Saturday, February 14, 2009

Aimless Reading: The B's, Part 36 (Joe Brainard)


I Remember
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Brainard, Joe
I Remember


I am not sure where purchased this Full Court Press edition of I Remember. It was either at Rust Belt Books in Buffalo or at the Strand or at Seventh Street Books in New York. I somehow picked it up for all of five dollars, even though it is the first paperback edition of the complete work and sells for 75-150 on Bookfinder. Not that I am planning to sell, as this book, in addition to being an obvious inspiration for Aimless Reading, is without question a desert islander.

For those unfamiliar with this book -- I suspect most readers of this blog are familiar with it, but just in case -- I Remember is a memoir of sorts (as well as a poem, most would argue, and I would agree), in which each paragraph of the book recounts a single memory from the author's life and begins with the words "I remember..." As an exercise in personal reflection it is, I think, sui generis, not to mention profound. In the phrase, "I remember," it feels as if Brainard found a shibboleth to open the door between the mind of the author and the mind of the reader, one that allows the reader to experience that author's memories as his or her own.

My first encounter with this experience came from another source altogether, one I did not realize until later had been based on this book. Towards the end of the second part of Paul Auster's Invention of Solitude, the narrator, A., which is Auster deliberately referring to himself in the third person, inserts a brief section in which he recounts a series of memories from his childhood, each of which begins, "He remembers..." The first time I read this I was startled at how closely it seemed to mirror my own childhood. When I read it a second time, I looked more carefully and could see that the details were mostly different from the details of my own childhood experience, except in the broadest of terms, but I still experienced his experiences as my own.

The same thing happens when I read Brainard's book, even though his experiences are much more different from my own than Auster's. Which leads me to conclude, as I did above, that the phrase "I remember" must be the linguistic form, or one of them any way, by which we recount our memories to ourselves and to others. (Which makes me wonder whether or not we'd have any memories at all without that phrase..hmmm). In writing the memoir sections of this blog I often find I have to resist the temptation to begin sentences with, "I remember...

Since I am going to do one entry on each of the two editions of this book in my library, I'll quote from the Auster here and then the Brainard in the next for the sake of comparison. From The Invention of Solitude:

The Book of Memory. Book Thirteen.

He remembers that he gave himself a new name, John, because all cowboys were named John, and that each time his mother addressed him by his real name he would refuse to answer her. He remembers running out of the house and lying in the middle of the road with his eyes shut, waiting for a car to run him over. He remembers that his grandfather gave him a large photograph of the Gabby Hayes and that it sat in a place of honor on the top of his bureau. He remembers thinking that the world was flat. He remembers learning how to tie his shoes. He remembers that his father's clothes were kept in the closet in his room and that it was the noise of hangers clicking together in the morning that would wake him up. He remembers the sight of his father knotting his tie and saying to him, Rise and shine little boy. He remembers wanting to be a squirrel and have a bushy tail and be able to jump from tree to tree as though he were flying. He remembers looking through the venetian blinds and seeing his new born sister coming home from the hospital in his mother's arms. He remembers the nurse in a white dress who sat beside his baby sister and gave him little squares of Swiss chocolate. He remembers that she called them Swiss although he did not know what that meant. He remembers lying on his bed at dusk in mid-summer and looking at the tree through his window and seeing different faces in the configuration of the branches. He remembers sitting in the bathtub and pretending that his knees were mountains and that the white soap was an ocean line. He remembers the day his father gave him a plum and told him to go outside and ride his tricycle. He remembers that he did not like the taste of the plum and that he threw it in the gutter and was overcome by a feeling of guilt.


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I remember my mother, like Paul Auster's father, used to say, Rise and shine to me every morning, and how if that didn't get me out of bed, my father would come down to my room and start to tickle my feet while singing, "O What A Beautiful Morning," and if that did work he would strip the covers off the bed, grab me by the ankles, and pull me slowly toward the precipice, singing all the while, giving me a choice between waking up or falling to the floor on my face.

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Feel free to add your own "I remember..." in the comment box.

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