Mnemosyne and Lethe
Forgetting and remembering seem to always be at odds. I am not good at forgetting and I am not sure that I want to be. Remembering and forgetting are a language of survival, but what happens if your forgetting seems to lag behind? I could be more of a fan of forgetting but I think that I have equated it with denial. I think that mostly we forget what we do not wish to remember.
Here are two salient thoughts. “History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.” James Joyce wrote that and at the time it made me feel as if I were criminal to forget the collective history. I also applied that to my personal life. And then I thought about this, George Santayana wrote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” It made me feel like a lab animal on a maze, repeating my history endlessly.
Sometimes remembering is painful for me but forgetting isn’t possible. I don’t know if that quirk serves me well. I do know that remembering and forgiving and asking forgiveness is more genuine and from that standpoint is more powerful than forgetting.
I feel that forgetting comes more easily to most, but I seem to struggle against that ease. I always thought it was a positive thing but growing older and hearing my wife say, “You can’t let anything go,” gives me pause.
We were at this party and she said, “I wanted to forget things about my past, about my childhood, but Ken wouldn’t let me. He kept picking at those places that I had tried so hard to forget.”
Noreen stared at me and said, “Why did you do that, Ken?”
I answered that I thought she would be better served if she did not deny what she knew to have happened. Noreen said, “How very therapeutic of you.” Then she swallowed some wine and laughed.
Later, in that same evening, we got around to talking about music. Allen said that we only remembered those songs that held personal meaning for us. I shook my head no and stared at Noreen.
“We were on the floor at Rahway, you Tom and me, and we were listening to Darkness on the Edge of Town for the first time. Racing in the Streets came on and I heard those opening lines and gazed into your eyes and knew that you were remembering your brother.”
Noreen looked stunned. Allen said, “Is he right?” and Noreen nodded.
She looked at me and whispered, “How did you remember that?” I had no real answer. I mumbled something about us both being city kids and later that night she took my hands and kissed my fingertips. Then it seemed to be forgotten and I struggle with knowing if my inability to forget these moments makes me their repository. Can an instant have, or even create, a soul?
It feels that much of what I write is creative recollection. Perhaps all recollection is somewhat creative, but I seem to have more of a need for it, and I do not know why. The search has taught me some things.
People often say of their deceased loved ones that they can no longer see a face. That’s when they rely on photographs, but although they come with a presence, they do not often carry a message. But if you can still hear how someone’s voice sounded on a phone, you achieve a form of contact, emotional and sincere, and aided by technology. A benefit not often ascribed to technology-
Is remembering an asset or a load of baggage?
My friend Allen once smiled at me and said, “I forget.” At the time I didn’t believe him, but I do now. There may be a form of forgetting that stretches beyond denial. I may have encroached its fragile boundaries. But perhaps doubt is one of the roots that nurtures memory.
Even, in this way, the vocabulary of those gone diminishes with time. It becomes only those emotionally charged instants that stay around. Times that achieve soul.
Aging is often associated with forgetting. There are a series of comics entitled, “My forgetter works better than my rememberer.” I have not found this to be the case. As I grow older, I prioritize differently. The focus of my attention is what commits something to memory. If I shift focus, I remember different things. The aromas of honeysuckle and lilac more so than the day of the week-
It is difficult to remember smell and sound without their inspiration. They seem to be the catalyst that inspires memory, but I am trying to remember them.
Forgetting can be a luxury, a necessity, an ailment, or a deliberate choice. Much of the time, remembering seems more driven. Do I remember because I cannot forget, or because I do not wish to?
Content without insight into a knowledge base leads to forgetting. We tend to not remember what we do not understand. Even if we mistakenly feel that we do understand, there little basis for remembering. Mnemosyne and Lethe in turmoil. Perhaps the idea of a muse stems from memory. Perhaps we remember what we wish to understand, or wish to control. Maybe memory is a form of control. Is it a vision of the past that can be sculpted?
Cultural memory and personal memory differ in their parentage. Both are engendered by remembrance. Cultural remembrance utilizes technology, but personal recollection does not. I have tried to merge the two in my novels. I have one prompting the other. It happens that way for me. It is just the creative depicting of a life in my mind.
Mnemosyne required memorization. Inculcation, chanting, prayer were some of her vehicles. How little she is known but how powerful the influence. She stops the transmigration of the soul. If such a thing actually exists then so does she. Is that memory as a preventative? Is the lack of memory a laxative?
Lethe seems to have fewer requirements, unless you are unable to meet them. What if you just can’t forget even after drinking from her? Does she curse you with the darker sides of memory?
Little is known of the personality of Mnemosyne. Am I part of her personality? The river of forgetfulness flows in me sporadically. I feel at home with Lethe and Mnemosyne. I remember and I forget. I suppose that is part of my condition and I think it a part of the condition of us all. But what we remember and forget is of endless curiosity.