La MémoireFriday, April 29, 2011
|Jacket Painting - La Mémoire|
by René Magritte
I remember him (I scarcely have the right to use this ghostly verb; only one man on earth deserved the right, and he is dead), I remember him with a dark passionflower in his hand, looking at it as no one has ever looked at such a flower, though they might look from the twilight of day until the twilight of night, for a whole life long. I remember him, his face immobile and Indian-like, and singularly remote, behind his cigarette. I remember (I believe) the strong delicate fingers of the plainsman who can braid leather. I remember, near those hands, a vessel in which to make mate, bearing the arms of the Banda Oriental [Uruguay] I remember, in the window of the house, a yellow rush mat, and beyond, a vague marshy landscape. I remember clearly his voice, the deliberate, resentful nasal voice of the old Eastern Shore man, without the Italianate syllables of today. I did not see him more than three times; the last time, in 1887.
Funes el memorioso, Jorge Luís Borges, translated by Anthony Kerrigan
My grandmother Lolita (Dolores) Reyes de Irureta Goyena died in the late 60s and I am almost sure she did not know who she was.
In 1967 she returned from Cairo where she had been visiting her son Tony to my mother’s home in Veracruz. When she came back she did not know who any of us where. It was disconcerting to look at her and to be answered with a blank expression. Often when my cat Plata stares at me with her intelligent eyes I wonder what she sees and senses. I know that the moment I open my eyes in the morning, even if I don’t move she will know I am awake and will then stand on my shoulder to force me to get up and feed her. I wonder sometimes if her perception is greater than of my grandmother’s when she returned from Egypt.
Years before, in Mexico City, when she had been having problems remembering things she had joked about it. She had dispatched me to a neighbourhood Botica Homeopática to buy pills of “ácido glutámico” which had the reputation in helping avoid memory loss.
My grandmother, in the beginning, never had any of the more troubling and aggressive tendencies that we now identify with Alzheimer’s disease. But little by little she would take her bath and get ready for bed earlier and earlier during the day. When it was noon and she was ready for bed my mother decided that she had to be put in a home that was run by nuns in Cuernavaca. After a year we received a call that my grandmother was getting violent so we had to put her in an institution, in which she did not last long. We buried her in a nearby cemetery and I would be accurate in saying that nobody is alive who might know where she is buried. I have long forgotten.
To have a good memory sounds unromantic and unpoetic. There is a word, not used anymore that fits the bill for romantic and poetic. The word is memorious. It just happens that the word is common currency (well almost!) in Spanish. The word is memorioso. It is a beautiful sounding word. A woman with a good memory would be memoriosa.
The most famous use of the word is in Jorge Luís Borges’ story Funes el memorioso published originally in 1942. The man, Irineo Funes, has such a prodigious memory that, Borges wrote:
Without effort, he had learned English, French, Portuguese, Latin. I suspect, nevertheless, that he was not very capable of thought. To think is to forget a difference, to generalize, to abstract. In the overly replete world of Funes there were nothing but details, almost contiguous details.
What Borges is saying above is that Funes, the man with the amazing memory was so much into the details that he could not see the forest for the leaves.
In a pile of envelopes not far from where I write is a white one that has in my almost illegible handwriting Young girl + horse. I believe the negatives and pictures may be 12 or more years old. I know I took them in Southlands. But I do not have the faintest idea for what magazine or why I photographed this lovely but unknown (to me) young girl. I could pursue remembering by noting that on her T-shirt it says Maynard’s Pony Meadows. It must be the very place where I photographed her. I could go to the establishment, if it still exists and enquire. But at the same time I have a strange feeling of wonder in not knowing who she is. It means that unlike Funes I am able to imagine without having the details to worry about.
Which brings me to:
Amnesia is a desert of fine white sun-glaring sand to the horizon. Amnesia isn’t oblivion. Amnesia isn’t memory loss caused by brain injury or neurological deterioration, in which actual brain cells have died. Amnesia is almost-remembering. Amnesia is the torment of almost-remembering. Amnesia is the dream from which you have only just awakened, hovering out of reach below the surface of bright rippling water. Amnesia is the paralyzed limb into which one day, one hour, feeling may begin to flow.
Smother, by Joyce Carol Oates from her book Give Me Your Heart – Tales of Mystery and Suspense. An Otto Penzler Book, 2010.