Of Stench and Living with Memory
Courtesy of the good Dr. Lohren Green, poet-sophist-atmospherist, I have been reading the exquisite, hilarious, and, if you'll excuse the misplaced pun, illuminating, "In Praise of Shadows" by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki. Tanizaki considers the Western taste for the sheen against the Oriental predilection for the worn, or what he calls the "glow of grime"—the way touch wears something and bends its relationship to light and, alas, to time.
For instance, in the West, we use shiny tableware, glimmering forks and knives; not so in the East where the muted tin and wood prevail. Tanizaki spends considerable time discussing bathrooms and the horror of the Western camode with its white tiles that amplify the filth of the space.
Reading this, I found myself continuing his line of thought. The Western obsession with the glean speaks to a perpetual eradication of history, of memory. We shine our antiques and in so doing erase the very thing that gives them their charm: the mark of use, the patina of time. In ceaselessly polishing, we erase our past, not just the doings of our so-called forefathers but the doings of ourselves.
I, for one, enjoy a certain whiff of myself—through eyes and nose. I like leaving residue of my goings on—a beer bottle on the coffee table, a torn scrap of paper used for god knows what, and, yes, a tinge of my own urine permeating the bathroom. Of course, culturally, we consider this "dirty."
But this dirt is more than mere marker of events; it is the event. It is, miraculously, the cohabitation of the present and the past. To live amongst one's stench is to live with and amongst one's past, to be present with one's memory—rather than sloughing it like so much dead skin.
And yet no sooner can I mark my temporality than a sponge descends on the scene, wiping my very remnants from this world and leaving me desperately alienated from myself, a (more or less) pure contemporary forced to face the now without the reeking trail of my own becoming. I must start anew, my memory wrung down the kitchen sink.
And so I relish those moments before antiseptic sweeps in, when the room is dense with the memory of me, when I can seep in my past, breathe my memory, and enjoy a certain peace that comes with the stench of time.