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Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir

by Ander Monson

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Vanishing Point by Ander Monson
© Graywolf Press
Graywolf Press, March 2010

I read the majority of Ander Monson's Vanishing Point on my feet, leaning on the door in a crowded Brooklyn-bound subway car. During one of my evening commutes, two men in their twenties stepped into my train, bantering intentionally loud with hopes that the other passengers would marvel at their wittiness. As a joke, one of them asked me if I had written Vanishing Point. I was in the middle of a particularly fascinating essay called "Transubstantiation," which began about an obscure Doritos flavor and evolved seamlessly into a general meditation on "things that taste like other things," and without hesitation I looked the guy in the eye and told him that indeed I was Ander Monson. I showed them Monson's author photo and tried to pass it off as mine with hopes that our similar beards would be convincing enough.
Although my actions were mainly confusing and not especially funny, I was embedded in the expansive eloquence that is Vanishing Point and was certain that telling these lies was the right thing to do in this situation. Because, beyond its wildly captivating surface elements, the essays in Vanishing Point all return to themes of writerly ownership and its limitations. Vanishing Point attempts to find functionality in memoir without narration, all while searching for the appropriate place to situate that extracted "I." Monson believes that the act of writing is inherently limited by having words and thoughts flow through a writer, that by writing anything you're creating an interpretive filter for a story to pass across. He attempts to pull himself out of his own book, and by doing so places the reader in his stead. But what about reading - isn't the act of reading just as filtered as writing? By allowing Vanishing Point to flow through me as a reader, am I not taking Monson's experiences and turning them into my own?
"When we read a thing, we are susceptible to magic," Monson writes. "I becomes a we, a little less lonely." There's truth to this sentiment, and especially in Vanishing Point if you allow yourself to give in to Monson's craft. This might be difficult for some, as many of Monson's essays need a certain amount of unlocking before the reader can approach the swirling, giddy intellectualism that lies within each of them. Have you ever Googled yourself? Have you aimlessly wandered the labyrinthine depths of the Internet? Do you know who Gary Gygax is? And do you know that it's fairly useless to argue over what the best New Order song is, because it's obviously a tie between Ceremony and Temptation? This is the man who will lead you to the doors of Vanishing Point, and if you, like me, happen to share these answers with him, these doors will swing right open.

Vanishing Point also features a number of exciting experiments in form. Throughout the book, Monson has adorned various words with a superscript dagger. At his website, www.otherelectricities.com entering these daggered words into a text box will lead you on a meandering track of additional writing. These links provide a surplus of additional text, and also grant Monson an outlet to post images and videos to accompany his book. In his essay "Exteriority," Monson eliminates page margins in an effort to physically entrench his readers into his work. By combining this playfulness with Monson's strikingly humble theorizing, Vanishing Point manages to expand into a deeply thoughtful and multifaceted triumph.
"I am trying to make this mean something to you," writes Monson, "more than just the physical act of its creation, all these words being clicked out by my keyboard through electrical impulse to the screen." And he's completely succeeded in that regard; Vanishing Point is not only a mesmerizing book of literary theory, but an entire reading experience. "You get to watch me shuck and jive," he writes, and what a sight that is.
Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.
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