Thursday, February 05, 2009

On Memory

Perhaps it is the impending milestone, but my thoughts have lately been turning to how much I have forgotten over my lifetime.

What triggered this today? I was browsing through the archives of the Varieties of Unreligious Experience, and I realised that I do not remember most of what was written here in May of 2005. And I don't mean that I don't remember the arguments, I mean that I do not remember them at all.

This is rather unsettling. In 2006, when I started blogging, the Varieties, along with a few other blogs, were pretty much the essence of my online existence. I read everything that came out, and I've gone back and read them again. And pretty much everything Conrad writes is excellent, and more importantly, it's memorable.

At least I think it is, when I reread it there, for the first time.


Beyond my own forgetting, and my long struggle to improve my memorization skills (I have what appears often to be an excellent memory, but a terrible ability to memorize), I am also watching my 4 year son going through what I call the Great Forgetting.

What do I mean by this? As a toddler, he had a fantastic memory, not only of his things, but of places he had been, and things he had done. Over the past 6 months, as he has become more of a little boy, he has forgotten a lot things which he remembered even a few weeks ago.

His brain seems to be going through a process where much of his young childhood is disappearing - he has forgotten some very significant things. Yet he still has the fantastic nearly photographic memory of a child - he just no longer remembers himself at a point in time where it would be wonderful if he did.

And then the worry becomes, given my own memory, who will remember him as a little boy? How much do we lose? And yet I've never really understood the desire to videotape or photograph everything, to capture each moment in time, so one ends up living the great moments of one's life behind some device that will allow one to watch it, perhaps, some time later.


And so I read the Varieties from 2006, and I think of my own blogging since then, and how much of my intellectual disengagement has to do with my inability to remember all these facts and strands of thought which, not so long ago, came so easily. This blog has taken the turns it has, in part, because I cannot remember why I write in the first place.

So this blog has been a depiction of a life as anti-bildung, of a desire for progress that never comes. Progress as something I expect to show up, in a big white Cadillac with horns on the front, to deliver me from the work that has always needed to be done. That it is memory, and not process, that allows one to grow.

However, one thing I can say - I remember all of my own work. At least for now.


Declan said...

Your last line pre-empted the comment I had formed reading the rest of the post (but I'll say it anyway) which is that if you're only forgetting what you've read, you're doing well, I'm often surprised to find that I have covered things earlier on my blog (which has been around less than 5 years)....

Andrew W. said...

Thanks! Although perhaps I have just forgotten what it is I don't remember - right? right?

Conrad H. Roth said...

"I do not remember most of what was written here in May of 2005"

But. . . there was nothing written there in May of 2005! Perhaps your memory is playing double tricks on you? Even the 2006 stuff I find hard to remember myself. It was still früh-Varieties, proto-Varieties: even Ur-Varieties.

As for your own raison de bloguer, wasn't there some obscure modernist novel you were supposed to be telling us about?

Andrew W. said...

Conrad, thank you for actually managing to make me feel even more out of it by misquoting the year! I think I elided the 05 (May) with 2005! Anyway...good to see you here!

Actually, the one thing I sometimes can't believe looking at your stuff was just how much you wrote back in 2006.

And as for Doderer, yes, I was meant to be telling you about him, and I would be, but I'm too busy in a seminar right now reading that less obscure modernist - Kafka.

Let's make that a bit of a summer project!