Notes on Stone Tape Theory (June, 2015):

We are conscious only by virtue of our capacity to remember. Myth and metaphor have attributed numerous shapes to this function. In Classical statuary, Mnemosyne is frequently depicted holding an urn- this is memory’s dominant symbology; it is a vessel, a thing which carries, holds, preserves.  However, neuropsychological research has gone some way to reveal the true shape of memory: it’s not a reservoir, nor a linear progression, but a loop, on continual playback, continually re-writing itself.  This perpetual oscillation of data is fundamental to human consciousness: our ability to perceive and understand the present is contingent on our ability to narrativise our past.

We can understand the most about a thing by observing its anomalies. What we know about the algorithm of memory, we mostly know from bearing witness to its glitches, its seizures and its degradations. The loop pattern of associative memory becomes all too painfully visible in the case of neurological disorder: the symptom profiles of Alzheimer’s, PTSD and Amnesic Syndrome all point towards a circuit of evolving feedback which expands, contracts, twists and reverses depending on certain conditions. This is what we understand of memory as a function of the human brain. But what are the limits of memory, actually? How far does its field of interactions extend? 

When I was a kid we had this big Reader’s Digest book called Almanac Of the Uncanny. I read that book obsessively. In it, I remember reading for the first time about Stone Tape Theory. It seemed unexciting at the time. Stone Tape Theory is a hypothesis which has been maintained by some paranormal/parapsychological researchers since the 1970’s. It proposes that a ‘ghost’ is not an immortal soul, or even a disembodied consciousness, but simply a recording, a magnetic impression made on space by psychically charged events. A haunting simply represents a continual playback. A ghost is a glitch in the memory of space.

Some spaces are more impressionable than others: ship and rail yards frequently turn up on ‘World’s Most Haunted’ lists. Stone tape theorists propose that this is due to the amount of iron used in the construction of these sites; iron, they maintain, is a particularly conductive material. Crystal quartz is another. This notion is mirrored to some extent by pre-modern European and Indigenous configurations of the power and memory of Country. Geological surveys of sacred sites in Britain, Europe, and North America have revealed large deposits of either quartz or iron ore in the mineral composition of the soil.

That these materials in their raw state are credited with the capacity of electromagnetic recording is interesting considering that they are also a crucial component of analogue time-keeping and sound recording- devices that we created to do our remembering for us, which in their functioning so closely resemble what we now understand to be the cyclical pattern of our own consciousness.  It’s also interesting that most cases of “genuine” EVP (Electronic Voice Phenomena), in which the voices of the dead are purported to have been captured on tape, have been made almost exclusively using analogue recording technologies: it has been suggested that this is owing to the nature of the Ferrite recording medium.

What exists in the space between the raw data of memory and the process of “autobiography”? we are all autobiographers- it is not just a literary form but an integral psychological process necessary to the composition of our identity.  My past is alive in the present: involuntary memory is the name that Proust gave it, the lightbulb flash of a recollection which  interrupts the present. This process is more intrusive for some than for others. I know the texture of this loop intimately as a regular disturbance to my daily functioning. Memory possesses weight- with the passing of time I feel its accumulations in my body. What happens if, rather than resist this backwards-pull, I submit to it completely? Somewhere in this unspooling of the interwoven fragments of recollection, is it possible to expand, contract or dissolve the boundaries of the self?  how fallible is this network of impressions? By rewinding and replaying myself, can I rid myself of myself? Is this the way out? can I become a ghost?

What does it means to be “haunted”? what is a haunting, if not a memory in space? And what is a memory, if not a haunting of the body?