On the very first episode of Mad Men Don Draper said: ‘You’re born alone and die alone and this world just drops a bunch of rules on you to make you forget those facts.’ Isn’t it surprising how much we are able to forget? Just about as surprising as how much we constantly keep in our heads. Is anything ever truly forgotten? If something makes an imprint on our memory, then it’s only a matter of a reminder in order for it to resurface. It was Nietzsche who placed great importance on the ability to forget; he said that there must be selective forgetfulness in order for the future to not be filled with unnecessary pain and worry.
Memory and forgetting are fundamentally tied to attention. It takes a period of time, during which we don’t pay attention to a certain memory in order for it to become ‘forgotten’ for another period of time, after which it is awoken again. What about details? Every time something resurfaces in our memory, we recall different aspects of it. That probably comes from how we perceived time during those events. Everyone has felt time stretch out for hours, while only 5 minutes passed, and felt years within only a couple of months. Now this can’t be a mere amount of events that take place within a time period that warps our perception — it’s the importance that we attribute to it. But when do we do that? Do we realize that a significant era of our lives is taking place while we are experiencing it, or do we reflect on it later and see just how far it went? There is no way of knowing, but we always know that, regardless, we can reflect on it later on.
That’s perhaps why art exists. At least the type that has to do with the artists’ personal experiences. Their pieces are reflections stopped in time. What makes an artist pick one experience to capture over another is as unexplainable as the reason why we remember certain events in the specific way that we do and no other. Why can negative words such as “I’ve been shaking ever since. You told me ‘No love would live in this house’”1 still create a warm nostalgic feeling? The singer is not angry, not depressed, he is experiencing a memory of events that led to him experiencing loss, but the memory of the journey makes it all worthwhile: “Dancing to Jerskin, I got down on my knees. I told you I loved you, in front of black midi. I told my friend Jack that it could’ve been you. I know it was funny, but I was struggling too.”1
Nietzsche’s words certainly possess wisdom and have part of their root in his own experience. A lot of memories that cause us pain and worry simply cannot be thrown to the backseat of our minds. The German philosopher lost his father and younger brother at an early age, so he had first-hand experience with memories that haunt us our entire lives. Death of close ones is among the memories of that kind. What if it’s not natural death, but murder? What if murder was committed by those who swore to protect from just that? “I know when I was just a boy, some stuff started. And the government came in, killed a couple.”2 It doesn’t matter if an experience like that impacts the person to become a politician and try to make things better for others, or if it even makes the person politically active in any way. All that matters is that a person with this experience will never be able to think of even the word ‘government’ with a detached indifference. Their life is now tied to it; and to the fear of the very entity that promised freedom from it (and from other things). Perhaps that’s the main thing to take away from Nietzsche’s thoughts on forgetfulness: there will be experiences in our lives that can never be forgotten no matter how hard we try. We can only learn to live with them always waiting for us in dark corners and ready to strike when we are at our weakest. Nietzsche’s prescription is to not dwell on other things. Things that we have the capability to forget and completely let go of. If there are things that will never let go of us, then what we must do is choose our battle, and fight demons of ours that we can defeat; and then dealing with the immortal demons will be easier.
What makes a memory? When we remember something, what outlines these memories? Is it words? Is it images, or sounds? What we know for certain is that we catch a signal from the noise3 of our lives and carry it from there, and it becomes our link to those events. We can’t wholly remember every second of an experience, which is why we cling onto the parts that impacted us most, and based on that piece by piece we assemble the memory into what it is. But we can’t expect to just package a memory and then whenever we think back on it, it comes back in the exact same shape and form. Memories come back in various instances every time, especially when we remember too much. Remembering love that ended abruptly before either of the people wanted it to is a memory that will always show us different sides of the experience. A love like that leaves more impacts than we could possibly keep track of, but all those impacts are going to be within reach, which is why something random within a single day may remind us of something that we haven’t thought of in while in regard to the experience of that love. That is comforting. Although there was an end, and it was painful, it is beautiful to think that we may be at our lowest and something seemingly insignificant will remind us of this great experience that we had. What is remembering love, if not love proceeding3?
Memories are tied to actual events and sensations that we experience in one way or another. But if the experience has already passed, is there trust in what remains of it in our minds? Remembering isn’t an act of recreating what happened previously, it is not even a mental video that can be rewatched in the exact same way as it was captured. If it is a video, then it keeps getting reedited every time that the source material gets brought up. A mental edit is even more severe than processing video in Premiere — it can add new images that probably weren’t there at the time of filming. Or were they? Who knows? Our history is how we define ourselves. What we have been through and felt give us the foundation we stand on and keep building upon. But if we can’t know for certain if some things in our minds actually happened or were felt, then can we call it a solid foundation. “When I retell a story, I make everything sound worse.”4 Is that a fresh contemporary look at past experience or meddling with the memory of the experience itself. There may be some biochemical explanation for this, but it’s obviously not enough to quench the curiosity of how events and feelings affect us. Maybe the malleability of our memory is just the way to work with them. If we could remember everything like a camera or a microphone then those experiences would wear off their own importance after a few times that we think back on them. The fact that we keep viewing these things differently each time shows us, firstly, which experiences impacted us the most, and, secondly, can help us decode what’s happening with us at present, through the way that we view it at the moment.
There is a difference between impact of memories and living in the past. But it is not quite as easy as to figure out which one is happening to us at the moment and just proceed with our day. “They say don’t live in the past. And I don’t.”5 What determines ‘living in the past’ and differentiates that from a supposedly healthy relationship with former experiences? There may be behavioural patterns, such as being closed off, not wanting to try new things and such. But calling someone out for living in the past is more of diagnosis than an attempt to help. It is almost making out a difficult period in one’s life to be a disease, which needs to be cured as soon as possible. But there can’t necessarily be an objective way of labelling one’s preference of past experiences to current ones a major issue. Naturally, an absolute unwillingness to face the day is problematic, but what determines it to be a problem that needs instant solving rather than a difficult times, through which something like focusing on pleasant memories is therapeutic and is in itself paving the way out of the rut. Life needs new experiences to be lived to the fullest, that’s why no day is ever exactly the same as any other; something ever so subtle is different every time. Going deep into one’s memories is nothing but an attempt to find the ground that one used to stand on and for one reason or another has lost for a while. “I live deep within myself. Just like everyone else.”5 We live through our memories regardless of outlook, and a deeper dig into those may become a problem, but on the way it’s solving a different one — loss of self-understanding. At one point or another we will have to go back to real life, and may not be easy, but this process is well worth the difficulty.
I haven’t been able to deal with my own memories for the past year or so. They jumbled up so much that their importance and profundity feels to have been randomized. I started forgetting things that I wanted to keep alive, and felt bad when was reminded of them. I started dwelling in whole cities that were built by memories so inconsequential that their unimportance seemed to part of the fear that they instilled in me. There’s something profoundly horrific about constantly keeping in one’s head a memory or a thought that has little to no impact on just anything. Is there such a thing as rational fear? Even if my fear is regarding something that does wind up happening in the future, does it mean that the fear itself was rational, just because the subject of it did materialise? Or is fear of the past repeating a rational one? Now it may not be that, but it is certainly a compelling one. Having experienced something is the strongest proof we have of that specific type of event having the potentiality of happening. I wish Nietzsche left me a guidebook on how to identify and eradicate memories that will cause unnecessary pain and worry in the future. But I guess he hasn’t done so because he spent his life trying to figure it out, and maybe never has, or maybe he did, but there was no conceivable way of explaining it; after all there are no direct mechanics of affecting our unconscious minds, there are only events, actions, feelings, and thoughts that affect them, but we only figure out that effect after it has taken place. I’m glad that there is music, and in music there are captured memories and fears, which either remind us of our own experiences, or make us feel what the artist felt and that in itself is rewarding enough. Why does an experience that is recounted in as much detail as possible and is therefore less relatable to others still elicit emotions at least somewhat similar to those that the artist felt? I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. Let’s just listen, and see what happens.
Top 5 Albums of 2021
1 Black Country, New Road — For The First Time
2 Godspeed You! Black Emperor — G_d’s Pee AT STATE’S END!