Review: Vanishing Point

‘Vanishing Point: Not a Memoir’ by Ander Monson
Book published by Graywolf Press
Review by Allie Riley

Ander Monson's Vanishing Point spans from a perspective of the ceremoniousness of Gerald R. Ford's funeral services—an essay that also somehow mentions Cher, to an in-depth look at the satisfaction (or lack thereof) one can derive from Doritos.

Now that I have your attention and your inexplicable salivation, I'll say that this book was the first of many in a long time that caused several “whoa...” moments in reading—sometimes embarrassingly; once on an airplane back home I read the line “Everything about a wall asks you to disregard it” from his essay “Exteriority” and nearly spilled my drink to grasp desperately at the arm rests. My entire perception of setting, place, and objects around me scurried through my head before I was able to pick up the book and finish reading the essay.

I'm fully aware that, out of context, this line (and my reaction to it) sounds ludicrous*. Monson has written a book of theory and thoughts that can and probably will be used in those obscurely titled cultural studies courses in "Self and the Exploration of Human Ephemera" ...or "Dungeons, Dragons, and Doritos: The Relationship of Self, the Avatar, and Artificial Flavors." He intentionally questions the very form of a book as a means of communication by adding website markers instead of footnotes. These “daggers” are interactive and lead you on a quixotic adventure through Monson’s mind (if you even remember the portion from the book that sent you to this labyrinth of self-portraits and Dorito bags).  Personally, I preferred to dig into the website after finishing the book, thereby seeing it as an entirely separate entity from the printed page—this works just as well if your mind remains a wide open chasm for the absorption of images, maps, and nigh poetic essays exploring the nobility of karaoke .

However, once you peel back the layers of Roland Barthes**-esque narrative you find very real statements about the world and how we live in it. Vanishing Point (Not A Memoir) (the website AND printed word) is a collection of essays that made me realize, in a rare moment of intellectual self-doubt, that Ander Monson is way smarter than any of us. The essay entitled "The Essay Vanishes" is a perfect example.

When I began reading "The Essay Vanishes," my initial reaction was to be wary of its tone. It starts off with a phrase that's pregnant with the yearning and pain of a 16 year old in the throes of...not getting the car to go on a date; "I have wanted to vanish for a long time." After having read the thought provoking and witty subsequent essays on the self, its purpose, and how it fits into genres such as the memoir, I was almost entirely disappointed by the beginning of this essay. However, being that I wanted to maintain my reputability with this lovely literary octopus we call Paper Darts, I read the whole book. Monson goes on to discuss the various means of vanishing humans use every day. I’ve never read a more vague yet eloquent description of taking Benadryl to fall asleep, or getting shit-faced drunk (“crunk’d” as other less verbose folk may put it) as a means of disappearing.

In a world full of egos and solipsism, the seemingly inherent desire for us to disappear in crowds, vast open spaces, and substances (controlled and of course, otherwise) is inexplicable yet worth pondering. Monson dissects and disseminates the idea of “self” in a way that no stuffy philosopher would dream of.  He pits vanishing against the idea of maintaining your ego via the internet (Wikipedia, specifically), and how the worth of an individual self is determined by the act of someone's name being published in something, somewhere. 

In this flesh, bones, and intertubes fight to the death of vanishing vs. maintaining the ego via publication...there is no winner.  That's the thing with Monson (AKA @angermonsoon) there is no necessity for conclusion from his ponderances. This book or its individual essays will either make you reconceive your  entire perception of setting, place, and objects or leave you saying “who cares? Who even thinks about this stuff?” and there's a fine line between these two. I found myself asking the same, and wondering what this intellectual exercise really meant to me. Remember, though, thee most loyal readers; anything that makes you call into question such core parts of how you absorb information and experiences is worth a second, third, and probably fourth look. My brain is doing anti-gravity cartwheels in jubilation over this book…site..entity.



*Personal admission: I spelled this word as “ludacris” repeatedly getting angry at spell-check until I realized the influence “rap music” has over me and settling into my normal Zen self.

**Barthes wrote an entire essay on margarine. Check him out for a similar, yet less detailed mind fuck.


(Right) A screen shot of the Vanishing Point website, and supplement to the book. 

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