Thursday, March 24, 2011

Aimless Reading: The M's, Part 49 (Ange Mlinko)

Starred Wire by Michael_Kelleher
Starred Wire, a photo by Michael_Kelleher on Flickr.

Mlinko, Ange
Starred Wire

Sent to me by the publisher. The Fall 2005/Spring 2006 Coffee House Press catalog sits between pages 32 and 33, which I suspect is where I left off reading.

I want to continue thinking about one kind of memory described yesterday, that is, passive memory. I would define a passive memory as one retained by consciousness without conscious effort or agency. I suppose there are two kinds of passive memory, traumatic and pleasant. I am not quite sure the second one even is passive. It's possible the first one isn't either.

I guess we would assume that a traumatic memory is one impressed on consciousness by a traumatic event, for instance if one is the victim of suffering, such as physical persecution, caused by an external agent or set of circumstances. But what is the memory implanted there?

If I am the victim, do I remember the physical pain? the face of the persecutor? the smell in the room? And why do I retain these particular memories? Is it possible that I constructed them in such a way as to survive, even the worst parts?

Memory always seems to have a narrative element to it and it would make sense that in an extreme situation one would construct (albeit unconsciously) a narrative of survival. One needs to get out of the situation and the body works to construct a narrative that allows it to withstand the pain long enough to survive.

What remains after the fact would have a powerful presence, but the memory of the event would inevitably retain part of the narrative of survival constructed in order to survive. The memory being a construction suggests it was constructed by something. But this does not necessarily make it an agency. If the construction of the narrative were unconscious, then one could also argue it was passive. But what if the memory is not a recording of the event, but a narrative constructed to protect one from suffering during and after the trauma? You could argue either way, I think.

Now, a pleasurable passive memory would function largely the same way. A pleasure that is strong enough to implant a strong memory in consciousness would also seem to be as difficult to withstand as the suffering of a trauma. Pleasure and pain meet at the extreme, thus one would also need to construct a narrative to survive. Again, what is recalled is a reconstruction, not a recording, of the pleasurable event. It leaves behind the memory of pleasure in the extreme, though not at the same level of intensity with which it was originally experienced.

So why is it that we value a passively constructed memory over one that was actively retained. I guess we assume that because we felt something strongly, even if our feelings were forced upon us by external events, that there must have been some intrinsic importance to the event itself.

Take a banal example of meeting someone at a party. I meet one person, we shake hands and talk for a while. I doubt I will ever see them again and so don't bother to remember their name. And then one day I bump into this person. They immediately recall my name and the fact that we met at such and such a party. I barely recall the party, much less the name of this person.

This happens to me more often than I'd like to admit. I think the assumption we make is that this person meant nothing to me and that I met something to them. We also assume a lack of feeling on my part and an abundance of it on theirs, otherwise how else explain the fact that they remember so much and I remember so little?

As the conversation progresses, my memory begins to form around other events. I vaguely recall that I spoke to someone at length at this party. We stood in a corner. This person began to talk about Nietszche. We had a disagreement about the meaning of "ressentiment" as applied to aesthetics. I walked away thinking they really hadn't read him very closely.

Now maybe we are getting at something. I was intimately involved with the exchange of ideas, while they were more interested in the personal interaction. So if we want to discuss the inherent value ascribed to the retention of certain memories, perhaps we have to look at what is remembered by whom and make our judgments based on that.

Each person remembers different elements of a situation that are of importance to them. These elements are almost always different and highly individual. We can't make a judgment about whether or not a person remembers something or not, but we might be able to say something about what they value based on the character of the things they do remember.

Of course, there are some people who remember everything, right down to the last detail. I am not one of those people and I am not sure what to say about them. I guess I am more interested in forgetting, as it is the most active phenomenon in my experience of consciousness.

from Starred Wire (p. 33)

Three Crickets.
The Blind Cricket.

When the chirping of the males rises to a furor,
charged particles accumulate in the gut–duodenum, say
due to internal cracks caused by déformation professionel:
rubbing wings in an ecclesiastical mode while flexing
the opaque, muscular contractile diaphragm.

It enters the house, lighter and more graceful,
though it knows not exactly how it accesses its gift
suspended in aqueous humor then thrown out on its ear
like rain bounced off a small false roof
over the spiral volutes of its capitals.

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