Memories of Departure: A Theory of GIFs

Abstract: How might a study of GIF files become a study of memory, narrative, and grief? Using a memory of my grandfather’s Parkinson’s disease, which I recreated as a GIF, this essay asks what happens when we understand memories as GIFs. GIFs are analyzed, differentiating them from photographs and identified as degraded looping images whose relation to truth is unstable and always dependent on their context. I argue that GIFs are gestures that show us the presence of absence—the absence of context, clarity, and stable narrative. As markers of an animated absence, GIFs are in constant departure, a repeated leaving without beginning or end. These images hold profound possibility for understanding the slow departures of terminal illness.

The full essay is available here.

My deepest thanks to my friends and professors who pushed me to reach further with this project, and to write into existence what I did not have at hand.

In loving memory of my grandfather, Bill Robbins.

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