Sunday, September 13, 2009

Middle Sources: Some Memory Works

"To have an adopted identity--which is for me an identity based on the desire to know--is thus to include in that very identity the way in which it has been denied. To be adopted, then, involves including in being those processes of becoming which not only affirm who we are, which not only give us the means with which we can assume an identity, but which also make the articulation of an identity possible'" (169). Kimberley Leighton, "Being Adopted and Being a Philosopher"

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"What is original is whatever returns us to displacement as a source, not a claim to a source that is original. The source is the outwardness of displacement itself. This is not an originary return in itself; it takes place as s a response to things only recently made available. Everything depends on how the original, once claimed, continues to be invoked." Barrett Watten, The Grand Piano 7, 108

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The one time I met my father's brother, the one who stayed in Romeo, the one who drove a truck and married a woman who worked in the seat belt factory, he pronounced the word "PIE-ANO."

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I am teaching Eleni Sikelianos's The Book of Jon to my introductory level poetry and literature students. The book represents Sikelianos's search for her father, a man who left her life early and returned to it only infrequently, then died from chronic drug use. I ask them to write one or two sentences about an event that was crucial for them. Then I ask them to write one or two about a crucial event in the lives of their great-grandmothers. The young woman who shares my mother's maiden name looks at me, her eyes huge. "But I don't know anything." "Write it down," I demand.

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"If there is an analogy to music, it is not to duration or flow or synaesthesia or expression but to an experience of the incompleteness of one's knowledge." Barrett Watten

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I am more what I fail to remember than what I do. The incompleteness of memory is my knowledge.

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Sikelianos uses different kinds of writing: letters, a family tree, documents, photographs ("he looks so happy," my students say, "and affectionate"), lists, stories (parts of), an obituary, poems; she wishes for more than she remembers. "It matters that there are holes in a family history that can never be filled, that there are secrets and mysteries, migrations and invasions and murky blood-linens"(x). Eleni S.

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"This is a difficult book to read, physically to read. // The fact is that my grandfather did die in the space of this book (i.e. the feeling his ribs, t-shirt etc, birds from the neighbors yards and the rest). // Undoubtedly a number of typographical errors // You know, I've thought long and hard // This is a deeply flawed text and experiment // anything else would be dishonest." Lance Phillips, Imposture Notebook

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I ask my aunt what her parents were like. "They were just like me," she responds.

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"I do not remember listening to music. I do not remember hearing it as it passed me by. I remember music, but I do not remember listening itself. Listening to music again, I remember having listened to it; this is the evanescence of its knowledge . . . Music becomes an example of all one knows of oneself, a necessary record. It is a kind of forgetting, remembering that to forget is to live." Barrett Watten

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I typed: "remembering that to forget is to love," and I wonder if that is not also true. Is the line about "forgiving" and "forgetting" most possible in English, where 'giving" and "getting" are necessarily "for"shadowed by that three-letter preposition? What I have needed to forget in order to love.

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Jon had very little in his pockets when he was found dead in a motel room in New Mexico. Cigarettes, combs, matches, glasses, no family photos. These things, which were of use to him, rendered symbolic. "The things are not what count," reads the Hallmark card I gave my mother-in-law for her 78th birthday. It was the best I could find. To what extent is this statement true?

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One guy talked about his cap, the one with flames on the front; a young woman talked about her cell phone; one guy talked about his slippers. I'm making this up now, as I can't remember their objects, the ones that told us who they are. Local, in constant touch.

[Editor's note: it was a pinkish ukelele the one student held up, taped at the bottom where it had broken.]

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"Culture is the preservation of memory, its overlapping reinforcement." Barrett Watten

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> "pg 10. Memory Box. Do you refer to a real object here or is it entirely metaphorical ?" Email from A.M.

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How do we find out about our great-grandparents? Marriage certificates, immigration papers, photographs. "We find them in ourselves," says the student who speaks only pidgin. A sign not of origins but places inside of them: not the Philippines, but also not the 50th state's respectable middle class.

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What of them do we find "in ourselves"? Culture or blood? Blood as incipient act, like a gesture? Or culture as a learned behavior, like a gesture?

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"She has lost her culture" (L.W.) This morning my mother sounds "better" on the phone. A clarity of sound, perhaps. I ask about the weather, talk about R's birthday, ask if she's eating well. I pass the phone to my husband, who has the same conversation with her. When he passes the phone back, we begin again, but I do not have the heart to do it all over. "I'm glad you're ok; that's what's important."

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A facebook friend asks for three words as writing prompts. I respond "for, then, but." Each of these words suggests a future where something happens because or in spite of or in addition but in opposition to. If punctuation is the musical notation of performance, then these monosyllabic sounds punctuate our memories by insisting that they exist.

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"pg 12-13 - All these references to various women have intrigued me. At times they seem like different women at other times the same. Or do these women represent plural selves of a single disintegrating woman ?" Email from A.M.
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Write about your first memory. I dare you.

7 comments:

Mairi said...

My absolute first memory, the one I know is my memory and not an assimilated story told to me by my parents or a photograph, strangely enough, is of a dream. I was standing on a beach with a sand sifter watching one of those floating tubes with a horses's head bobbing in the water. A huge wave came in, my perspective shifted, and I was looking down at an empty beach. I don't know exactly when I had this dream but I know it was before I was four years old.
As I just discovered your blog and am working backwards through history, as you said I must, I'd like to add here that your essay on blog lit really caught and pinned the genre. The other day I read a post on Lyrics and Maladies - http://lyricsandmaladies.blogspot.com/ - in a format called hypertext poetry. Impossible really, without blogs. It's a brave new world that has such hybrids in it.

Susan M. Schultz said...

And are you sure that's your first memory, Mairi? Thanks for reading. There's also flash poetry, as well as hypertext. It's mad. I consider myself an old-fashioned blogger. I write, I "publish."

Aryanil said...

I grew up within commotion. Of a bustling city buzzing with noise. From the streets. Streets that brew a kind of acoustic tyranny. From whose prison, quietude had sneaked out in some lost era.

I needed it - quietude. Like drug. Some isolation cell inside the concrete jungle. A place with some shades of green. A few fallen petals. Where absences overlapped forlornly. By my late teens, I had found one. An ancient graveyard for the minority. Full and closed to the newer dead.

No one, but some daring secret lovers visited this dead graveyard on Park Street. It had many nineteenth century tombstones now partially supplanted with wildflowers of the new century. Some had the usual inscriptions - "The lord is my shepherd/ I shall not want". Others had private poems dedicated to loved ones. Written in dead calligraphy, for maybe a certain mother and child who arrived dead on a plagued ship. Poor poems written for poor souls. By a forgotten people. Britishers serving the colonial empire in the "jewel in the crown". This tombstone literature helped me learn how plague had ravaged England in the nineteenth century. How it was brought to India via ill-fated vessels.

This was where my writing began. In the lap of memory. Among untrodden weeds grown over a dead colony of ex-colonists. Borrowing tombstone language. Translating it to an "untouchable" script. Of a language nascently native. Once de-eliticized. Shredded, anointed with bird-louse. And poured out into the city sewers.

Converse to the written truth, MEMORY is an aid to writing. All stock notions of incompleteness, abandonment and misconstrual are its realities. That have arrived on writing later. Burrowed their way into music.

And the ontological feeling of lostness that shapes all cutures and histories is also born from its viscera.

Susan M. Schultz said...

Aryanil--thanks for that fourth paragraph. As much about loss of memory as about memory itself--these are not the memories of the dead that you accessed, but your own memories evoked and provoked by clues left behind.

Susan M. Schultz said...

Oops, I should not say "your own memories," but those contained in the "shredded language" you write about and in.

Aryanil said...

Thanks Susan, for being able to identify and see through the "shredded language".

As to the Watten comment - "Culture is the preservation of memory, its overlapping reinforcement" - let me ask, is it really all about preservation? Or is it only an attempt to preserve? Memory is an ever living thing. Living things cannot be preserved.

A flame passed on from candle to candle. Like you've pointed out - "evoked and provoked by clues left behind". The contagious ailment that always seems to find a hermitage. No matter how fiercely one tries to irradicate it. It moves. Like a train through fog. Like the mist on the cover of Dementia Blog. Saving the spool while losing the kite. Seeking clarity but never denying effacement. Which is where we find the plexus of its meanings. The incomplete theory of genealogy. As perceived today. Which I think explains memory better than anything else. The strong presence of lostness amidst the arrival of new mutations.

Susan M. Schultz said...

and memory is itself a form of culture, as Lissa said of my mother . . . love "saving the spool and losing the kite."