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More than anything, he wants to see something familiar, something that connects him, however tenuously, to the world he must have known before he lost his memory, his identity, himself. p46

Shortly after awakes to consciousness and wanders through the Old Quarter, he meets Sola in the tavern. As they get to know each other, S confesses that he is grappling with his identity. He says, “Something happened to my memory,” and braces himself for her reaction. (p21-22)

Sola does not respond immediately. Instead, she reaches for her drink. S watches her lift the glass to her lips and senses a memory that he can’t place. Only later, as a waterspout descends and breaks the ship apart, does S make a connection. The appearance of the drink in the tall glass matches that of the waterspout. Then the ship is torn apart, but as we all know it reappears and S struggles to understand this.

As do we.

This juxtaposition of word and image – of S‘s confession and the drink/waterspout that destroys the ship but doesn’t really – is deliberate. It is a clue.

The continuity of the ship’s existence after it is destroyed by the waterspout is paralleled with the continuity of S‘s identity after his memory loss.

After noticing this, I googled the following: “self identity memory.” And what do I see – link after link with the name John Locke.

John Locke, who J.J. Abrams used as a major character name in LOST, proposed the continuity of consciousness

In this general account of identity Locke distinguishes between the identity of atoms, masses of atoms and living things. Each individual atom is the same at a time, and stays the same over time. So, there is no problem about the identity of atoms. Masses of atoms are individuated by their constituent atoms without regard to the way in which they are organized. Living things, by contrast, are individuated by their functional organization. This organization is instantiated at any time by a collection of atoms. But the organization can persist through changes in the particles which make it up — at least gradual change which continues the functions which the organization performs. Clearly the most important of these functions is the continuation of the same life.

In other words, the Ship of Theseus paradox is presented in parallel with John Locke’s continuity of consciousness – the person is the same even though all of the atoms that make him up may be replaced over time. The ship’s continuity is a metaphor for S‘s own continuity of identity.

J.J. Abrams has a long obsession with John Locke and this struggle with how identity and memory work together.  His 1991 screenplay for Regarding Henry, starring Harrison Ford, is a study in what happens to a man’s identity after a bullet damages his brain and gives him amnesia. This movie often arises as a specific example of grappling with John Locke’s theory in storytelling.

Throughout S., there is more intentional juxtaposition of memory and important things/events in S.

  • As S and Corbeau leap from the mouth of the cave of the K-, the gunshots bring back a memory of corks flying on a New Year’s Eve. He has “a sense of himself as – well, as someone.” Corbeau dies. Immediately following his survival, he experiences his first encounter with the resurrected ship. p197-200
  • Stenfalk suddenly has a memory that pleases him about The Archer’s Tales (p149-150). As he struggles to remember the title of the book, he takes a drink of liqueur and swirls it around in his mouth. It is then that the answer comes to him. Two swirling drinks.  S recalls his meeting with Sola in the tavern and the author of the book as Sobreiro, which Corbeau, Pfeifer, Ostrero, and Stenfalk all find very strange. And than night S dreams of Sola’s drink and the waterspout.
  • In Chapter 9, Birds of Negative SpaceS creates a handprint of negative space on a window and then realizes that “before long, all that will remain is S.’s own memory of where the boundary used to be.” p376
  • On p46, as S. struggles with attempting to connect his “memory, his identity, himself” – he notices the constellation Gemini. The constellation Gemini is associated with the twins Castor and Pollux of Greek Mythology. John Locke did a Castor and Pollux thought experiment (see part 12) in his attempts to explain identity.
  • On p369, S. grapples with whether or not his memory is accurate concerning the baby in he canoe. Was the baby’s identity real?

John Locke’s theory of memory, identity, and the self is obviously important. What else do you see in S. that focuses on this?

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