Sites of memory.

‘(I hope you will forgive me if I use the word “truth”. The moment I say “truth” I expect people to ask: “What is truth?” “Does truth exist?” Let us imagine that it exists. The word exists, therefore the feeling exists.)’

Helene Cixous

This week I’ve been looking at where the key terms I’m using in my research actually come from. This was prompted by the feedback I received r.e. my initial literature review, which I’d found myself a little lost in while writing. Perhaps because I was confused by the terms — their complexity but also the ground they cover.

What do I mean when I say ‘truth’? Would a word such as ‘veracity’ or ‘verissimilitude’ better identify what I am referring to?

What I mean when I say ‘subjectivity’? What am I implying here — self, selves, identity?

What do I mean when I say ‘memoir’ and ‘essay’? There are so many different forms and expectations of these that I am assuming when I write these words that they can be categorised, no?

I’ve been reading the essays collected in Truth in Nonfiction, edited by David Lazar. I found this source while I was reading past Honours exegeses to try to work out how I could structure my own. The essay collection features David Shields, Oliver Sacks and Vivian Gornick (among others) and provides a range of viewpoints on the concept of truth that can be found in writing. Interesting questions asked in the introduction by David Lazar:

‘Do we speak of truth as opposed to lying, or as a necessary conjunction?’

‘Truth is elusive, yet it may be necessary to our sense of memory and life narrative, to the forms we try to create literary art out of.’?

‘Is it “truth”, or truth, or Truth?’

Taking these ideas and then writing, I am drawn to the idea of truth as life narrative. This week for our nonfiction class we read a piece about memory — “Writing the Individual Back Into Collective Memory” — in which Susan A. Crane cites French philosopher, Maurice Halbwachs. Halbwachs claims that we can only recall memory within a social framework — be that family, religion, nation… In this way we have multiple pasts, each one dependent on the group it connects to. Our family memories exist within that framework and those connections, for example. My memories of childhood are connected to a country town and a nuclear family, and I am not called to remember them beyond this space. But then how does this past connect to who I am now, in another place with different people who didn’t share those experiences with me? I’ve noticed that I remember less of Warrnambool now that I have spent time and space away from that place — but things rush back when I return. Crane cites Pierre Nora, a French historian, who would call this a ‘site of memory’; in some way which isn’t really scientifically possible, my memories are stored in this site, and it is only there that I can retrieve them.

My own memoir practice has become a process of automatic writing, using “natural” connections my mind makes to the words I am writing to record sequences of recollections. Upon revisions, these sequences jump in time, place and even voice as I drift between different “selves”. This week, I’ve begun to move these fragments of memory into themed groups, based on the recurring themes and motifs I had found in my automatic writing. I’ve noticed I often mention the temperature and my tone tends to also reflect the temperature. This is part of my memories because I have Reynaud’s — my hands and feet lose circulation very quickly in the cold, which is rather painful and has led me to black out in the past. Through collecting all of the memories that refer to temperature (both literally and figuratively) I have been able to develop a personal essay that recalls multiple times and places but is strung together by a thematic thread.

Excerpt from work-in-progress:

Just lately, I’ve grown to welcome the cold. Between my fingers, through my hair, through the crack in my window in the early mornings, a whisper blown from somewhere far off. This is the same wind that blows waves into the shore, the same air breathed by a Samurai centuries ago. I jog towards the park, lift the frost from the grass with the lift of the soles of my sneakers, fingertips tingling, fighting to feel. For a moment I’ve forgotten the iciness of the blizzard up north, the darkness of the subway in Tokyo where my hands lost their grip on the railings and I fell hard onto a businessman’s briefcase, eyes shut. Now, I open my arms to the cold, gulping it in and I run faster, higher. The frost flares out behind me, melting into the past.

Positive blogpost, yay!

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One thought on “Sites of memory.

  1. Interesting thots on memories. They can be nearly magical things that draw us back into a world no longer part of our reality. Wonderful writing on your “cold” piece that weaves in and out of memory.

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