At the Intersection of Oblivion and Sauerkraut

In Guatemala, you can live on The Street of Purgatory.

You can live on the Street of Sorrrows.

Or you can live on the Street of Oblivion.

According to ancient history, the Street of Oblivion is the worst address you can have. It recalls the Roman idea of the destruction of images by order of a government, called "damnatio memoriae". As reported by Sara E. Bond in the New York Times, "Romans saw it as a punishment worse than execution: the fate of being forgotten."

Isn't that why we write memoirs, diaries, blogs, and tell-alls? To avoid the awfulness of nonentity? We twitter and tweet and Face-off and Googlize, just to be seen, just to say I AM: Notice Me. Why we Dance with the Stars and not with the Joe Blokes; why we idolize those who have captured the bright lights of celebrity, hoping it will somehow rub off on them? Or is this contemporary angst the result of a cult of the individual which will perhaps become archaic in the near future?

Of course you can choose to be memorialized in song. Calvin Trillin tells us that "to memorialize the first ten digits of pi, you simply have to sing, to the tune of the Mouseketeers' song, 'If numbers had a heaven/ their God would surely be/ 3.1415.92653'".

Or perhaps you would choose to be memorialized by none other than Tom Lehrer, quipster /songmeister who got many an undergraduate through math classes at Harvard many a moon ago. If not reassuring, he is at least succinct:

"We will all go together when we go,

What a comforting fact that is to know

Universal bereavement,

An inspiring achievement,

Yes, we all will go together when we go.

We will all fry together when we fry.

We'll be French fried potatoes when we fry

There will be no more misery

When the world is our rotisserie

Yes, we all will fry together when we fry."(1)

There's more, but you get the point.

An interesting corollary is a 2009 video called "Conceal/Reveal", showing the act of removing a bandage swathed around a face. The video was produced by a group called NAMELESS which focuses on design and concept- based projects.(2) Ai Weiwei, the Chinese artist recently detained by his government, has taken a different path: he will be seen, and acknowledged, even if it involves risks, which it obviously did. His video, "Without Fear or Favor", reminds us of the courage required to stand up and be noticed.(3) Thomas Friedman tells us of a demonstration on Arab satellite TV from Benghazi, Libya: shown was a banner reading in Arabic "Ana Rajul", meaning "I am a Man".(4) That man was seen around the world.

If oblivion is indeed our inevitable address, what about now? In an area like Silicon Valley it is easy to get swallowed up, squashed like a pesky mosquito, crushed just for someone's joy of crushing. Follow Yogi Berra's advice: when you come to a fork in the road, take it. As one character on Grey's Anatomy said, "You're in a lion fight. Just because you didn't win doesn't mean you don't know how to roar". Go roar! (5) Order sauerkraut when it's not on the menu, and then roar with delight when it appears. (It means you chose the right fork.)

c. Corinne Whitaker, a hip artist

Note: the ever-challenging architect Rem Koolhaas has some provocative ideas about preservation vs destruction; he once proposed that UNESCO form a "Convention Concerning the Demolition of World Cultural Junk" as an antidote to the obsession with historical preservation for its own sake.

(1) See also Lehrer's "So Long Mom"

(2)The Conceal/Reveal video by Nameless is available here.

(3)Ai Weiwei's "Without Fear or Favor" can be seen on youtube. Additionally, viewers may want to look at Anish Kapoor's Leviathan, created for Monumenta 2011 at the Grand Palais in Paris, which he has dedicated to Ai Weiwei.

(4) "I Am a Man" appeared in the Sunday New York Times Opinion Pages on 5/15/11

(5) Whitaker's "Have You Roared Lately?" appeared on the Electronic Quill issue of May, 2008.