- Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir
A Dagger in Cyberspace
Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir, the latest book (and website) by Ander Monson, introduces a literary glyph, or dagger. The artistic punctuation brands this text a collector's item for the early digital age. The dagger serves no purpose, according to Chicago Manual of Style protocol, but no matter: art changes with the times; for Monson there is a method. Every time a dagger appears next to a word in Vanishing Point, the reader may visit Monson's website, otherelectrities. com, and find there a digression, amplification, or something else entirely. For example, take "memory†," insert, and then discover a meditation of a thousand words, to be redacted, clarified, or modified at whim. Though published in the spring of 2010, the book is, literally, perpetual.
Ander Monson is the author of the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize-winner Neck Deep and Other Predicaments: Essays; a novel, Other Electricities; and two volumes of poetry. He is also editor of the online literary magazine DIAGRAM. The essays in Vanishing Point appeared first in such places as The Believer, The Best Creative Nonfiction 2, and The Best American Essays 2008. Monson loves experimentation: his essay "Solipsism," for instance, opens with two full pages of the word "me." Vanishing Point, subtitled "Not a Memoir," nevertheless performs the function of memoir: an examination of self, interwoven to the possibilities of the Net. David Foster Wallace reflected on this as well, and wrote, "It's all just a Google search away. Knock yourself out." Monson takes [End Page 161] the idea further, with his dagger pushing the curious reader to the Web. Is this what the Internet means? Must we read with a computer nearby? A hundred years ago would an author have sent a reader to a library or to the Encyclopedia Britannica? What now?
Vanishing Point begins with an essay about jury duty, "Voir Dire." The title refers to both jury selection and the oath to tell the truth. Monson, called to jury duty himself, recalls his own excursion into crime as an adolescent hacker, when he engaged in credit-card fraud. He notes that testimony depends on the reliability of memory, yet memory is unreliable. On the jury, he reflects on the contradiction between our need to construct an "I" and the obvious guilt of MAJ, the defendant. "I object to our unthinking cultural embrace of the I phenomenon, to our readerly desire for unmediated 'I's, for confession booths, for more reality in everything we see, including our fiction." Offering testimony, writes Monson, is much like writing a memoir. Both raise the issue of what is true and what is not; readers are not unlike jurors: "It's not hard to see the Frey dustup as game, or the spate of more recent outings of increasingly fake memoirs as big-game hunting." Finally, testimony depends on the unreliable nature of memory. The jury in Monson's courtroom questions why the defendant will not take the stand: "MAJ refuses to make himself a writer, a confessor, refusing us access to his story, his experience." Monson recognizes that, though we may not be able to trust memory, we must confront our past in order to arrive at the truth. If not, as with MAJ, our peers may deliver a verdict of guilty.
At other times, Monson becomes more of a comedian. In "Ceremony," about Gerald Ford's funeral procession, he writes, "Here's a douchebag in a Chevy pulling in. Those sunglasses are hard to take seriously. Come on, man." This small town of Grand Rapids, whose greatest achievement seems to be the production of the man who succeeded Nixon and became the only president not voted into the office, celebrates its dubious and accidental greatness. "What can this man, this name, this president, or possibly this presidency, mean to the public, so that we should spend a day considering his life and legacy? What does it mean to Grand Rapids that the president is from here?"
Elsewhere, Monson focuses on other aspects of Americana—a humongous...