Journal | Salon | Portal (ISSN 1466-4615)

Vol. 7 No. 10, May 2003



Christopher Bodnar


The Database, Logic, and Suffering

_Memento_ and Random-Access Information Aesthetics



Preface and Apologies


In producing this paper, it soon became apparent that the argument presented would not conform adequately to the format of a traditional paper-based article. In understanding the aesthetic of the database against the character of Leonard Shelby in the setting of Los Angeles, a form of expression was required that argued in a similar manner to the way in which we as an audience confront Leonard through the cinematic experience. Two particular items used in researching my argument provide inspiration in presenting the arguments physically in this paper, as much as they influence the nature of the arguments themselves. First, in examining the city of Los Angeles in his book _Postmetropolis: Critical Studies of Cities and Regions_, Edward W. Soja presents chapter 12, 'LA 1992: Overture to a Conclusion', through a series of quotes 'revisioning' the riots of 1992 and the subsequent interpretations of the city's form. His brief comments on each quote appear in footnotes -- subsets to the actual text presented. The selection of quotes is a reinterpretation of his own experiences in the city of his research and the academic encounters following the dramatic events of the year. The randomness of the quotes and the interplay between others' ideas against the subjugated researcher's voice appeared most appropriate for explaining an individual re-encounter with the city and its meanings. The division between the quotes and the footnotes also serves as a stark interface between the researcher and his subjects that, in turn, becomes the interface between the intellectual reading of the city's form and the experience of Soja's reader. The interaction between the reader and Soja's database of ideas and experiences is worthy of further experimentation. It is Soja who inspired the form this paper follows.


The application of this form to the subject of cinema and new media within the confines of a paper became clearer in an interpretation of Lev Manovich's section on 'The Database' in his book _The Language of New Media_. In explaining Peter Greenaway's experimentation with the database in cinema, Manovich writes, 'new media artists working on the database-problem can learn from cinema 'as it is''. [1] This is because 'the editor constructs a film narrative out of this database, creating a unique trajectory through the conceptual space of all possible films that could have been constructed'. [2] In directing _Memento_, Christopher Nolan adopts this idea in an attempt to challenge both the confines of his medium as well as the audience's position as viewer. The viewers confront the database, creating their own mental databases of images, sequences and ideas required in reconstructing the fragmented narrative of the film. In recognizing this relation, Nolan engages his audience by inviting them into the medium as an interpreter and participant in the database of imagination.


Within Manovich's dialectic of paradigm and syntagm I experiment with the essay's structure and test the linear nature of academic writing. I take the syntagmatic quote of another writer and relate it to other quotes by virtue of proximity and order. At the same time, I take the syntagmatic interpretation of my own thoughts, compartmentalize it (similar to the compartmentalization of digital information), and subjugate the text below the line dividing text from footnote. The syntagmatic quote takes on a paradigmatic quality -- as Manovich suggests, this is the nature of the database's information in data structures when assigned material qualities -- and the paradigmatic interpretation of these quotes takes on a contemplative nature, attempting to tease out the relations between Nolan's _Memento_ and a commentary on the database and human suffering.


I. Memento, the Database, and a Case for Analysis


Leonard Shelby is introduced in _Memento_ as a suffering individual. Told in reverse order of actual events, the film's narrative reveals an individual who is mentally damaged by a brutal attack against him and his wife. With her now dead and his own memory lost, Leonard's sole purpose in life is to kill his wife's attacker in an act of brutal revenge. Before long, though, we realize that Leonard's purpose has been derailed. Lost in his inability to remember, Leonard is seconded by a drug ring for the purpose of carrying out their own gruesome tasks involving greed and revenge. Drifting in a city unknown to him, confronted with faces he does not recognize, Leonard's task appears increasingly futile and the audience cannot help but doubt the logic behind their 'hero's' motivation. Rather, we confront a disabled database, driven not by rational information, but by the embodiment of anguish over a past loss and unattainable future. Leonard's mind becomes an algorithm which those around him learn and thus anticipate. He becomes an interface between warring parties, oblivious to his surroundings, intent on fulfilling his own mission. The irrational logic of the database becomes the model of human rationality as Leonard plays the faulty detective in this temporally broken noir.


'Photograph Sparks Murder Investigation: Motel Customer Disappears; Leaves Suspicious Photograph, Gun, Documents and Questions' [3]


'It's been a weird organic process, because my brother told me the concept when he was writing the story. He told it to me while we were driving from Chicago to LA, across country. And I was like great, can I go and write a screenplay for this while you write the story? Because he'd been doing draft after draft and in fact it took him another two years. As we were finishing the film, he was finishing his final draft of the short story. We had decided that in our own ways we were going to try and tell the story in the first person. Me in film and him in a short story. We're both trying to escape the boundaries of the particular medium that we're choosing to tell, because we really want to create an experience that doesn't feed into your head, that bleeds around the edges. I was going for something that lived in its own shape, that was slightly built from that standard linear experience. My brother in the same way, in writing the story, had wanted to randomize it somehow. Like he's done the web site and that's in an electronic form.' [4]


'We are in a sort of big transitional situation. Philosophically I feel that the notion of artists as supermen is a Renaissance attitude, it goes right back to Michelangelo, and that the Picassos and Stravinskys in some sense are maybe the last great big superheroes of art. Artists were regarded like that also before Michelangelo, but this attitude has very much to do with the Renaissance concept of humanism. Renaissance concepts are always related to Monarchy and Absolutism and Oligarchism, while we live in a sort of Western democratic age, and there is a way in which our cultural organisation of ethics is far behind our political systems. I think that all moves to greater and greater activity and less and less passivity, and away from the notions of the artist as a superbeing, and I think there are a lot of things happening in contemporary art which are supporting this notion.' [5]


'Language is not a cultural artifact that we learn the way we learn to tell time or how the federal government works. Instead, it is a distinct piece of the biological makeup of our brains. Language is a complex, specialized skill . . . virtually every sentence that a person utters or understands is a brand-new combination of words, appearing for the first time in the history of the universe.' [6]


'To repeat: random access allows the sequence of images to be determined at the time of presentation, rather than fixed during the production process. This implies that the viewer by some method or another, or other external factors (weather conditions, the time, the sound level in the viewing space . . . the possibilities are endless), can determine the sequence. Obviously a work that makes use of this potential needs a structure, a shape, an architecture, a content that can benefit from it.' [7]


'The burden of making relationships between the parts of a work has shifted from author to viewer.' [8]


'These technological transformations can be expected to have a considerable impact on knowledge. Its two principal functions -- research and the transmission of acquired learning -- are already feeling the effect, or will in the future . . . it is common knowledge that the miniturization and commercialization of machines is already changing the way in which learning is acquired, classified, made available, and exploited.' [9]


'The computerization of culture involves the projects of these two fundamental parts of computer software -- and of the computer's unique ontology -- onto the cultural sphere. If CD-ROMs and Web databases are cultural manifestations of one half of this ontology -- data structures -- then computer games are manifestations of the second half -- algorithms.' [10]


'Steven Flusty has shown how buskers, skateboarders and even poets in Los Angeles work to exploit the impossibilities of real urban panopticism . . . All the people Flusty talks to exploit the fact that 'no matter how many 'armed response' patrols roam the streets, and no matter how many video cameras keep watch over the plazas, there remain blind spots that await, and even invite, inhabitization by unforeseen and potent alternative practices'.' [11]


II. Suffering and Flesh of the Database


'Flesh, first challenges the systematicity that governs metaphysics. For flesh is vulnerable. It absorbs burdens, blows, injuries, and shocks. It compromises agency. Flesh suffers. But the very vulnerabilities of flesh, second, often prod humans to construct metaphysical systems to elevate them above its softness, smell, and bloodiness.' [12]


'So, for the person in pain, so incontestably and unnegotiably present is it that 'having pain' may come to be thought of as the most vibrant example of what it is to 'have certainty', while for the other person it is so elusive that 'hearing about pain' may exist as the primary model of what it is 'to have doubt'. Thus pain came unsharably into our midst as at once that which cannot be denied and that which cannot be confirmed.' [13]


'But I will argue here that separating 'the pain experience' from other experiences accompanying pain, somehow viewing it apart from 'real' pain itself, is an impossible task.' [14]


'[T]he structure or grammar of the database creates relationships among pieces of information that do not exist in those relationships outside of the database . . . databases constitute individuals by manipulating relationships between bits of information.' [15]


In Conclusion


In writing this paper I have argued that _Memento_ serves as commentary on the aesthetic of the database in cinema. As well, writing on the database offers a commentary on the cinematic experience of the film. If the database represents the illusion of infinite knowledge, _Memento's_ experience suggests this knowledge is only as complete as the creator and user of the database. What is more important in analyzing the database as a cinematic medium is that it suggests multiple interfaces between the artist, the user and the medium. Nolan makes these interfaces and the resulting interactions more explicit by offering an alternate web-based entry point into his film.


A second entry point to interpret this film and its medium, I have argued, is through the concept of human suffering and the intellectual struggle as part of the physical nature of existence. My discussion here is by no means conclusive. Rather, it offers a brief beginning for further discussion of theories of suffering, pain, and the database in relation to _Memento_. The attempts to embody pain through the interface of flesh and the transfer of language to the body offer a remarkable comparison of the database to the human body and the materiality of existence. People search for media to exhibit the inexpressible experiences of suffering. Struggling to express these emotions through various interfaces of materiality becomes a driving force for the expression and further comprehension of knowledge. The manner in which we embody these messages constitutes new meaning and old interpretations of suffering for new expression and ultimately a re-embedding of our biographies in a physical environment for further exploration.


Carleton University

Ottawa, Canada





1. Manovich, _The Language of New Media_, p. 237


2. Ibid.


3. This fictional headline introduces a virtual newspaper article on the _Memento_ web site. Upon opening the site, a browser frame opens to fill the entire screen, displaying the article, as though torn out of a newspaper, against a white background. The site is not a promo for the movie, but a second entry point into the film's broken narrative. Information is provided on the site that is only briefly alluded to in the film. The article is the site's primary interface with the online content. As a newspaper article it establishes a period of time within which the film's events occur. In establishing this temporal benchmark in the familiar form of a newspaper article, the site's interface appears to recount events in the film. It explains the disappearance of Leonard Shelby, an escaped patient from a San Francisco psychiatric facility in September 1998 and a subsequent search by police following Shelby's disappearance from a Los Angeles motel. Left behind in the room were photos, a handgun, and various documents, many burned or in various pieces. Key words in the article -- body, foul, suspicious, Leonard, photographs, forgetful, local, revenge -- fade slightly into a grey tone every four seconds. Mousing over the words causes the rest of the article to fade into white, leaving only the one word on screen along with the cursor. Each word is a hyperlink. Leonard, we assume, has found the article. Key words trigger memories, passages to other times, images. But, as the article explains, Leonard is missing. In fact, the article is in front of Leonard; the audience becomes Leonard, reading from the first person perspective, attempting to make sense of the events recounted on the page.


The movie's narrative element is recounted backward from the final event through to the beginning of Leonard's experience. Leonard's experience, however, is not complete, even when assembled by the viewer. Throughout the sequence of pieces comprising the linear events, Leonard recounts events that occurred prior to the assault committed against him and his wife. Each of these moments appear to allow some insight into the life Leonard led prior to his wife's death. The glimpses into the past, though, are brief and ultimately cast doubt on Leonard's ability to recount even the simplest of details. While he desperately searches for 'facts' to indict his wife's murderer, he burns the very articles of evidence that would serve as evidence to his own past: Polaroid photos, his wife's belongings, and new pieces of evidence in his mind, left to wither in the time of his own absent memory, vanishing before finding a place on paper. Just as Leonard's mental database malfunctions, we come to equally distrust his odd assortment of notes and photos. In addition, Leonard's memories of Sammy Jankis come to justify Leonard's own actions. But as we learn that the memories of Sammy may not be any more truthful than the mess of clues upon which Leonard bases his case for revenge, the reality becomes apparent. Leonard reveals himself as the ignorant killer of his own wife -- or at least we are left with this additional possibility. More importantly, just as Leonard recognized Sammy's ability to complete complex tasks learned prior to his injury, we come to recognize Leonard's equal ability. He becomes a skilful murderer, following long trails of erroneous yet meticulous clues to find and kill anyone who may be responsible for his wife's death. The database is shown to be only as useful as its interface and user are capable of interpreting its information. Nonetheless, Leonard strives to find facts he can trust, upon which he can base his mission of revenge -- something to provide relief, or at least direction in his suffering. This is discussed further in Section II.


4. Christopher Nolan, in Nolan and Kaufman, 'Interview'. Nolan indicates his own desire to attempt a non-linear story in building off of his brother's idea for a short story. Each brother uses each other's experiences with and perceptions of their particular media as points of escape from their own medium. As briefly discussed in the preface, cinema provides an interface between the artist's imagination and the audience's interpretation. Manovich argues that a database process is already prevalent: 'We can think of all the material accumulated during shooting as forming a database, especially since the shooting schedule usually does not follow the narrative of the film but is determined by production logistics'; Manovich, _The Language of New Media_, p. 237.


5. Peter Greenaway, in Greenaway and Luksch, 'Interview with Peter Greenaway'. Greenaway views new media as a way in which the audience may interact and be involved with cinema -- a somewhat 'democratic' age. At the same time, information is controlled. The artist interprets ideas and designs interfaces within which the audience may access and engage with the ideas. The audience also chooses how, when, and where to access various artifacts. The combination of their selections leads to an interactivity of choices that will lead to varying interpretations of the artwork.


The nature of intellectual involvement with the database is greater when the audience is required to actively interpret a larger subset of ideas through the interface of the medium. Greenaway experiments with the interface between the artist, the director and the audience in _Prospero's Books_ and _The Pillow Book_. In the former, Prospero becomes the figure of 'interface' to the infinite knowledge held in the multitude of books in his possession. In the later, the human body becomes the point of interface as flesh becomes the medium of choice for the artist. There is an honest recognition that the potential of infinite knowledge meets physical reality at the point of materiality. The materiality of the medium may portray a finite amount of information, whether in the form of pixels, ink, canvas, or sound waves. At the same time, the materiality of any language represents an infinite potential for further creation.


6. Steven Pinker, _The Language Instinct_, pp. 18 and 22. In dispelling many contemporary myths about language and its origins, Pinker highlights both the banality and the awesome qualities of language. Given the infinite ability to represent ideas through language, Pinker explains that the rules of language are wired into our brains. Utterances are constructed using parcels of language, comprising morphemes, phonemes, words, and phrases. The manner in which we construct these utterances is hardwired into our brains through instinctual mechanisms. We, in turn, attempt to confront our language, challenging its meanings and imbuing new ideas to particular utterances. The magic of language in art is that despite our innate language instinct, each unique phrase is the constitution of a new experience in the material world and open to unique interpretation. Language is a fundamental interface of human experience and, perhaps, the most important database structure for the storage and expression of information.


7. Grahame Weinbren, 'The Digital Revolution is a Revolution of Random Access'. Weinbren's argument here would suggest that random access is far more common than might be considered. In reflecting upon Greenaway's comments, Weinbren echoes sentiments that the experience of the artist has been and continues to be closer to that of an intimate engagement with the audience. Artist are each the one interface against their particular media, and the medium is, in turn, an interface between the artist and the audience. The nature of the medium may determine when, where, and how the viewer may experience and interpret the artist's work.


8. Weinbren, 'The Digital Revolution is a Revolution of Random Access'. In the interview with Kaufman, Nolan explains about _Memento_: 'I find it quite satisfying that people will come out of this film arguing about who the good guys are and who the bad guy is. Not because there isn't one, but because we are using an unreliable narrator.' This is not a fulfilment, however, of Weinbren's assessment that the production of relationships is transferring from the director to the audience. In fact, Nolan admits a much greater responsibility upon the artist to consider how the viewer will encounter the work: 'I feel like I've got three years to work on this thing and as a viewer you've got like two hours to watch it, so it ought to be functioning at some level of greater sophistication than you can absorb in one viewing.' While the film itself tests the linearity of time and uses a database aesthetic, the viewer is still not in control of the medium itself as much as they have interpretive power over the narrative. There are, nonetheless, elements that lead to a viewer's increased interactivity. Darke claims 'the real pleasure of Memento lies in its openness to re-viewing and hence to interpretation' ('Mr Memory', p. 43). The film's web site adds a particular element of involvement in the narrative as well. The site offers an undated newspaper article and the navigator is in the place of Leonard, attempting to make sense of recent events. We choose how to navigate through the story and thus how many additional clues we may be able to find in the site. After navigating the site, though, it becomes apparent that the information it contains is finite. Moreover, the number of words hyperlinked to specified databases determines the number of paths to attaining additional information about Leonard. After navigating once, the user becomes aware of an algorithm, what Manovich calls 'its hidden logic' (_The Language of New Media_, p. 222). The site offers two items of note. First, it demonstrates an awareness by the creator(s) that the story, in its non-linear form, may provide alternate interpretations in different media. Second, the alternate medium by which the viewer may enter the information provides a programmed avenue for the audience to analyze the artist's use of media to present a narrative.


9. Jean-Francois Lyotard, _The Postmodern Condition_, p. 4. Lyotard's observations on the nature of knowledge in the computer age have had a substantial influence in the debate over the state of postmodernity and characteristics of the present age. In engaging postmodern texts there is a general tendency to look for temporal disjunctures between the present and the period of knowledge that may be considered 'modern'. Indeed, Lyotard's argument is that societal changes have ushered in a new state of knowledge. Given the discussion of notes 3 to 6 above, then Lyotard's pronouncement appears premature.


There are alternate, more useful perspectives on the nature of knowledge in contemporary times. Ulrich Beck, in particular, uses the term 'reflexive modernity' to describe a situation whereby modernity applies reason critically back upon itself, leading to a dynamic state of change. He explains that:


''Reflexive modernization' means the possibility of a creative (self-) destruction for an entire epoch: that of industrial society . . . by virtue of its inherent dynamism, modern society is undercutting its formations of class, stratum, occupation, sex roles, nuclear family, plant, business sectors and of course also the prerequisites and continuing forms of natural techno-economic progress' ('The Reinvention of Politics', p. 2).


These are qualities often left unattributed by postmodernists to the project of modernity. These characteristics are part of a process where, through reason applied upon itself and the institutions of modernity, individual identities are disembedded from a particular spatial and temporal convergence, but always re-embedded back into a place and time. Beck further describes this as a process of individualization where 'first, the disembedding and, second, the re-embedding of industrial society ways of life by new ones, in which the individuals must produce, stage and cobble together their biographies themselves' ('The Reinvention of Politics', p. 13).


This understanding is important in analyzing Leonard's actions in _Memento_. In the film, Leonard is disembedded from the stability of his former life. His short-term memory left disabled, he finds himself in a matrix of social relations he must interpret and into which he feels he should re-embed himself. At this point, it would seem that Leonard's attempts to re-embed his identity within the construct of an LA drug ring are futile and ridiculously dangerous. Indeed, this is true. He works only on blind trust of his own handwriting in recorded clues, yet has no additional rational application of knowledge. His mind's database is broken. He represents, nonetheless, the arbitrariness of unrelated information being given relational significance by its juxtaposition in the database -- the database, in essence, is reasoning itself (see note 11 for a discussion related to Cubitt's analysis of the database). Leonard is left to rely upon the language games that constitute a basic form of social interaction, attempting to save his life from one moment to the next. The result is an interplay of tensions between the corporeal individual and the identity he tries to construct in a world of random-access information. As Cubitt explains, 'Identity, gender, nation, are abstractions we have woven out of the endless flickering of community, derivations from the void which we drape, fold and knit about ourselves to keep us warm, and to stop our selves from leaking out . . . It is discourse that produces the self, a discourse hypostatised as an autonomous historical agent' (_Digital Aesthetics_, p. 20).


10. Lev Manovich, _The Language of New Media_, p. 223. Leonard cannot learn new habits by matter of instinct. He cannot remember the algorithm of the city, nor the essential data structures he collects as evidence against his unknown enemy. But within Manovich's argument, we must stop and ask how much of the database aesthetic is actually a 'projection of the ontology of a computer onto culture itself' (_The Language of New Media_, p. 223)? It would appear more at this point that the digital montage offered by the database is only a more facilitated depiction of the human mind. Humans create structures that, in turn, come to limit them. Marx has already entrenched this in the minds of modernist academics. The danger here is to fall into a technological determinist position whereby the computer would have a defined effect upon the individual or society as a whole. Rather, a dynamic interplay between the individual and the structured technology occurs. Indeed, humans engage computers for a variety of tasks that we may, in turn, recognize as a 'computerization' of society. These may come to limit actions, just as Leonard's vague notes come to define his scope of analysis. These data structures and algorithms only limit the actions of individuals, though, as long as people are willing to give into the computer-mechanized systems of knowledge. While there are systems of oppression and technology becomes an application for the sustained oppression of a population, we need a more sophisticated understanding of this process. I hope to expand this idea in note 9.


11. Stephen Graham and Simon Marvin, _Splintering Urbanism_, pp. 395-6. Los Angeles is the setting for Leonard Shelby's noir adventure. Used most often as an example of the fragmentation of urban experience (see Davis, _Ecology of Fear_), LA represents all that is random in the user's experience yet deliberate in design and function. Leonard has no ability to learn the pattern of algorithms in the design of navigable space, nor does he recognize data structures beyond the basic language games inherent within cultural particularities. While the traditional understanding of the urban institution is that the city makes one 'free' (see Magnusson, 'Social Movements and the Global City'), Leonard is caught in the city's seeming ambiguity but oblivious to the urban logic and meaning represented through spatial design. He nonetheless exemplifies Flusty's analysis of spatial use in LA. Leonard is engaged in his own 'investigation', guided by random items of parcelled information. His matrix of social interaction appears random to him -- and us, the viewers -- yet there is nothing random about his experience. He is caught in the middle of a deadly drug deal nestled in the city's blind spots. Leonard's phone calls with a police officer -- society's agent of surveillance -- are only with one member of the drug battle who is using Leonard as a pawn for alternate purposes. Leonard is oblivious to these circumstances and maintains a single focus: the revenge of his wife's brutal death. As long as he feels that his direction will fulfil this purpose, his suffering for justice propels him through the maze of material and social spaces toward the folly of his adventure; as Leonard's story appears complete in the audience's mind, it only becomes apparent that, in his fragmented world, the lust for revenge is insatiable. Indeed, when this is the only life purpose upon which Leonard can rely, he ensures he won't remember each murder by destroying the evidence and moving on to his next manhunt. As we will see in the next section, pain is inexpressible, just as the retribution it demands is ultimately unattainable.


12. William E. Connolly, 'Suffering, Justice, and the Politics of Becoming', pp. 125-153. Connolly employs the conceptions of suffering from both Caputo and Nietzsche in approaching an ethical space of responsibility among individuals. He attempts to realign an understanding of suffering as part of becoming, which conflicts with finding security in simply being. The flesh of each individual is a universalizing element, according to Caputo. In flesh every person suffers in physical and mental manners and because of the nature of flesh, people have a natural tendency to keep others' well being as a social responsibility. This, as Connolly points out, is obviously not the case in many circumstances. As a result, in turning to Nietzsche, an argument is developed that identifies a need for stability amidst suffering -- these are called 'winter doctrines'. Conceptions of winter recognize stagnancies in the frozen stability of the natural world. It becomes conceivable that one may walk on water, albeit frozen water, as it appears stable to the sufferer. On the basis of a perceived stability, the suffering individual may find comfort. Connolly explains, 'sufferers often seek relief from the riddle of suffering, and they often find solace when things appear still at the bottom. Suffering readily fosters winter doctrines' ('Suffering, Justice, and the Politics of Becoming', p. 132). As suffering individuals, we each search for some stability upon which we may rest and contemplate building something meaningful that extends beyond our suffering.


Leonard is a suffering individual and exhibits the inherent search for stability in life purpose. Understanding his own inability to ever mentally grasp the complexity of his situation, he finds solace in trusting his own handwriting. Scrawls on photos, coasters, and scraps of paper become the guiding principles in fulfilling his one purpose -- getting revenge against his wife's murderer. His handwriting and the messages each conveys are not infallible, though. The database Leonard develops appears to provide clues toward established 'facts' that may become proof against one individual responsible for the murder. The viewer sees that this is not the case. Each photo and note has more background than can be culled in a quick glance. Moreover, Leonard's own inability to comprehend his situation while still leaving clues indicating his own incorrect assumptions in searching for revenge undermine the validity of his database and his entire quest. As Natalie asks him what good revenge will be as they sit at the diner. She points out that he will never remember it anyway. The futility of Leonard's task becomes apparent. The futility of inquiry under the assumption that conclusive statements may be established is also questioned.


13. Elaine Scarry, _The Body in Pain_, p. 4. The primary point to be taken from research on pain is that a level of inexpressibility exists in experiencing pain. While, in Connolly's argument, flesh is an equalizer and suffering is a motivation in the human experience, Scarry points out that the disconnection between the certainty of pain's experience against the certainty of uncertainty of the non-pain experience creates a larger gap in communication than flesh itself can hope to bridge.


In light of Scarry's argument, recognizing Leonard's mental suffering combined with the emotional pain of his wife's death indicates a particular certainty in Leonard's thought process. Despite his inability to formulate a larger purpose to his actions, the certainty of revenge -- an expression, he believes, of his sorrow -- is the thrust behind his actions that eliminates all doubt and focuses his attention.


14. Jean Jackson, 'Chronic Pain and the Tension Between the Body as Subject and Object', pp. 203. In studying the sufferer's encounter with chronic pain, Jackson focuses on attempts of the sufferer both to objectify pain as something external or inflicted on the body and to subjectify the pain as something part of the sufferer's mind. Jackson identifies a need to separate mental from physical pain and understand it as part of the body and the sufferer's life experience: 'When we see pain as lived, as experienced in the body, we can see it as preobjective, that is, not yet incorporating a subject-object distinction. And we can understand that pain sufferers who inhabit the pain-full world try to extricate themselves from this world by attempting to create such a distinction' ('Chronic Pain and the Tension Between the Body as Subject and Object', p. 223). Understanding this distinction provides an interesting interpretation of Leonard's pain.


Throughout the film, we watch Leonard add clues to his body, tattooing each with a painful permanence -- an indication of his own certainty of pain. This is interesting in comparison to Greenaway's comments earlier referring to the artist's confrontation with the interface of their own medium of expression. Greenaway experiments with the medium of flesh where, in _The Pillow Book_, the artist finds that only the embodiment of text through imposition on material flesh is adequate for expression. In _Memento_, the embodiment of expression through text on flesh represents a certainty of emotional pain through the embodiment of physical pain.


15. Mark Poster, quoted in Cubitt, _Digital Aesthetics_, p. 20. Poster summarizes the very problem with Leonard's database of knowledge. In having diverse pieces of information available through the same interface, there is no differentiation made between values of information. As a result, if two ideas can be accessed and cross-referenced through the interface, they become related, regardless of their initial irrelevance to each other. Leonard collects 'clues' in an attempt to provide stability and direction for action in opposition to his suffering. The facts he collects receive equal consideration, though, given the credibility he holds by trusting his handwriting as the indicator of truth. Faith is in the artifact, not the rationality (or lack thereof) behind the item. When a clue is established as fact, Leonard has the information inscribed in a tattoo on his body. The pain for his loss is materialized in a tangible piece of evidence, now made into flesh. While his pain cannot be articulated, the facts leading to a solution can at least be made real in writing. The grammar of the database's information becomes the body. By virtue of the information's place on the body, Leonard realizes the pain and comes closer to realizing an end to his task. But the viewers come to understand the futility in his drive. Anger blinds him to any suggestion that he might be wrong. His own interface -- his body -- cannot be trusted for its mental clues, nor for the relations it draws between facts inscribed in his flesh. In what is an appropriate description of the situation, Cubitt explains that the 'text is substituted for the world, rendered into an object in its own right, and severed from a reality which it no longer describes but constructs' (_Digital Aesthetics_, p. 20). This happens, as shown in Leonard's blind trust, regardless of his database's validity.





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Christopher Bodnar, 'The Database, Logic, and Suffering: _Memento_ and Random-Access Information Aesthetics', _Film-Philosophy_, vol. 7 no. 10, May 2003 <>.


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