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Looking backwards: Human memories in hypertexts

Rosemary Passantino


Inspired by Walter Benjamin, the poet Jorie Graham sees the angel of history propelled into the future by a storm sent from paradise. Even though he faces the past, he cannot dwell there. Yet because his wings are pinned by the tempest, he also cannot scan the totality of calamities gone by. Only the most recent historical incidents remain within the scope of his gaze, as the winds push him backward into the future. Kiekegaard agreed - "life is lived forward, but understood backward."

Popular culture is littered with the "don't look back" aphorisms. Thomas Wolfe. The Temptations. DJ Pennebaker's Dylan documentary. The irony is we cannot look back, no matter how many times we click our heels and chant "there's no place like home." Whatever the metaphysical or Darwinian explanation, memory is not a simple recording or reproduction, but an active process of recategorization and reconstruction. Memory is a fiction.

My next hypertext is a database of human memories. Built in SQL, it allows participants to enter, retrieve and search for memories. One can even construct a randomly recollected life, built from other viewers' entries. By collecting the personal mythologies that we use to define ourselves as individuals, I am hoping many fascinating collective fictions will evolve.

A preview can be found at