and “identity” flashed in larger letters around it. This was extremely powerful to me since our personal history and the lives we have lived is contained in our memories, but it is hard to think about our history being gone when we can no longer remember those moments of our lives. Having the words of “identity” and “soul” flash at the same time showed just what you lose when the memories are gone; you lose a part of yourself, the memories that make you, you and it is almost dehumanizing in a sense. The memories we have are the things I believe remind us we are alive and human since ordinary objects such as a piece of paper don’t have memories to contain and that is what separates humans; the power to think, feel, and remember. Most of the images that were shown were of the beach and once there was an image of a tree in the woods with the sound of birds chirping. Two other points that had sound were blank pages where one had the sound of water moving or wind passing through and the other had the sound of a flute playing. By appealing to all the senses, it is reminding us that sights, sounds, etc. can bring back a memory for us; memories are linked to our senses and that is what makes them all the more beautiful to me.

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I would definitely recommend this piece for anyone to read. It is moving and makes you feel a wide range of emotions, at least it did for me. The material was presented in a silent, peaceful way, but the content made me feel a bit sad as I realized that it is impossible to remember all moments we experience and we can’t remember all memories. Our minds aren’t capable of that. But it proves to all of us that because we can’t remember every memory or every moment, it is so important for us to truly savor them for the time that we have them. Even the recurring themes of water and sunset reflect this idea of life constantly moving, days beginning, ending; our lives, our memories, beginning and one day, ending. Strasser forces us to take a hard look into this inevitable truth that I personally don’t like to think about, but it was so beautifully done that I felt content with reading this piece. As for the title, I believe that “white darkness” is an oxymoron that perfectly connects to how losing one’s memories places them in this darkness they don’t even see as darkness; they no longer have the light of memories to compare it to. “The fragility of memory” is a statement that should stick with us, I think. Just knowing how fragile memories are, how they can be forgotten, lost, or even tampered with, makes them all the more important to preserve and never take them for granted. If the day comes that I lose my memories and myself with it, I would want someone to tell me about the life I lived and tell me that my history, my memories were full of unimaginable, unexplainable beauty.

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