Memory Happens

Memory and recollection are not the same thing. A recollection is an image that makes its way through consciousness somehow. Memory, however, is everything — from the millisecond to the epic — that has happened to you. And is still happening to you.

This is to say, you are not just this vessel to whom things might or might not happen. You are something that has always already had something happen: there is no pre-experience self. What it is to be a self — whatever that is — is to be something that interacts. The self, then, is an event — not a thing but a happening.

In this sense, a self is an infinitely vibrating collection of events — or the traces of events. I want to say that you are all the events that have ever happened to you as experienced by your particular constitution, your particular metabolism. What the fuck does that mean?

Well, it means you experience things — a meal, sleep, a conversation, eight million conversations, glances, whispers, sighs, dreams, burps, breaths, kisses, hallucinations, loves, fears, cuts and bruises. All of these things reverberate throughout your very constitution — some of these events move very slowly, some very fast; some in even rhythm, some syncopated, some in 7/4; some of these events resound, others tail off in a whimper. All of this activity — all of these reverberations, this incredible calculus of events — is memory.

And this memory is you.

Memory is not a past event. It is a present event. Or, rather, it is the persistence of an event. Memory is how you know how to tie your shoes, brush your teeth, how you know what you like and don't like; it's how you think and what you think. This is quite different from a recollection which is a more or less discrete and conscious event. Memory endures, necessarily.

And is in relentless flux. After all, all those events are still happening to a greater or less degree of intensity. Some events skip across consciousness, hitting down here and there every few years. Some are tightly knit balls that rumble and roll, day after day, through our very becoming. Some are like scents that drift by.

The very manner of these events is still being worked out — right now, by you, in you, as you. This working out is you. Which is not to say that we are always wrestling our pasts. No, it's to say that we are always living through our pasts right now — and that our pasts are living through our now, through us.

Memory is not something that is, some static repository. It's not a library; nor is it an archive. Memory is a living thing. Memory is something that happens.


dustygravel said...

I decided to listen to Igor Stravinsky's the rite of spring after reading this post.

The Postmaster General said...

I like this. It goes to the inherent unreliability of testimony in Court cases. A witness that gives a consistent version of events is merely conforming, whether unconsciously or not, to the idea of what we think a credible witness should have: a static corpus of memory. That a witness gives a different version of events shouldn't necessarily mean that they are less credible. They're just telling it like it is - at that point of time in the retelling.

li'l girl blue said...

I’ve been studying the physiological basis of memory lately and it has the strangest effect on me. I can’t actually maintain any kind of detached academic focus for more than about five minutes before I start to feel terribly terribly sad. Sad’s not the right word – it’s a distinct keening combination of fear, compassion, inevitability, and sorrow when faced with the fact that the same precious memory that creates and reinforces all that we are as individuals is merely (merely?!) a system that declines and changes in predictable ways across the course of a life. There are a bunch of phenomena in memory that I am drawn to, partly because of their snappy rhythmic punch when spoken (...temporal gradient, reminiscence bump...the fun park of memory is an active space!) and partly because I get this specific odd feeling each time I think about how our current experience of the world is made intimate to us and unknowable to others because it is filtered through all our past selves.


It completely creeps me out in the best and most interesting way.

Daniel Coffeen said...

For me, it is a glorious — if occasionally anxiety producing — sensation of vertigo: I do rest on a foundation but on a swarm of activity. My memory is not a foundation; my past is not fixed. On the contrary, they are in flux along with everything else.

That's when I feel a certain nausea, as if the near-infinite number of events that have taken place in my life are undulating within me, through me — and making me in the process! Egad!

Stravinsky indeed.

ayşegül said...

And I love it when memory happens even if it did not "really" happen. Perfect.

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