Thursday, 16 June 2011

memory, and forgetting V

"That was Macaulay," she said, "the historian. He just made it up after the event. The people gave it the other name years before they had any cause for weeping."

"Is that the Macaulay who wrote 'Horatio at the Bridge'?", I asked, trying hard to remember the poems of distant high school.

"Yes," she said. "The same one. He was one of those people who went through history picking and choosing and embellishing." She paused. "Still, I guess when you look at it now, one meaning can be true and the other can be accurate."

"Where did you say you come from?"

"Oh," I said, startled by the simplicity or complexity of the question. "From Cape Breton"

Cape Breton


"Perhaps that's why he became so interested in history," she went on. "He felt if you read everything and put the pieces all together the real truth would emerge. It would be, somehow, like carpentry. Everything would fit together just so, and you would see in the end something like a perfect building called the past. Perhaps he felt if he couldn't understand his immediate past, he would try and understand his distant past"

All of us are better when we're loved.

From No Great Mischief, by Alistair MacLeod

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

memory, and forgetting IV

But I began then to think of time as having a shape, something you could see, like a series of liquid transparencies, one laid on top of another. You don’t look back along time but down through it, like water. Sometimes this comes to the surface, sometimes that, sometimes nothing. Nothing goes away.

From Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood

Rereading Cat's Eye after twenty years revealed my own distortions of memory. And exposed perhaps memories, and a longing, too, I think, maybe for something that didn't exist... Also, I was surprised to discover the forgotten source of a number of memories of moments, that had bedded down in my mind - memories that had become "detached from any context", of, in this case, this novel. But that retained a well formed potency in my mind. They had become my stories.

But more than that...

Over the years I had recommended this book to a number of people, not for a recollection of the plot, the narrative, the writing, which had become "forgotten" - but rather on a more diffuse feeling that the book encapsulated the feeling of Canada - of a happy, if somewhat melancholy childhood. So they might understand better my memories of Canada - - - -

- - - - but I was shocked to discover on rereading that no, the book actually explored a traumatic childhood in Canada, of a little girl growing up, and an artist grown up looking back, struggling to come to terms with her past - to free herself of her past.

As the woman in the story had suppressed her childhood memories, I had suppressed the real story of this book, and its echoes of my childhood. And perhaps then the import of my own childhood... I wonder - perhaps twenty years ago, I wasn't ready to confront my own self that this book urged. But I must have recognised myself, none the less, on some level.

And so I'm left with the stories of two late forty something artists, in differing degrees fictional, coming to terms with their past.

And Canada itself - Edmonton? It at least allowed me the escape into beauty, of wheat fields, and blue skies, and snowscapes - to fill me with wonder, despite being adrift.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

Memory, and forgetting III

"I think I recall that", he says, as if not entirely willing to be reminded of his former, younger self. It disturbs me that he can remember some of these things about himself, but not others; that the thing's he's lost or displaced exist now only for me. If he's forgotten so much, what have I forgotten?

I know these things must be memories, but they do not have the quality of memories. They are not hazy around the edges, but sharp and clear. The arrive detached from any context; they are simply there, in isolation, as an object glimpsed on the street is there.

I have no image of myself in relation with them. They are suffused with anxiety, but it's not my own anxiety. The anxiety is in the things themselves.

From Cat's Eye, by Margaret Atwood.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Narrative IV

"Chronology means the child is always narrated from a third-person perspective ['Isn't Chloe a cute/ugly/intelligent/stupid kid'], before it gains the ability to influence its own narration. Overcoming childhood could be understood as an attempt to correct the false narrations of others, of our story-telling parents. But the struggle against narration continues beyond childhood. A propaganda war surrounds the decision of who we are, a number of interest groups struggling to assert their view of reality, to have their story heard. "


"We [...] proceed by abbreviation, we take the dominant feature [of a tree, of an emotional state] and label as a whole something that is only a part. Similarly, the story we tell of an event remains a segment of the totality the moment comprised; as soon as the moment is narrated, it loses its multiplicity and ambivalence in the name of abstracted meaning and authorial intent. The story embodies the poverty of the remembered event. [...] Pressed for time and eager to simplify, we are forced to narrate and remember things by ellipsis, or we would be overwhelmed both by our ambivalence and our instability. The present becomes degraded first into history, then into nostalgia."

From Essays in Love by Alain de Botton

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Memory, and forgetting II

"I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don’t notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is."

From True Stories (1986)

Saturday, 9 April 2011


I like feeling alive - I like feeling I have a purpose - - - - that I'm happy to live, and grow old - - - after a life time of looking backwards. Of constructing memories, and meanings. And then - - - seeking escape into emptiness. Becoming one with nothingness.

It's all bound up in a sense of belonging. I don't know if I've really felt this before - I've had intimations, but now. It has solidity - no longer a dream - an insipid wraithlike existence ...

But then, maybe all that inwardness was necessary before looking outwards - to find form - to connect with another... maybe it was just time.

And it needed another.

Memory, and forgetting I

"We, amnesiacs all, condemned to live in an eternally fleeting present, have created the most elaborate of human constructions, memory, to buffer ourselves against the intolerable knowledge of the irreversible passage of time and the irretrieveability of its moments and events."

Geoffrey Sonnabend - Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter.
Here is an overview by Valentine Worth