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Thirteen Ways of Looking at Disappearance

The ways of disappearing are as myriad and complex as they are mysterious and unpredictable. To disappear does not mean to escape, and it is not the same thing as to be missing, absent, or invisible. To disappear does not mean to not be here; it means something more akin to finding a way to matter while not appearing to [or as] matter. To disappear is to raise recursive questions: if something is gone, is it in a better place? Will it reappear? Should we try to find it? Does it still exist? Was it ever here? These questions are as true of a magic trick designed to make the Statue of Liberty disappear as they are of a lost sailor, an altered sign, a former country, or a dry lake—to name but a few of the subjects touched on by the writers whose contributions follow.

The Cancellation of Russia

People throughout the world are demonstrating solidarity with Ukraine by erasing the words “Russia” and “Russian,” a first step in the attempt to erase Russia itself. In Brighton Beach—Brooklyn’s “Little Odessa” populated mainly by Russian-speaking Jews who fled from Ukraine and other former Soviet republics—the community grocery store “Taste of Russia” has changed its name. Bobby and Elena Rakhman, the store’s owners, wanted to demonstrate support for Ukraine.

The Disappeared Country

On many occasions when I have to fill in a form, I am asked for the date and country of my birth. For the country, I am offered some two hundred options, from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, including many I would have a hard time finding on a map. But my country of birth doesn’t appear on any of these lists. The country where I was born and where I spent the majority of my life has disappeared, it is conspicuously missing. Its name is still vividly present in the collective memory, but I guess not for long.

Write As If You’re Dead

This is a bad time to talk about “disappearance.” There are too many kinds. The abrupt disappearance of a father, mother, or child, killed for no good reason by a stranger is painful beyond language. Also beyond language, but less vividly remembered, is the disappearance of your family, kin, and tribe.

Beauty is Difficult

The story about how I became deaf is a story I tell often, because people always want to know what happened. It started when I was a year old, when I lost my hearing in one ear from a fever. Then when I was ten years old, in 1967, I was playing “King of the Hill” with some friends. I fell maybe fifteen feet, rolling over the ground, and when I reached the bottom of the hill things seemed strange: the commotion around me was silent. As I staggered around, the faces of my friends were anxious, and their mouths moved, but nothing came out.

Bas Jan Ader: Missing at Sea, Missing at Home

I began mourning my husband from the time he first started talking about the charts he was using to map out his sail. I knew that he was going on a single-handed sail to somewhere. It hurt that I couldn’t go with him, that he wouldn’t be in our bed for some time, that he would be out of my life for some time. I would be without the complications of us, but there was no joy in that. This is when I was still sure he would come back to LA and that we would pick up our lives together in a matter of months.

Now You See It. Now You Don’t.

Disappearance in the context of conjuring includes close-up magic, parlor magic, and stage magic. Close-up magicians, at a bar or table for example, are always vanishing coins, cards, cigarettes or handkerchiefs; in the bigger venue of the parlor (for example a magician performing in the family room at a child’s birthday party) they might be vanishing a glass of milk or a dove or rabbit; and, on a stage, they are famously able to vanish their traditionally female assistant, but now and then they vanish something even larger, like an elephant or the Statue of Liberty.

The Lake That Disappeared

I write from what was just offshore, a few feet below the waters of Lake Bonneville—the remnant of the Western Interior Seaway, on a clastic wedge that eroded eastward as the crust thickened and thrust-faults, following subduction, threw up summits in the continental West which led to what would be the Rocky Mountain spur that rose above the Bonneville waters and still shadows the site, mornings, where I now reside.

Missing in Havana

Havana’s Cabaret Las Vegas is one of the most eccentric nightclubs in the world: a dingy, state-owned bar that, about a decade ago, was officially designated Cuba’s first gay nightclub (to my knowledge, it is the only gay bar in the world that was opened by military decree). Inside, government employees donning socialist uniforms tend, apathetically, to an audience that includes: done-up drag-queens in gold lamé dresses, chubby Miami Cubans wearing heavy gold chains, male hustlers just arrived from the countryside, middle-class queens roughing it for the night, aging Italians in search of a Latin Tadzio, and even the odd American tourist who appears to have walked into the wrong cabaret.

Which Europe Will Disappear?

On March 15, 2022, four European leaders made a long, hazardous journey by rail from Poland to Kyiv in a show of support as the city came under further Russian attack: the prime ministers of Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic, and Hungary met President Zelensky on that Tuesday evening as a curfew began in Kyiv. Afterwards, Poland’s PM Mateusz Morawiecki tweeted that Ukraine was reminding Europe what courage was: it was time for “sluggish and decayed” Europe to reawaken and “break through her wall of indifference and give Ukraine hope.

What the Spectators See

Disappearances in magic shows partake in what philosopher Jason Leddington has termed an aesthetics of the impossible. “The distinctive aim of theatrical magic,” he writes, “is to produce an experience as of an impossible event.” 1 For magicians, learning to craft the spectacle of disappearance is a basic tenet of the art. “The fundamental principles of a sleight of hand trick,” wrote Ellis Stanyon in 1912, “practically any trick or stage illusion for that matter, are Three Only in number, viz., Production, Disappearance and Change.”

Losing My Identity

Today, there is a lot of talk about identity. Identity is supposed to be something that connects us to the past—that we carry inside us through the present towards the future. When we speak about our identity, we mean not only our own personal past but also our ancestry, the culture in which we were raised, the people to which we belong. Can we abandon our identity? It seems that such an operation is impossible. Even if we have migrated into a different country and culture then it is still possible to trace our route back to its origin and thus reconstruct our identity.


Footsteps with a hiss attached, dis dis dis, dragging a mutant shadow from which the object has gone.

Once mountain, now pit, pile, pipe:

About ten million years ago fluvial deposition from the Rocky Mountains established what is now known as the Ogallala Aquifer. Historically found from fifty to three hundred feet below surface, this loosely confined collection of fossil water extends from northwest Texas to South Dakota. Changes in continental geomorphology severed the originating hydrologic linkages. Large scale irrigation beginning in the 1940s caused water levels to drop by more than one hundred feet. The disappearing resource has minimal recharge from surface rainwater and snowmelt.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUNE 2022

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