"Terror, disaster, memory, selfhood, happiness . . . leave it to a poet to tackle the unthinkable so wisely and so wittily."* A literary guide to life in the pre-apocalypse, The Unreality of Memory collects profound and prophetic essays on the Internet age’s media-saturated disaster coverage and our addiction to viewing and discussing the world’s ills.
We stare at our phones. We keep multiple tabs open. Our chats and conversations are full of the phrase “Did you see?” The feeling that we’re living in the worst of times seems to be intensifying, alongside a desire to know precisely how bad things have gotten—and each new catastrophe distracts us from the last.
The Unreality of Memory collects provocative, searching essays on disaster culture, climate anxiety, and our mounting collective sense of doom. In this new collection, acclaimed poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert explores our obsessions with disasters past and future, from the sinking of the Titanic to Chernobyl, from witch hunts to the plague. These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it.
Can we avoid repeating history? Can we understand our moment from inside the moment? With The Unreality of Memory, Gabbert offers a hauntingly perceptive analysis of our new ways of being and a means of reconciling ourselves to this unreal new world.
"A work of sheer brilliance, beauty and bravery.” *—Andrew Sean Greer, author of Less
In this deeply contemplative but accessible essay collection, poet Gabbert (The Word Pretty) considers how accurately people perceive themselves and the world around them. She begins, in "Magnificent Desolation," by considering the spectacle of catastrophe, using the uneasy fascination people have with events such as 9/11 and the sinking of the Titanic to suggest that "horror and awe are not incompatible; they are intertwined." In "Vanity Project," Gabbert reflects on how people perceive their mirror images: are such images "real," or are they "mirror delusions" in which one only sees what one expects to see? In her most involved and layered essay, "Witches and Whiplash," she delves deep into the history of psychogenic (mentally originating) and psychosomatic (both body and mind) disorders. In a fitting epilogue, Gabbert discusses French philosopher Henri Bergson, who "believed that memory and perception were the same" and famously debated Einstein on the nature of time, leading Gabbert to wonder whether lived experience is distorted not by unreliable memory but by an unreliable perception of the present. Whatever the chosen topic, Gabbert's essays manage to be by turns poetic, philosophical, and exhaustively researched. This is a superb collection.