cover image The Unreality of Memory: And Other Essays

The Unreality of Memory: And Other Essays

Elisa Gabbert. FSG Originals, $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-0-374-53834-7

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. (Aug.)