Reality Reading: Vanishing Point: Not A Memoir by Ander Monson

[‘Reality Reading’ is a series focused on books recommended by writer David Shields (Reality Hunger: A Manifesto). These books have been referenced favorably in either his controversial new book, in person (at his March 2010 appearance at the Brookline Booksmith), or in the many interviews that Shields has given in his ongoing quest to declare the death of the novel and champion the emergence of a “new prose,” one that defies tradition and convention in an attempt to give the reader something of greater substance, such as, among other things, clearer insight into the human condition or a more accurate depiction of the culture we belong to today. He would hate that last sentence (see: Reality Hunger, pages 126-130, “in praise of brevity”). For an introduction to Shields’ compelling literary theory see: his brief summary at The Millions, as well as his joint Bookworm interview with Ander Monson, author of Vanishing Point: Not A Memoir, reviewed very favorably by Shields here.]

The coolest part about Vanishing Point: Not A Memoir by Ander Monson is that, theoretically, it could never end. Throughout the essays in Vanishing Point are words marked by daggers (†). If/when you see a word designated by a dagger, you can visit Monson’s website, enter the designated word, “mother” for instance, or “selves,” and you’ll be treated to supplemental writings. These are sort of like virtual endnotes, except that Monson has the ability to (and reportedly does) continually contribute to these online writings. He could spend the rest of his career writing and editing Vanishing Point. I don’t know if Monson is the first to use this strategy, but he certainly deserves acknowledgement for the way in which he’s implemented it, his book taking life off the page in a way no other book, that I know of, can claim to. It is incredibly cool, and it doesn’t betray empty gimmickry on Monson’s part. Monson is chiefly concerned with American life and the way it is lived now. What better way to comment on that subject than by asking the reader of his book to move to the front of a computer screen?

Here’s one of the numerous instances in the collection where Monson likens an existential concern to a technological reality:

Or maybe the self is a wiki: anyone or anything can change it, but we could trace each edit back if we wanted to. The wiki retains its history even if it is no longer visible. Not palimpsest exactly, but maybe more a book, still bound, but each page opaque, consecutive. If we want to risk it we can turn the pages back, cycle through each edit, and watch the brain grow stronger and more distant from the present. We cannot fully erase a thing except via chemical or psychological intervention. Or erosion.

Next “Reality Read”: About A Mountain by John D’Agata

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