Purposeful Imperfections

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Tag: Autobiography

Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology by Ellen Ullman

Life in Code: A Personal History of Technology by Ellen Ullman (cover art)

Aside from the occasional reference to antiquated software and machines, much of Life in Code reads as though it was just written. Many of the very same quibbles, worries, issues, and insights found in recent issues of Wired or Fast Company have been on her mind for decades. Even more impressive than this sagacity, though, is Ullman’s ability to render technology (and its socio-cultural implications) in clear and immersive text. For example:

“…I spent a long time thinking about the interior life of a robot. I tried to imagine it: the delicious swallowing of electric current, the connoisseurship of voltages, exquisite sensibilities sensing tiny spikes on the line, the pleasure of a clean, steady flow. Perhaps the current might taste of wires and transistors, capacitors and rheostats, some components better than others, the way soil and water make up the terroir of wine, the difference between a good Bordeaux and a middling one.” (p. 191)

It’s a rare person that can negotiate the world of bytes and world of words with equal deftness, but that’s exactly what Ullman does. We’re lucky to have her insight, foresight, and wit as we digitally blaze forth.

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind by Ivan Doig

This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind by Ivan Doig

Memoirs can be problematic, as there is often too sacred of a belief that consummate answers are to be gleaned from the examination of family, history, and lineage. And when this ancestral journey unfolds across the grand, unforgiving western landscape it is commonly assumed that the adventures and answers therein will be even more dramatic and profound. In This House of Sky, Ivan Doig has written an eloquent and moving memoir, one that is equal parts story and tenacious investigation. But it’s Doig’s awareness—and subsequent questioning—of the tendency for memoirs to exaggerate and overreach that truly justifies this work:

“The words of all the ties of blood interest me, for they seem never quite deft enough, not entirely bold and guileful enough, to speak the mysterious strengths of lineage.” (p. 238)

Of course, Doig is speaking to the limitations of language in articulating complex ideas, experiences, and feelings, but, throughout This House of Sky, one senses Doig admirably struggling to put into words his experience of adolescence as well as extract clear and convincing meaning from his family’s multi-generational tenure in Montana. This approach to autobiography is quite savvy, as Doig is able to create a text that is at once an engaging memoir but also an examination of memory, history, and, in all its complexities, the role of family in one’s development.