18 July 2011


A. Some reflections on reminiscence:
  1. The most poignant memories frequently involve feelings of nostalgia in themselves. So that we think longingly of an experience of longing.
  2. Primer on nostalgia: nostalgia = νόστος (return home) + ἄλγος (pain, grief).
  3. It is impossible for every experience of nostalgia to refer back to an earlier experience of nostalgia.
  4. The smell of the wood-pulp paper and cheap ink used in mass-market paperbacks is frequently enough in itself to make a memory last. Orwell, Salinger, Lewis and Tolkien are all deeply grounded in that scent. The peculiar ripple left behind around the letters used in such books is also distinctive. Not the cleanest print, but very solid.
  5. Pain is much easier to remember than joy.

B. Some reminiscences:
  1. It's a warm autumn evening under compact flourescent bulbs and I am attempting to re-order my life. At the moment this consists of re-interpreting the order and significance of my books. This is a sacrifice, because I have invested so much in the specific ordering of those books. Each has a clear significance that can be placed in a continuous narrative. The line of books on my shelf, once an indirect portrait of my life, is being broken up to express an external order that is not actually held but aspired to. The stuff of memory is reshaped into that of desire. All this is heavily suffused with the smell of new mass-market paperbacks and a deep sense of anticipation.
  2. Anxiety strikes late on a summer night and I resolve to finish reading Dostoevsky's Demons before morning. The last hundred pages or so of the novel are agonizing. All the characters I identify with most die one by one.
  3. Tracing out the lines of tar patches on the playground, I find the roads they make, follow them to their limits. Looking around, I recognize the distinctions between groups of peers, but don't understand how they fit together. For the moment it is more amusing to walk in circles or explore the hidden paths everyone else ignores.
  4. The feeling of potential when I think about the relationships between people. The structures employed shift over the years: early on there are only vague clusters which do not intermingle; later, the idea of governance is introduced; by age 11 there is a clear sense of social strata, determined less by "popularity" than by cliquish exclusiveness. Relations within and between the separate strata become a point of great interest and I think about it in a grim, helpless way from the swing set.