If you have not already done so, you may wish to read the
Introduction to Gnomica.
Friday 8 February 2013
Read gnomica 1-250 here!
Every journey into the past is complicated by
delusions, false memories, false namings of real events.
Adrienne Rich (16 May 1929 – 27 Mar 2012)
Although I cannot claim deep familiarity with the poetry and essays of this prominent feminist, the sentiment to which she here gives expression here is one that is both pointedly coherent and one of those voices of verity. I think that mutatis mutandis you could make pretty much a similar observation about ‘every journey into the future’ – to the extent that on this voyage too we are filled with fantasies about possibility and fashion fake tomorrows that for good, gauzy reasons we avoid articulating too specifically. But the tendency does attenuate – without entirely vanishing – as the years pile on, for it becomes – in my view, of course – harder, even in modes of wishful projection, to cozen self in view of lived experience.
Of the triad that Rich invokes above – delusions, memories, namings – I believe it is the central one that is both most complicated and complicating. The only guide is you. Only you in any sense know what happened and did not happen, and even discounting the fragility of perfect recall, one still has always to deal with the manufactured recall masquerading as a remembrance of things past and of events putatively lived and deeply experienced. Author of your own past, you allows yourself, aware or not, a kind of liberty to create and shape — as will best conform to your needs of the moment — the sentences, paragraphs, chapters of your ever adventitious vita. And, like so much trash, that crafted construct of your life is infinitely recyclable out of the old into new shapes for new purposes.
I am not suggesting that this kind of forever revisionism of one’s past is necessarily a bad thing. I think it can – could – be if deployed in the dubious interest of entirely avoiding present realities, yes, but – the mentally unsteady aside — such mind plays do not alter the reality, or proximate realities, of what was in fact lived. And certainly we are perfectly aware of the dissonance between our past and ‘every journey into the past’ – much as we are, looking forwards rather than backwards, quite percipiently cognizant of what is fantastical and what is reasonable. No harm done! In either direction, it’s just an indulgence, a kind of psychic martini or two to help unwind after an intransigent day among the unreasonable people – every dreadful one! — we must perforce endure.
When all is said and done, I believe the past is, for individuals as well as for nations, the most unstable and hence among the most useful of all means of self-definition and identity – perfectly pliable, endlessly elastic, marvelously malleable.