Agur’s story, in WWB’s September issue, contains this memorable image:
“But the marvel of it strikes me: the cemetery is like a phone book engraved on pages of marble. Except that here, instead of being alphabetized, the names are arranged according to some hidden logic of fate, and the numbers represent years of birth and death. Only one rule is followed: a man always lies beside a man, and a woman beside a woman. So that no shame should ensue, God forbid, on the day the dead are resurrected.”
It resonated with me because a month earlier, I’d had an idle thought about the striking vulnerability of every storage medium we’d devised, as if we’d deliberately chosen the flimsiest substances to perform the work of memory for us. Books burn; brittle paper crumbles; ink runs and blurs; hard drives are wiped clean by a magnet’s pass, or without the right equipment to access them are reduced to mere mute talismans; negatives are sensitive even to fingerprints, and photos like paper to water and fire. We’ve all seen the endless ribbon entrails of cassettes, discs smashed or scratched. Few things we commit secrets to can’t be warped, cracked, torn, or crumpled, and human memory itself is famously shifty. Is there no lasting repository where we can safely entrust memories—our own and our civilizations’? The most durable process I’d hit on was inefficient engraving, on the low-density medium of stone, and even that, as we know from cemetery walks, is subject to weather and lichen, which remove names layer by imperceptible layer until they’re too shallow to read.