When Memory Rubs Up Against Imagination

[Video: a multimedia installation called Memory Lane, by artists Félix Luque and Iñigo Bilbao. You can read more about the installation here. But — vis-à-vis this post — I was most struck by this portion of the description (emphasis added): “The installation forms in this way a coherent unit: sand rock and landscape… are two aspects of the same investigation on memory and space, on [the] perception of reality and on the human capacity of generating fiction, either by means of a simple child’s game or of a complex technological process.”]

From whiskey river:

If only we could listen more carefully, look more closely… Someday something will happen, the inner reality will stand revealed. At the same time I realize that this sense of mystery, of secrets dwelling in these streets, in this park, is fleeting and hard to defend. If someone were to ask me ironically, “Mr. Zagajewski, what actual mystery do you have in mind?,” I’d be hard-pressed to answer. I also know that there are people, some of them highly intelligent, who can never be brought to acknowledge the postulate of a mystery hidden in a city, or a park, or a quiet street at dusk. No, they’d say, everything can be checked and measured, so and so many bird species make their home in the park, including two subspecies of woodpeckers, along with twelve squirrels, maybe two martens, and five bums. The policemen on duty might easily survey the park and write up an unbiased report conclusively proving that no secrets had been unearthed.

(Adam Zagajewski [source])

and (second stanza):

The Nail

Some dictator or other had gone into exile, and now reports were coming about his regime,
the usual crimes, torture, false imprisonment, cruelty and corruption, but then a detail:
that the way his henchmen had disposed of enemies was by hammering nails into their skulls.
Horror, then, what mind does after horror, after that first feeling that you’ll never catch your breath,
mind imagines—how not be annihilated by it?—the preliminary tap, feels it in the tendons of the hand,
feels the way you do with your nail when you’re fixing something, making something, shelves, a bed;
the first light tap to set the slant, and then the slightly harder tap, to em-bed the tip a little more…

No, no more: this should be happening in myth, in stone, or paint, not in reality, not here;
it should be an emblem of itself, not itself, something that would mean, not really have to happen,
something to go out, expand in implication from that unmoved mass of matter in the breast;
as in the image of an anguished face, in grief for us, not us as us, us as in a myth, a moral tale,
a way to tell the truth that grief is limitless, a way to tell us we must always understand
it’s we who do such things, we who set the slant, embed the tip, lift the sledge and drive the nail,
drive the nail which is the axis upon which turns the brutal human world upon the world.

(C. K. Williams [source])

Not from whiskey river:

The Girl on the Bullard Overpass

The girl on the Bullard overpass
looks happy to be there, getting soaked
in a light rain but waving her hands
to the four o’clock freeway traffic
in which I’m anything but happy.

You might think she’s too dumb
to come in out of the rain, but rain
or shine, it doesn’t seem to matter.
She’s there most every afternoon,
as if she does this for a living.

Some living, I’d say. Doesn’t she ever
get bored, or wish someone would stop
and say, “Where to?” and her life would change?
That’s how I’d be, hating the noise,
the stink of exhaust, the press of people.

I can’t imagine what her life is;
mine is confused and often fretful.
But there’s something brave about standing alone
in the rain, waving wild semaphores
of gladness to impatient passersby

too tired or preoccupied to care.
Seeing her at her familiar station
I suddenly grin like a fool, wave back,
and forgive the driver to my right,
who is sullen and staring as I pass.

I find her in my rear-view mirror,
then head for a needed drink and supper.
I don’t know where she goes, but I hope
it’s to a place she loves. I hope the rain
lets up. I hope she’s there tomorrow.

(Peter Everwine [source])

…and:

#7: Researchers tell us that “having a good memory” (or a poor one, for that matter) misstates the reality: a memory isn’t something you have, or even something you know, but something you do — a process, rather than a product. A memory, in other words, bears little resemblance to a precious gem stored away in a little drawer in an enormous rolltop desk, just waiting for retrieval. If you fail to remember something, it’s not because you couldn’t pluck it from the hideyhole where you looked for it. No, you fail to remember it because your imagination has failed you — you haven’t yet constructed a context, a plausible narrative in which the something plays a part.

In that “yet” lie all the secret pleasures, all the reflexive joys, of the experience we call “nostalgia.”

(JES, Maxims for Nostalgists)

…and:

A very great deal more truth can become known than can be proven.

(Richard Feynman [source])

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