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)