that whatever-it-is


Chinese - China
I have the kind of brain that erases everything that passes, almost immediately, like that dustpan-and-brush dog in Disney’s Alice in Wonderland sweeping up the path as he progresses along it. ... I feel when I am very old and my brain ‘goes’ it won’t feel so very different from the life I live now, in this miasma of non-memory, which, though it infuriates my nearest and dearest, must suit me somehow, as I can’t seem, even by acts of will, to change it. I wonder if it isn’t obliquely connected to the way I write my fiction, in which, say, a doormat in an apartment I lived in years ago will reappear, just as it once was, that exact doormat, same warp and weft, and yet I can’t say when exactly I lived there, who I was dating or even if my father was alive or dead at the time. Perhaps the first kind of non-memory system – the one that can’t retain dates or significant events – allows the other kind of memory system to operate, the absence of the first making space for the second, clearing a path for that whatever-it-is which seems to dart through my mind like a shy nocturnal animal, dragging back strange items like doormats, a single wilted peony, or a beloved strawberry sticker, not seen since 1986, but still shaped like a strawberry and scented like one, too.

(From Life-writing by Zadie Smith)

the other kind of memory system = the second = that whatever-it-is?

(I cited exactly four long sentences and I didn't violate the guidelines.)
  • PaulQ

    English - England
    that whatever-it-is -> that random process, which may or may not have a name, and, if it does have a name, I don't know it.

    whatever-it-is is the noun from
    A: "What's that animal over there?"
    B: "I don't know, but whatever it is, it looks dangerous."
    Last edited:


    Senior Member
    English - England
    The first kind of memory system is the “normal” one, where people distinctly remember events, dates, etc.

    The second kind is Zadie Smith’s idiosyncratic memory system, whereby pictures and/or smells of random items pop into her head.

    (With me it’s always words!)
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