“Let your lie be even more logical than the truth itself, so the weary travelers may find repose.”
I have been previewing Facebook’s upcoming Timeline feature. It turns one’s profile into a scrapbook-style autobiography, arranging multimedia posts in a chronology from birth to present. It is part of a larger strategy to promote information sharing that has been intelligently criticized in general terms. But it was a specific moment in my exploration of Timeline that pulled me up short. Clicking on the small heart icon for “Relationships”, up popped a menu item for marking one’s timeline with “Lost a Loved One.”
Though we have memorialised our son in many ways, the thought of posting his photo on Facebook beneath the small flower icon to make it part of this music-video-all-about-me of a web application struck me as painfully absurd. He is deeply and irrevocably part of my life. But a biography is not a life, much less an online profile. We have become a society obsessed with crafting our image — so much so that we almost believe, and sometimes attempt to inhabit, these spun self-tales.
The antidote to the future we now inhabit, wherein everyone has their own Wikipedia page for fifteen minutes, is art. Mark Twain called biographies “the clothes and buttons of a man,” deciding, “the biography of the man himself cannot be written.” But something approaching what it feels like to be a man can come across in the literary arts, and especially poetry. Poetry is the anti-wiki, striving for truths that need no citation, encompassing contradictions rather than devolving into fact-slinging “flame wars.”
And so, when it is released next month, I will use Timeline. But for matters that transcend time, and excavate the inmost reality, I’m sticking with poems.