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.


V said...

So... you dig your own farts? That's my takeaway.

By the way, I came across that Tanizaki essay in an anthology called "Art of the Personal Essay," (ed. Philip Lopate) which contains one of my other favorite essays, "For My Brothers and Sisters in the Failure Business."

Strangely that book seems to be the only item my prostitute ex-girlfriend took when she moved out.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Ah, yes, stimmt: that is precisely the intended takeaway. But farts as memory is such a hilarious image to me.

V said...

Proust meets Roth, or fart as Jewish madeline.

Seymour Krim wrote that "Failure" essay, but I am not finding a good link to it.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Not to be too pedantic but whereas the madeleine is a mnemonic, even if metonymic, a fart IS history itself, the past made literally present. And that's what I dig.

V said...

Hey Clio, pull my finger.

Improvedliving said...

Ah, yes, stimmt: that is precisely the intended takeaway

improve your memory

Lisa said...

Have you read Eric Havelock? In "Preface to Plato," he talks at length about the pre-literate (oral) mind (in the context of Homer), leading to the how and why of the structure of epic poetry --> the methods it employs are specifically used to induce memorisation in those who listen to it, and the epic is a carrier of culture and tradition. Without literacy: culture, tradition and tribal ties exist only in memory and so memory is paramount. With the advent of the true alphabet in Greece, things didn't need to be remembered because they were written down, and literacy was internalized, leading to Plato (And Western culture generally, reaching its apex in Modernity) who ascribes to a philosophy of timeless being, of "things that are", ALWAYS, instead of "things that were/arerightnow/willbeforever". Timeless being is the gleaming surface.

Walter Ong would then say that Eastern culture represents a residual orality and displays the characteristics of oral culture more than Western Moderns.


V said...

Reminds me too of a Thai-Chinese business expression I learned recently: "gam kii dee kwah gam thut," or as you probably know it, "better to grab shit than a fart."

Cody said...

Ah - I'll have to pick this text up. I've been recently fascinated with some peoples' ceaseless obsession with destroying anything that accumulates even a bit of dirt.

Relics like
this one are already gone, with ones like this soon to follow.

The Posture of Things

You're shopping for a chair. As you browse the aisles, you note the variety — from backless computer chairs to high bar stools to plush ...