The Significance and Fluidity of Memory as Represented in “In the White Darkness”

Reiner Strasser and M. D. Coverley’s piece of interactive literature, “In the White Darkness” is a beautiful work representing the power of memory and its ties to identity. Once through the introduction, the beginning screen is visual, a lovely black and white close-up of trees and the quote which fades in and out, “Just a whisper, at least, of the persistence of this memory, this forgetfulness.” The coming and going of the quote is the first in a trend throughout the piece. Depending on which faintly visible white dots on the background the reader chooses to click, pictures usually depicting sunsets, beaches, and other typically relaxing scenes come and go with gentle, slicing transitions like a soothing screensaver.

Like many other works of electronic literature, the reader of “In the White Darkness” may pick his own pack to follow but receives some help from the creators. The white dots visible in the background always connect in different trails, some standing out more than others, forming a sort of guide or suggestion of where to go next on this trip down (someone’s) memory lane. Furthermore, multiple dots can be clicked before any start to fade which results in layer upon layer of picture and text.

All of the text seems to be relevant to the ties between memory and identity, though some are more subtle than others. The bold message:
We build our history thru the experience of our life
Do we lose our history when we lose our memory?
is even more significant when glowing against the background of a fading beach sunset. The words “SOUL” and “IDENTITY” fade in and out through the duration of this specific message. Phrases such as “deja vu” and the word “remember” in split sections so we only see, for example, “re” or “be” come and go with the right clicks.

“In the White Darkness” was created by Strasser and Coverley to recreate “the experience with patients fallen ill with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s diseases, showing the fragility and fluidity of memory from a subjective point of view.” When keeping in mind these diseases, the coming, but mostly the going, of pictures, words, and accompanying sounds becomes much more meaningful. While a difference is, of course, that readers of this fiction can refresh their memories by clicking on dots to summon forgotten pictures, the steady dissipation of these pictures is still frustrating.

Neuroscience research at Northwestern University has shown that memories become distorted with each retrieval (think of the telephone game) as we begin to remember our most recently retrieved memories instead of the original. As a result of this, many of the most untainted memories are by patients with diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s who are unable to retrieve and distort them. I couldn’t help but think of this study as I was experiencing “In the White Darkness.” The beautiful images that came up every time I summoned them by clicking the white dots reminded me of the more honest memories of patients we are unfortunately unable to recreate them, the stories left untold, and the histories we will never know.

Works Cited

Strasser, Reiner, and M.D. Coverley. “Ii – in the White Darkness [16-03].” Electronic Literature Collection. Web. 6 April 2015.

Bridge, Donna J., and Ken A. Paller. “Neural correlates of reactivation and retrieval-induced distortion.” The Journal of Neuroscience 32.35 (2012): 12144-12151.


About Rachel

Hi! I'm 22 years old, a recent graduate of the University of Pittsburgh with a bachelor's degree in neuroscience. I joined the Peace Corps after graduating and have spent the past months preparing. Shortly, I'll be leaving for Lesotho to be a secondary education math teacher for two years. Hopefully, this blog will serve as both a way to keep in contact with my friends and family back home and a reference to others considering joining the Peace Corps. Thanks for reading!
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2 Responses to The Significance and Fluidity of Memory as Represented in “In the White Darkness”

  1. epiratequeen says:

    I think that memory is one example of a concept that electronic literature may be able to represent more accurately than traditional literature. “In the White Darkness” clearly focuses on it, but pieces like Reagan Library and Twelve Blue also comment on memory. Like memories have been shown to do, the individual pages of each of those pieces change as you read them. I can’t think of an equivalent trait of traditional literature that can literally change as you retrieve it.


  2. tangledheadphones1057 says:

    I agree that electronic literature mimics human memory more accurately than traditional literature. Most of the frustration that I felt when I read all the pieces we had to read came from the fleeting existence of the text on the screen. There was no concrete substance that I could retrieve when I needed to, which is how long-term memory works sometimes. The Internet is forever, but accessing all of the information available on it isn’t always possible.


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