Historical wounds are recalled, distorted, and even forgotten, but living with nuclear waste means remembering on a different scale

On January 24, 1994, Michel Faudry, mayor of Chatain, in France’s Vienne Department, adjourned to his mother’s house and, later on, a hunting lodge. The French state had nominated the granite that underlay the Vienne as a candidate for the disposal of nuclear waste, and Faudry, endeavoring for consensus within his community, had paid himself, out of pocket, to hold a referendum. It seems the department’s prefect had told Faudry he could not fund it publicly and that Faudry had been, for his efforts, bombarded by eggs, tomatoes, and anonymous phone calls. Now, on a riverbank, he breathed. In one telling, he wrote two letters, one to his sister, one prescribing the care of his donkeys and canaries to a friend. It is said he requested that the town he loved reconcile and proposed it reunite at a party in his honor the following day. News reports about Faudry’s day that January 24 are not consistent with regard to the details. Faudry lifted a pistol and, sitting, or lying on a table, a cushion below his neck, fired one shot through his heart.

Andra, the public utility that handles France’s nuclear waste, did not build in the Vienne, but, in 1999, obtained authorization to sink a laboratory below Bure, a village of roughly 90 inhabitants in the Meuse Department, in the Lorraine, a region of fluctuating fortunes bordering Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany.  Pending experimentation and approval, it will bury 85,000 cubic meters of waste here, 500 meters below what’s now a forest, and, in 2150, seal the repository.

Burial is a technology of forgetting. It’s a cover up

I visited Bure in January after reading news of a contest Andra held, calling on artists to design warning signage. The waste may remain dangerous for 100,000 years, according to the company’s projection. Whoever lives here, if anyone, must be discouraged from digging it up. Lower-activity waste at another dump in the Manche, in northwestern France, presents just 300 years of toxicity, but a few of the artists, in on-camera interviews for Andra, explained that the longevity of the danger to be contained at Bure had inspired them. The markers they devised did not rely on any contemporary language or culturally specific symbol.

Legally, Andra, which also maintains paper archives, must steward knowledge of the Bure site for a minimum of 500 years. While it held its contest twice, in 2015 and 2016, it did not promise to build any marker. Winners received 3,000 or 6,000 euros. Out of the 2015 contest came a plan to modify the forest’s trees so they’d grow blue. Other entries dealt with memory as a communal enterprise. In 2016, second place went to a baton made out of the site’s native clay, accompanied by a plan for its relay across generations. In 2015, third place was conferred on a nursery rhyme to be passed down by schoolchildren. The lyrics are banal — open your ears really wide / listen to my advice — but I was struck by their characterization of the waste, which ascribes a fretful sentience to it.

Shut in, worrying
A light, palpating
All the way down there, deep
That’s where it lives

I stayed for nine days in total, and, after I returned from Bure, I could describe the place where I’d been, a dwelling for waste, only by the landscape’s near-photographic contrast. Andra’s laboratory presented itself as yellow light filling a shallow valley. It was as bright as goldenrod. Around it, fields opened, stippled with a dull gray snow, and continued on to meet every horizon, broken occasionally by the pylons of long-distance power lines. Above one horizon I saw sparkling white lights, and only afterward, the white forms of wind turbines appeared against a bone-white sky.

Although France relies exceptionally heavily on nuclear energy, which accounts for 75 percent of the country’s electricity, the United States contains more plants and similarly has sought to memorialize their by-product. In 1981, consulting on a study submitted by the Bechtel Group to the Department of Energy, Thomas Sebeok, a Budapest-born semiotician known for arguing that apes would never understand language, suggested an “atomic priesthood” who would safeguard knowledge of the waste over millennia while scaring people away. Specifically, he recommended they spread a threat of “supernatural retribution.” Among the information that is searchable online, I find little to indicate the government’s reaction to this proposal. In 1994, Susan Garfield, a psychotherapist, wrote that the report “demonstrates that the very premise of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ deep geological burial of radioactive materials leads inevitably to procedures in the social, political and spiritual life of the people that are not any less destructive because they are absurd.” New Mexico’s Waste Isolation Pilot Plant (WIPP), built to last 10,000 years, began accepting the transuranic waste that weapons leave in 1999.

A team that the government convened in 1991, tapping experts in “history, future studies, economics, law, physics, sociology, geography, engineering, political science, risk analysis, agriculture, climatology, history, and demographics,” as well as the illustrator responsible for Carl Sagan’s cover art, duly condemned secrecy and fear as tactics. Still, as I read this team’s report, I noticed a glow of disingenuousness. Burial is a technology of forgetting. It’s a cover up.

These experts suggested fields of spikes or massive thorns, all askew, or else an expanse of black rock that would get hot, or a plain of rubble, or a charmless maze of cramping, too-small passageways, all made of lasting but cheap materials like granite to preclude looting. “Note our use of irregular geometries and the denial of craftsmanship,” they write. “At the same time, we make an enormous investment of labor in these rude materials. It speaks of a massive investment, but not one tinged with pride or honored with value-through-worksmanship.”

Our descendants would inherit markers that were ugly but forbiddingly expensive. While these markers would resemble ruins at the time of their building, their scale would not confer sublimity. Ruins lost their grandeur during the First World War, writes Geoff Dyer in The Missing of the Somme; once technology could produce rubble instantly, ruins lost their mystery. Time failed to dignify them.

The Meuse, where Bure is located, is little visited, even by the French, but it does draw tourists curious about the First World War. Parts of the department were furrowed with trenches. After the war, the French government isolated a “red zone” that included part of the department. Unexploded shells turned up, and still do; in 2014, according to National Geographic, some of the workers collecting them guessed they’d take 300 years to remove. Six towns near Verdun that the enemy shelled to destruction were decorated, like human veterans, with the Cross of War. Honored and quarantined, the land was treated as if it had served actively.

Wars vary, as do enemies. With apparent gusto, the American experts write, “Some of the archetypal feelings and meanings we will explore in design of the markers for the WIPP site are those of: dangers to the body; darkness; fear of the beast; pattern breaking chaos and loss-of-control; dark forces emanating from within; the void or abyss; rejection of inhabitation; parched, poisoned and plagued land … and others.”

By contrast, Andra’s awardees propose designs that are pretty: equilateral triangles of a gleaming silica; scarlet geopolymer set like jewels in metal loops; or trees growing atop rectangular columns that will sink into the ground over 300 years. What’s their function? Memorials “honor the dead,” Arthur C. Danto wrote in 1985, referring to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. “With monuments, we honor ourselves.” If these markers are monuments, celebrating future humans as victors, the war won by humanity against nuclear waste will have been one of attrition, valuing outlasting, like a staring contest 100,000 years long.

Last month, the Global Seed Vault, a monolithic refrigerator on the Norwegian island of Spitsbergen that stockpiles seeds in case of cataclysm, sprung a leak. Temperatures had risen beyond any expectation, and snowmelt flooded the facility’s entrance. “This is supposed to last for eternity,” Åsmund Asdal at the Nordic Genetic Resource Centre, which operates the vault, told the Guardian of the building, which opened in 2008.

Rising sea levels also threaten a concrete dome on Runit Island, in the Marshalls, which, though only 18 inches thick (and thinner in spots), covers the detritus of U.S. bomb tests. Workers bagged plutonium-239, which has a half-life of 24,000 years, in plastic, and cached it there. A 2013 report for the Department of Energy found that the dome had cracked. Typhoons likely will increase its seepage.

In February 2014, a drum containing plutonium and americium exploded within the WIPP, temporarily closing the site. (It has since reopened.) The waste had been packaged in cat litter. Proponents of nuclear power stress that inorganic litter would have been perfectly appropriate, but this drum had been packaged in sWheat Scoop, a wheat-based litter.

“Every war is ironic,” Paul Fussell writes in The Great War and Modern Memory, an analysis of British literature after the First World War, “because every war is worse than expected.” One man’s death, by assassination, exacted more than 38 million. Like obsessive hand washing, disposal technologies confuse scientific means with a moral end, with purification.

In Bure, I stayed six days and, later, three more days with anti-nuclear demonstrators. Their anger was grounded in asymmetry: For 50 years’ worth of energy, they said, their country had produced 100,000 years’ worth of toxicity. They lived deliberately in a fixed-up farmhouse, the Maison de la Résistance, which anti-nuclear activists had owned for 13 years. Twice daily they ate meals that were communal, vegan, and gluten- and salt-free. In a back room were a few old computers, fitted out with Tor and passwords, and built into the rafters were a free shop and a dormitory containing a couple dozen mattresses, closely laid out, and a space heater. In a bathroom, a sign explained how to make soap without chemicals; other notices mandated withholding information that might identify demonstrators, especially a few who slept in the forest where the repository would be dug. In the kitchen, a sign had read, “Choral workshop Wednesday December 14,” but the “14” had been crossed out in another ink, replaced by “21,” which was also crossed out. The sign now read, “Choral workshop every Wednesday for the rest of your life.”

While I stayed at the Maison de la Résistance, I faced a problem of scale. I had planned to imagine the Andra contest’s markers superimposed over the land, but I could not think 100,000 years ahead. And because the demonstrators were dealing with threats that were urgent, any attempt would have been callous. Those who slept in the forest, which belonged to Andra, were anticipating a court date in a case for their eviction. A few slept in trees so that they’d oblige gendarmes to return with cherry pickers. Just before the forest gate, they’d laid slaloms of tires and wood barricades, and within, they’d built a tower of scrap wood, which they called the “South Vigil.” Tarps flapped from it, sounding like shouting. A demonstrator who’d slept there since August and wore a balaclava told me the canopy would prevent gendarmes from launching grenades. A refrigerator was used to insulate food. The olive oil the demonstrators used had frozen. After lunch one day, they called for Plato, a huskie. It was stalking a deer and had killed deer already, a demonstrator who went by Sylvestre told me.

Sylvestre also spoke to me of the protests that had impeded Andra elsewhere. “They are not studying the rock,” he said, referring to the laboratory. One night he and I pulled up before the lab and, as we sat, our engine idling, we saw another car also idling, and left. “They are studying our capacity to resist.”

On my return to Bure, cardboard boxes had been piled in a meeting room. They contained gauze and bandages. I toured the Andra laboratory, 490 meters deep, wearing a safety belt I’d been issued, and felt my back arch to accommodate the weight. A worker guiding a tunneling machine’s spiraling snout wore dog tags. At both ends of an elevator chute were figurines of Saint Barbara, the patron saint of those who work with explosives. On January 26, 2016, a tunnel wall had buckled during drilling. A worker had died. Among the demonstrators’ court dates and mobilizations, the anniversary had snuck up on them, and, at the house, they disagreed about how to act, whether any action would offend the worker’s family, whether the issue was as simple as picking the right one.

In contemporary American English, epigrams like “Never forget” and “Never again” imply that remembering enacts something automatically. There is, from Nietzsche, a competing idea that too much collective memory inhibits action, working like a neurotic’s insomnia. Forgetting makes humans happy, Nietzsche argued, so each pretends to greater forgetting than they actually enjoy, inspiring jealousy in others. This mechanism, by which forgetting escalates, reminds me of an arms race.

The villagers of Bure, who were older than the demonstrators, spoke to me of the Second World War, not the First. So I was surprised to hear from Sylvestre that the oldest ones discussed how the sky had lit up “like fireworks” over Verdun, 100 years ago. Afterward, the land, flecked with barbed wire and ordnance, resisted tilling. The war, occurring before anyone’s recollection, had taken its effect on the terrain anyway, persisting there as a kind of unremembered memory.

If these markers of radioactive materials are monuments, celebrating future humans as victors, the war won by humanity will have been one of attrition, like a staring contest 100,000 years long

Approximately 50 Meusian associations concern themselves with the First World War, and in the first round of this year’s presidential election in France, a plurality of the department voted for Marine Le Pen, who favors removing France’s colonial history, as well as the Nazi collaboration, from primary-school curricula. I assimilated these two facts about the Meuse, the proliferation of memory associations and the popularity of revisionist history.

The demonstrators explained that the fight against Andra had worn out the villagers, and I did not find it easy to ask, following up, whether any villager had declined to fight at all. Even villagers friendly with the demonstrators sustained conversations on their homes’ thresholds, however warmly, without inviting the demonstrators inside. One demonstrator told me of a certain Marcel, whose face could be seen in the earliest photographs of the resistance, and whom he did not recommend I interview, for he had an aptitude for putting shit in everything, foutre de la merde partout. To know Marcel was to open oneself to his machinations.

According to the Meusian story preferred by Sylvestre, a crisis in the price of milk had forced its farmers from cattle to grain, which led to the razing of hedges that set off field and pasture, sheltered fauna, and tempered winds. The plains’ barrenness was a sign of war and not peace, as their denizens relied on pesticides to fill quotas. “It is no longer a territory producing things,” Sylvestre said, “but a flux of energy.”

In the demonstrators’ mini-library was a copy of Pig Earth, John Berger’s 1979 novel about the French peasantry. In it, Berger argues that while peasants viewed time cyclically, governed by the rhythm of crops as they fulfilled their feudal duties, they were disappearing by the time of his writing, moving to cities or otherwise becoming consumers, beholden to a linear chronology. You cannot observe the absence of anything, but I became convinced that I observed the absence of peasantry in Bure. What I noticed was the presence of forgetting.

Mornings I walked the village, hearing bells of a small church. The masonry was patchy, but the graves, of glossy multicolored granite, were lavish. Snorts emanated from a barn hung with a sign, “Beware of Dog,” and one lot was stacked with hay. At the same time I saw that wood-shuttered houses typical of rural France had been improved according to someone’s notion of Florence, or a foggy memory of the gentry. In 2015, Andra and two other nuclear utilities contributed 30 million euros to the Meuse Department and another 30 million to the adjacent Haute-Marne, which the demonstrators likened to hush money. These numbers occurred to me as I noticed the architectural oddities. One house boasted a modern porch walled in glass, like a greenhouse, and a wrought-iron balcony. Stuck to another was a square tower like a castle’s, topped with a weathervane, and as I watched the house shouts rose within it. On the porch, two small, golden purebred dogs were waiting.

A woman in a neighboring village asked not to be named. Her husband had died, and she gave Sylvestre a cap that had been his. She heaved a log into the stove and, letting water heat in a pot, gossiped of local problems she called new: Lyme disease, drugs. She specified the time of year at which pigs were traditionally killed. From an armoire she drew a folder of clippings and, tugging out an article about the worker’s death, pointed, prompting me. “42,” I read.

“A baby!” She gathered up Nespresso packets from me, Sylvestre, and another demonstrator, and tossed them into the stove. She was born in 1941, she offered for my tape. In 1945, a bombardment killed her grandparents. I asked about the village. “Bah, it’s changed because people weren’t jealous of each other,” she said. “Like they are today.” Sylvestre ascribed this competitiveness to the shift from livestock to grain, which took up land. The other demonstrator suggested gently that after the war, the villagers experienced a special solidarity only to see it dissipate as life found its level. The woman spoke equivocally. “We don’t see all that,” she began. “Us old people, we don’t really see all that en rose, but, oh well. As for the young people I don’t too much know what they think.”

At the Maison de la Résistance, sleepy from the day’s cold, I met a woman who’d lived there in 2012 and 2013, Marie. An actor by training who’d grown up in southwestern France, she had bought a house nearby. Her intention had been to legitimate her activism. She discovered the villagers would not speak to her about Andra, but they liked her. So few Meusian young people stayed.

By way of getting by she taught theater, and she found the schoolchildren sweet, if blasé. Their curricula lacked for objectivity, she found; history classes underemphasized the collaboration with Nazi Germany, and science classes involved field trips to the Andra facility. She had thought of warning her students about nuclear technology, but finally she had not wanted to come off as propagandizing. She smiled calmly. From Bure, she mentioned, we couldn’t see the halo of the laboratory. The village sat lower in the landscape. “It’s funny,” she said. “I have trouble remembering my first years here and what shocked me.”

I rarely saw anyone else walking, but one morning I met a man in galoshes who surprised me by cheerfully agreeing to speak with me, identifying himself as Marcel. In fact, I had been hoping to meet the Marcel against whom a demonstrator had warned me. This man invited me over, spoke of Andra’s money, said he couldn’t hear me for the wind, and, opening the door, yelled, “Shut up!” A dog started barking angrily.

We sat on the glass-walled porch, which concentrated the sun’s rays. Americans like me came in 1944, Marcel said. Their convoys rolled by him. His wife came into the room. “You are telling your life so that it can be published everywhere?” she asked.

“Precisely,” Marcel said. “No.”

I explained my project, and she brightened. “It’s not a good time to go walking in the streets, now is it?”

I was startled.

“Because of the cold,” she said.

I asked Marcel whether it bothered him that outsiders had descended on the village and made its issues theirs. The dog became excitable, he said. The cat recently had clawed his wife dramatically. As for Marcel, he said, he did not do politics. He preferred the comfort of his house but had chopped the forest’s trees, participating in the affouage, a practice governed by 19th-century forestry code, when the forest was a commons. He asked me to notice how well we were and, within the glass, how warm. “To have a house one must house oneself,” he said. He told me to find wood that was dead but upright.

We have a future, or not. In 100,000 years, humankind may have been extinguished by an environmental catastrophe. Until then, we have a past.

In 1945 Charles de Gaulle laid out the French nuclear plan in terms of national glory although privately, he referred to it as “the work of the apocalypse.” In the 1940s and 1950s, American bomb tests displaced Marshall Islands residents, who, upon returning, fell sick. “Let’s face it, the people of Bikini were screwed by history, but it wasn’t deliberate,” an Energy Department official is quoted as saying in John Wargo’s Green Intelligence. The book chronicles an America menaced by fallout from covert nuclear tests; in 1953, Buffalo, New York, was called a “radioactive sewer” for the pollution of its lake-effect snow, Wargo notes.

I understood that I too participated in a collective project of forgetting, and that fear, enshrouding me, canceled out to numbness, which felt like safety

Sylvestre told me a story of a rural territory, its population poor and aging, that was zoned as a dump, which was one story of the Meuse. Here’s another: In a forest by Verdun, a bare area was known to locals who picnicked there as “the place of gas.” In 2007, the soil was revealed to contain copper, lead, zinc, and arsenic and ammonium perchlorate, which had been used to detonate shells. It was so acidic that only three plant species grew. In 2012, national authorities blocked off the clearing.

I had been reading Le Monde and clicked it shut, ashamed. I felt bloodthirsty, frankly. Seeing there was always more to read, I began to experience remembering as a war of attrition. Explicit memory, the stockpiling of facts, hardly explained what I had observed in Bure.

In their report about markers, the American experts entitle a curiously confessional section “Personal thoughts”:

Working on this panel, always fascinating and usually enlightening too, has led to the following personal thoughts: (a) We have all become very marker-prone, but shouldn’t we nevertheless admit that, in the end, despite all we try to do, the most effective “marker” for any intruders will be a relatively limited amount of sickness or death caused by the radioactive waste? …. An analysis of the likely number of deaths over 10,000 years due to inadvertent intrusion should be conducted. This cost should be weighted against that of the marker system.

What was memory after all, if not a series of personal thoughts? While there was a gruesomeness to the sacrifice of future humans, the American experts’ aside read as a relief. It struck me as refreshingly truthful about memory, which is instructive only occasionally. Rarely is it preventative. It usually isn’t a thing we outwit. As the American experts suggest, in dying we remember best. In Voices From Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich, one Chernobyl local self-compares to an airplane’s black box: “We think that we’re living, talking, walking, eating. Loving one another. But we’re just recording information!”

As a foreigner, I require proxies for childhood memory, and I was relieved to find a Meusian story when I returned to Paris. In a neighborhood where I used to live, at a bookstore I frequented, I bought Brouillards Toxiques, by Alexis Zimmer, which tells of a fog that settled on a Belgian section of the Meuse valley in December 1930, occasioning 60 deaths over two days. Farmers coughed black and yellow, and what they brought up tasted sweet. Carbon particles as wide as 1.35 micrometers were discovered in victims’ alveoli, notes a 2001 Lancet article. A few died without having left their houses, indicating that the danger traversed walls. “No graphs were drawn or statistical tests done,” notes the Lancet. “The increase in morbidity and the sudden ten-fold rise in mortality made detailed statistical analysis unnecessary.”

Human bodies are indispensably informative. Who first? Nuclear waste, Timothy Morton writes in Hyperobjects, incentivizes current generations to betray future ones. As one Bure demonstrator told me, “We don’t even send it to another continent. We send it into the future.” Whenever time travel comes up, say, during slumber parties, the direction on the agenda is backward. Would you undo your mistake, stop the Holocaust, sleep with your grandfather? Comparatively, the task of future travel is undesirable, as the American experts eventually realized: “If the WIPP is ever operational, the site may pose a greater hazard than is officially acknowledged.” Therefore markers must be “truly gargantuan.” Morton, who praises a plan to encase such waste in gold and monitor it, not bury it, submits that “lameness” and “weakness” are two of only a few aesthetic attitudes available to humans in the Anthropocene, the geological age that began in 1945, many experts say, with the detonation of the first atomic bomb.

To specify the date of waste burial, the American experts recommended mapping precession, a lazy circle the Earth’s axis traces every 26,000 years. “Any culture (even low-tech) that watches the stars will know where the pole for their own epoch lies,” they write. Humans, they reason, have always loved the sky. Fussell locates a crescendo during the First World War. Trench warfare nourished a craze for sunsets. It became fashionable to comment on the sky. “As the only visible theater of variety, the sky becomes all-important.” He describes the “walls of dirt and ceiling of sky” that ran for 25,000 miles through Belgium and France. By day, soldiers glimpsed over the top by periscope. These trenches flooded, attracted rats, and smelled of corpses of humans and horses, which could not be thrown away. For soldiers in such a position, the sky became the only cipher for figuring infinity.

No other sky rivaled the views above the Meuse, a Bure demonstrator instructed me, as we observed a violet sunset. Subsequently, a Meusian fog followed me to Paris. Catastrophe came up. “We have all the time in the world for it to happen,” Sylvestre had said, “as the waste will remain dangerous for 100,000 years where it’s been stashed.” I did my research via a laptop on my thighs, occasionally nudging it away from my ovaries. I cooked dinners with a friend whose mother died after I moved away. It was funny, he said, he knew many people who’d died in their 60s. Lightly, he ascribed this to chemically processed food. He added that the Chernobyl cloud had passed over France within the year of his own birth. “So maybe I will die young, too,” he said slyly, as if daring me to laugh at him.

Another day, I visited a Ukrainian friend in the 16th Arrondissement. As she peeled potatoes and I unwrapped some cheeses I had brought, she told me of her godfather, who was a soldier and sent to Chernobyl. She mentioned that the disaster had happened two years before her birth. He died, she said, not right away but a few years afterward. He had not been sick. He was healthy, and died. He was young, she said, early 30s, not much older than she. As I learned these stories about my friends, I understood that I too participated in a collective project of forgetting, and that fear, enshrouding me, canceled out to numbness, which felt like safety.

I picked up Brouillards Toxiques. Popular hypotheses to explain the Meusian poison fog abounded: A toxin in the soil had taken wing. A volcano had erupted, somewhere. An English scientist proclaimed a new Black Death, while a French scientist developed a theory of “hydro-diffusion,” a slow asphyxiation by wet air. Perhaps there had been an explosion at some storage for leftover war gas, or the area’s factories — steelworks, zinc smelters, and manufacturers of fertilizer, explosives, and glass — had seized on the weather to emit unusually copiously and noxiously. A doctor for the Minister of the Interior’s Hygiene Service pronounced the deaths “purely and simply natural,” due to the cold, wet air. Another doctor at a local factory producing steel tubes suggested all the casualties had been asthmatics. An investigation ensued in which toxicology reports came back clean, and further experts concluded the pollution had not been, in itself, dangerous. Meteorological conditions, they said, turned it deadly.

I caught a train at a station I used to pass through regularly, noticing a familiar smell of sweat and the seats’ upholstery. In Châtenay-Malabry, at Andra’s headquarters, I interviewed Patrick Charton, an engineer by training who heads the company’s Memory Program, which is tasked with preserving knowledge about the radioactive waste. He told me of a photographer that the company brought on for a residency, who proposed the site be ornamented with nudes “because he really loved naked women.” Noticing that Charton enjoyed this subject and would go on, I scanned the office for a telling personal object, ideally one to do with art or memory, and fixated on a mini Jeff Koons balloon dog, in silver.

Charlton handed me a disc of industrially synthesized sapphire. The material lasts a million years, and discs such as this, according to an Andra press kit, can contain up to 40,000 pages’ information. I lifted the disc, which was very light, and turned it. A fluorescent glow caught in shrunken text, which I could not read.

When Charton had left off speaking of the photographer, I said, “He wanted to use nudity to convey safety, although most of the artworks in the competitions, they are there in fact to signal danger.”

“In fact, the problem of the memory of the repository resides in this dilemma you have just laid out,” he said. “Are we to speak about safety or speak about danger, knowing that the two are linked?”

Jacqueline Feldman, a writer living in New York, has also worked in artificial intelligence. Her essays appear in the White Review, the Los Angeles Review of Books, and other magazines.