#320: Radiohead, "Amnesiac" (2001)

Seven Types of Forgetting

Amnesiac: a person who suffers from amnesia: a partial or total loss of memory.

"This vacancy is filled to capacity with everything imaginable."

—D.E. Harding, "On Having No Head"



I have always listened to music to forget (myself). When I listen, I'm not there. I don't know where my emotions go: My emotions are replaced by the music's emotions. It's kind of like writing. Like daydreaming. I don't know where the "I" goes. AKA: simply: to be not there.

AKA: "I forgot who and what I was, my name, manhood, animalhood, and all that could be called mine. It was if I had been born that instant, brand new, mindless, innocent of all memories” (Harding).

There is music for going and music for coming. There is music for transcending. Music for unknowing. There is music that opens and music that stays shut. Sometimes music is a door. There are doors that open forward and doors that open backward. There are two doors in the center of the Labyrinth: one that lies and one that tells the truth: only one door that leads to the helping hands (release me); there's a door to Ligeti's “Disordre.” To “Arc-en-ciel.” A red door. A door to Cage: “In a Landscape.” There are doors that are trap doors. Xenakis, “Concret PH.” There is only one door to “October 24, 1992: Graz, Austria”; doors to “Terminal EMA”; doors to wells with no bottom; doors to be not there. Doors to nothing, doors to nothing to fear

AKA: Amnesiac was/is my gateway (drug). I would not have heard “Disordre” without it. Amnesiac is a door. There's a door at the end of this rabbit hole. Do you know how hard it is? To say "no" to a door?



I can't stop forgetting. I used to call my family my external memory. Do you remember? I don't remember myself. But my sister remembers. Names of family members and how we're related. Things that happened to me. How old I was. How much time has passed. Was it a dream or did that really happen? I forget so easily. This isn't the kind of forgetting that I mean, though. 

I don't mean trauma-induced forgetting either. Forgetting due to brain atrophy or vertigo. Psychologically convenient forgetting, escapism; not amnesia unless it is temporary. I don’t mean psychedelic forgetting, the kind you introduced me to. I mean none of these. What I mean is a forgetting that is transcendent; this forgetting is decadent. I mean a seventh kind of forgetting. An impoverishment of self. To be not there.

I will be not there just about any day a seductive, sedative voice calls: There are secret doors//There are doors that lock/And doors that don’t/There are doors that let you in/And out/But never open/But they are trapdoors/That you can’t come back from.

Perhaps you will protest: Is there not an observer who sees these doors in her "Mind's I"? But one cannot say "I" in the sense of "used by a speaker to refer to himself or herself," for inside of this music there is none to speak. One cannot say "I" in the sense of "the subject or object of self-consciousness; the ego;” it is precisely this self-consciousness and ego which have disappeared. It is true that an experience is received. But one does not need an "I" to receive. Let's ask it a question: What is your name? Your gender? The year of your birth and the name of the one you love? In the moment of receiving, no answer can be given.



"…before the door that opens on my story, that would surprise me, if it opens, it will be I, it will be the silence, where I am, I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence you don't know, you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on” (Samuel Beckett, Unnamable).

I don’t remember the first day I met you. But I remember your piercings and tattoos, your deep voice. The way you would lift me into the air when we were apart too long and spin me around. You let me sleep in your family’s spare room one summer when I had nowhere else to go. I was too afraid to be an inconvenience to spend much time in the house, except for in my room, the room which was probably designed to be a library, because it had no door. Your bedroom was across the same hall. And I remember your Bowflex, and the muscles you built on it. You’re the only woman I ever fell for.

And when we went to Thailand on a college trip, you got another tattoo, went bungee jumping, attended an underground boxing match. You returned to me at our bungalow on the beach and we got four-hour massages from small Thai women who spoke to one another in the most melodious voices I have ever heard, pure sound poetry.

A week before, in Endau-Rompin National Park, Malaysia, we hiked a few hours into the woods with our group. I came out the other end of the knee-deep river with two black, pinky-sized leeches on my leg; I shrieked, you rubbed your hand in the dirt and pulled them clean off. We played on the low waterfall, on the wide rocks that had big body-sized holes we settled inside of like bathtubs. We used rope to climb when the path went vertical; we crossed a log over a small, shallow stream. When we arrived at our campground, the tour guides handed out tents and blow-up mattresses. Inside of the night-noises we erected our tents. And when everyone else was long done and tucked into their temporary sleep spaces, we still blew air into that mattress over the space of a half hour before we discovered the hole and collapsed in sheer delight as the remainder of our breath deflated around us. We were happy on the hard ground. Warm from laughter and the forest heat, we fell asleep, only our hair and our dreams tangled between us.



I only need the first notes of “Pyramid” to get punch-drunk. I have found myself defending this music-induced non-being like a (gateway) drug.  It's ok to disappear completely every once in awhile; it makes me feel better; by which I mean: There are certain things that, without the music, I struggle to allow myself to feel.

I feel the need to defend this dreaming-forgetting because I am aware fully of what else has disappeared in this privileged bubble of non-I which I don't want to leave. If I don't emerge from this cloud cuckoo land, then this is abnegation of responsibility. To whom? To you. You, who are gone in this forgetting. You, who are being cut to shreds.



Yet I can't stop forgetting. Forgetting is a trap door, a perfect interruption of a linear trajectory, opening onto helping hands that don't give me the option I'm looking for; they give me something better. Why did I walk into this cave? Turn on the single bulb which hangs from the ceiling. Was it to open these velvet curtains? Let's open them and gaze upon the whole earth, sloshing in a pool of water balanced in one crevice of a grooved stone which rests on the back of a black-horned bull kicking up sand in a vast, arid desert that's encrusted in a gill of a gently swaying anglerfish that roams the known universe without ceasing.

“It took me no time at all to notice this nothing, this hole where a head should have been, was no ordinary vacancy, no mere nothing. On the contrary, it was a nothing that found room for everything—room for grass, trees, shadowy distant hills, and far beyond them snow-peaks like a row of angular clouds riding the blue sky. I had lost a head and gained [all possible] world[s]” (Harding, slightly modified).

Yet I know that “to be not there” is easy. Being there is hard.

"Individual truth is valid only as it strives to be more than individual; a deliberate solitude, whatever its aim, leads to an impoverishment of self” (Richard Ellmann and Charles Feidelson, The Modern Tradition: Backgrounds of Modern Literature).



All of you who have been through high dose psychedelic experiences know that it’s very hard to carry stupid baggage through that keyhole. In fact you’re lucky if you just get your soul and yourselves through and intact” (Terence McKenna).

The summer we returned from Southeast Asia we went to that hostel in the forest in Georgia and you spiked our oatmeal with magic mushrooms. It was my first and only psychedelic experience—I know too well how dangerous drugs can be, but with you I felt safe. You gave me a smaller dose than you gave the others. I wasn’t sure if I was going to get any more out of that oatmeal than a stomach ache. But then it happened, as swiftly as driving into an oncoming shower of steady rain.

The facts of my identity became abstracted from me—they were accessible as objects, I only forgot that they belonged to me; I forgot to guard them in the fear of border-intrusion with which I have long lived my everyday life. We went skinny dipping in the natural pool (another first and only) and then I showered in the open air of the evening light, unashamed of my nudity. We found our way to the glass house (don’t talk politics and don’t throw stones). I played the djembe too loud, I found a primal beat like a spirit-gift that I wouldn't remember the next day because some things belong only to the moment in which they are born. When we walked back to the two-story bunkhouse, secret pathways were snaking off in every imaginable direction and a five-minute walk felt ten times that length yet I was not afraid of the irrationality of time; nor was I afraid, as usually I am, of the darkness and the woods—your muscular calf was always in front of me, leading the way.

We settled in for the night in the hammocks on the first floor. My hammock was a netted rainbow I ran my fingers against. While you softly chattered with the others, I remained silent, so I could receive. Yes: All was love. I loved you all and the universe was full around me, full of joy. Joy: an opening in the heart cavity bearing a bud grown too close to its cage, so that the only way to let the flower fully bloom is to let your chest crack open.

At dawn, I went to the top floor of the bunkhouse, a series of wooden bunk beds with stiff white sheets. Retrospectively, I'm sure you were still there, in your hammock. But maybe you weren’t. Either way, I forgot you. I did the thing I've always felt best doing. I lay belly against the bed and I wrote. And, of course, I listened to Amnesiac through my headphones. Think about the good times / And never look back. I tried to hold onto the feeling before it wore away.

On the return to Jacksonville, I listened to Amnesiac's twin album, Kid A, the bigger kid, the one that swayed easy in the amnion; Amnesiac, its ectopic sibling, a strangely-formed thing that I love more anyway because it was the first in my arms. But now I listened to “In Limbo”: I'm lost at sea / Don't bother me / I've lost my way / I've lost my way / /You're living in a fantasy world / You're living in a fantasy world / You're living in a fantasy world / The most beautiful woman in the world.

Your hair is up in twin buns, one behind each ear. You’re sitting either in the driver’s seat or riding shotgun, I can't remember which because I can't stop forgetting. This is my last memory of you. Not long after that, you vanished. There was no explanation, no final message. I went to bed one night in a world in which you were in my life, and I woke up in a world in which you were gone.

What were you going through when you disappeared completely? Did something bad happen to you? Was there anyone around you who you felt you could trust? I learned nothing, until two years later when a mutual friend heard from you. There were still no details. But you were alive, and that was a deep relief. What she could say: You severed contact with all of your friends. You didn’t know who really loved you, and who was only taking advantage. And I knew it immediately to be true, without question: In my absent-presence, I failed you. I’ll never forget that.



Radiohead released “Daydreaming” yesterday. Do you know how hard it is? To say “no” to a door? Dreamers / They never learn / They never learn / Beyond the point / Of no return / Of no return // And it’s too late / The damage is done / The damage is done.

Thom Yorke, who is being followed, walks in a tunneled roadway, through an open doorway into a kind of warehouse hallway, opens a door to an apartment hallway. He looks behind himself, right at me, because I am one of the followers. Now we know this is a labyrinth: He opens an apartment door into a house where a mother, presumably, and her children are living their day. He walks through an open door into a hospital, back into a different house vacated of people because the last door was a trap door for forgetting. A door to a door, a kitchen, a laundromat, a novelty shop, a grocer, a dark hallway, the woods, a staircase, a beach. There are too many doors, I can’t keep track. There is always another door and a staircase leading to another door and then the whole snowy mountain in the light of a clear blue day—

Wander through the snow. Wander until it is night. Wander into the cavern like it was there you always intended to go. There is a fire waiting for you. Here, it is safe. You can fall asleep. We’ll all keep watch while you dream…

of metaphors that build bridges to the moon and analogies that yield a chrysalis on your extended tongue. Reason away the existence of the outer world whole and all the people around you, because reason is only another kind of shared dreaming anyway. Sure, you can build roadways with collective dreams if you know the right symbols. Breathe the sweet faeries into the dew on the grass, sink yourself into the soil and come up daisies, spend eternity waiting for the all the wrong gods. I wouldn't blame you. I would blame you for Nothing at all / Nothing at all; Let’s go down the waterfall while these greater and lesser demons all around us make pretty little speeches and crack our little souls, moan the banshee through your throat and she’ll grant you three wishes, any wish at all except for more wishes, because that renders the offer null and void and vis-a-vis Harding, I have never been anything but this ageless, adamantine, measureless, lucid, and altogether immaculate Void:



I awake from a fever dream. No one I know is around me, all of these people are strangers. Sound is unkind. Light, sharp.

A decade has passed since I last saw you. After years of waiting, nothing came. I doubt you think of me as I think of you. Still, it takes me fifteen minutes to remember your last name so I can look you up online. I’ve never found you that way before. Yet there you are, now, and not a moment sooner. You look peaceful and awake. There is only one post on your wall. Just a little over a month ago, you wrote a lament about the loss of love, and a promise to conquer the world, all contained in one exuberant sentence. Then your friends rallied their voices to be there for you. Involuntarily, I smile. My chest hurts. It’s joy.

—April Gray Wilder