Recursive Memory

After thinking about my previous blog posts, I realized that I unintentionally kept returning to art history. I alluded to Hopper’s and Motley’s paintings and the concept of the anchor (it’s also worth noting that art history came up in group conversation when I thought about tenebrism in Victor LaValle’s Big Machine art allusions). Looking back on this, my blog posts’ content itself aligns with a course concept: recursion. But in my thinking about this recursive process, I began to realize that this was no mere coincidence, rather, it highlights  how interconnected recursion and memory actually are.

While I have since noticed art history as a common motif in my posts, it wasn’t until I came across a Big Machine passage that it started to morph into a concrete blog post idea. Toward the end of the novel, Ricky Rice notes that “when I get too puffed up, when I invest to much into my own powers, I rely on what the Washerwomen taught me.” This is significant because it reminded me that, like Ricky, I was recurring back to previous information, my memory. It was fortunate that the art history allusions are rather innocuous, but, in the words of Dr. McCoy, I was still “plugging into a socket” or using “scripts” unintentionally—I was going through a recursive process without even knowing it.

Big Machine does offer a solution to unintentionally plugging into scripts, however. Immediately after Ricky remarks how he relies on what the Washerwomen taught him, he notes, “Doubt grinds up my delusions. It makes me humble. And that’s a gift.” This reminds readers to never be too certain about the information they are taking in, subscribing to, and disseminating. Their memories can be faulty. Doubting the environment around us, the institutions we interact with, and memories helps prevent unintentionally “plugging into sockets.”

When people consider where the information they have comes from, it allows for careful consideration as to whether or not it should be spread. Perhaps a certain phrase someone uses daily actually has a bigoted history they never thought of before. With this new perspective, this phrase and its offensive context can be replaced with better, more inclusive language. This takes some humility, as LaValle notes, but the gift in that humility is that people earn more agency and independence through their awareness. The institutions who attempt to write people’s “scripts” for them lose power when those people decide to write their own scripts. Relying on memory simply because it’s easier or instinctive is what institutions want. People need to doubt their memories and the information contained within them.

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