"Terror, disaster, memory, selfhood, happiness . . . leave it to a poet to tackle the unthinkable so wisely and so wittily."* A literary guide to life in the pre-apocalypse, The Unreality of Memory collects profound and prophetic essays on the Internet age’s media-saturated disaster coverage and our addiction to viewing and discussing the world’s ills.

We stare at our phones. We keep multiple tabs open. Our chats and conversations are full of the phrase “Did you see?” The feeling that we’re living in the worst of times seems to be intensifying, alongside a desire to know precisely how bad things have gotten—and each new catastrophe distracts us from the last.

The Unreality of Memory collects provocative, searching essays on disaster culture, climate anxiety, and our mounting collective sense of doom. In this new collection, acclaimed poet and essayist Elisa Gabbert explores our obsessions with disasters past and future, from the sinking of the Titanic to Chernobyl, from witch hunts to the plague. These deeply researched, prophetic meditations question how the world will end—if indeed it will—and why we can’t stop fantasizing about it.

Can we avoid repeating history? Can we understand our moment from inside the moment? With The Unreality of Memory, Gabbert offers a hauntingly perceptive analysis of our new ways of being and a means of reconciling ourselves to this unreal new world.


"Gabbert draws masterly portraits of the precise, uncanny affects that govern our psychological relationship to calamity — from survivor’s guilt to survivor’s elation, to the awe and disbelief evoked by spectacles of destruction, to the way we manage anxiety over impending dangers. Even more impressive is her skill at bending crisp, clear language into shapes that illustrate the shifting logic of the disastrous, keeping the reader oriented amid continual upheaval." -- Alexandra Kleeman, The New York Times Book Review


"The novelist Walker Percy once asked, 'Why do people driving around on beautiful Sunday afternoons like to see bloody automobile wrecks?' With this simple question, Percy reveals the depth of human malaise. We seek the bloody in the beautiful and savor the gratifying and self-satisfied thrill of knowing we ourselves have momentarily escaped the suffering of the accident. In her absolutely stunning collection of essays, The Unreality of Memory, which is part medical and psychological sleuthing and part memoir, Elisa Gabbert takes up Percy’s question and places it in our current cultural context." -- Henry L. Carrigan Jr., BookPage

The Unreality of Memory and Other Essays by Elisa Gabbert

Out of Stock
  • FSG Originals 2020

    New paperback

    272 pages