Vanishing Point A Bookand Websiteby Ander Monson



I had wondered about whether to put this in the book proper or not, partly because I don't want everything to be a metaphor for something else, for things to track too neatly or fit into slots so it feels bogus. The book is rough. It's intentionally rough in some ways, rubbed raw, and in other places maybe not rubbed enough.

So here's the metaphor (maybe to be made apparent in the jacket or marketing copy of the book--which I do not control*): being that artificial flavoring tastes really fucking good. Doritos taste really fucking good. Unless that is, you get the "toasted corn" flavor which is thankfully not available everywhere. What the chip really tastes like is only okay. I mean to say that it is not bad. It tastes like corn chip, which is admittedly a really good flavor. But it's disappointing. You get it, right? The corn chip is the life. The artificially flavored corn chip is the memoir.

Sweet. We both feel pretty smart now.

I am overthinking it, big literary dork that I am. Surely this is obvious in the essay. I go to great lengths to flatten down the ends of things at times, too far. But art does have its essential mysteries, so. Yet I am not sure this is one. And I want to make it clear that I am writing about how good Doritos are, and how interesting they are as a subject (and hence how any subject is interesting enough if we get to look at it from the right angle). I am not writing about memoir. Except here I might be writing about memoir. So I am writing about both. I want to write about both. But writing about memoir in itself feels nazelgazingtastic at times. I want to proceed, like Alison Deming says more than occasionally, via the idea of averted vision, where in order for astronomers to see something starry, they need to look away from it at times. We all know this. We know the power of dreams in terms of working things out, the power of background processing, to give it a computer science gloss.

But artificiality is a really good thing. I mean, I like nature as much as anybody else, but I also like artifice. I admire what we can do as a culture, as a bunch of smart people, to really blow the taste buds up. I am all about the molecular gastronomy. Or I tell myself I am.

See also some thinking on gelatinousness.

But back to the book: it's got a kind of through-line, right? And I didn't want to push it too hard. How much is too much? If you're here in this space with me you probably like going the distance. You read all the David Foster Wallace footnotes. You really tried to get through his math text.

But let's leaven this up a bit too with some useful information. The original way that Frito Lay guys (almost always guys--this is a descriptive term, not a prescriptive one) stocked the products was in order of their release. So he'd start at one end of the grocery aisle (which we've already established that they dominate) and place the products in the order of their release. At some point, which will become clear later as I look into this I hope (or maybe not--maybe this will be a little fuzziness in the middle of the essay permanently, in which case I will leave a space to signify it for the both of us:                                          ), they switched to the Mall Method, where the most popular products were stocked at the ends of the grocery aisle, and the least popular (the Funyuns, for instance) in the middle, so you'd have to go by all of them to get to any of them really (this is how grocery stores in general are designed, right? the milk at the very back?). And they angle them out just a touch towards oncoming shoppers, based on data indicating which way shoppers primarily go down each aisle and where shoppers eyes go first.

And you had better believe that there's lots of money caught up in analyzing grocery shopping habits, the movements of people through the store, the microflicks of the eye when confronted with choices, paper, plastic, biggie sized or no, the decisions shoppers make.

That's why the more you start to think about this, the more interesting things become. Others are putting a lot of money and time into thinking about this stuff too. So why not think more about it--about everything, if you can train yourself to do so, which is hard because it requires so much of us (see also the David Foster Wallace commencement address at Kenyon College--google it--for more on this idea). It's easy enough to use a phrase like "it's easy enough," to default to something I have heard before, and language bites exist like this for us to go to, to boot up from the brain periodically so we don't have to think about every single thing.

But then where's the fun in leaving these things unexamined?

Let me add that after the book's final proofing, but before the book's release, being in fact, to fix it in time, 01.20.2010 (only three different digits used in that date, pleasingly to the eye that finds patterns in everything, even the checkerboard pattern of black and red items in the wide aisle of the grocery store, or on the tile walls in the school bathroom that appeared almost random in their black and white patterns), Frito-Lay has rereleased my beautiful, if weird, X-13D experimental Doritos as Late Night All Night Cheeseburger flavor. See over-the-top review here, possibly written by a Frito Lay intern or an official shill because of the strident prose.

(In this world of muchness, not every bit of data is to be trusted.)

Still I bought a bag. They are still pretty good, if less shocking than they were. My friend Jon had to spit a mouthful out. The expression on his face: true disgust, something you don't see all that often in society, and especially not in world-traveling multilingual self-sufficient types like him. It was a great moment, though maybe not for him. Everyone else just kind of ate them and adjusted how they thought of me in ways that are beyond my ability to know or even imagine.

The next night I rewatched Wim Wenders' Wings of Desire with its kind-faced, curious angels living out of time. They watched the humans, listening to their thoughts, their sufferings, knowing things beyond our ability to know ourselves or each other. It's still a strange and beautiful film, hypnotic in its commitment to its vision of the world. That's what makes it work, the commitment: it washes over you in spite of whatever you would like to do



* This is something of a lie, says my editor. She says, you overstate the case for effect. She says, you're kind of grandiose. This space is mine, I say. I do get some say over marketing copy, okay. But the staff at Graywolf works really hard on it, I imagine, which predisposes me to want to okay it. I've been on the other end of that, to see my sweet sentences nixed by Dumbass Author 4. Rage ensues. So usually I just okay it. I also find it kind of humiliating and at the least awkward to write my own (as authors are occasionally asked to do). So I figure I should just shut up and let them do their jobs. (This is not really shutting up and letting them do their jobs.)