I work downtown in a relatively small area. I see hundreds of faces on any given day. I live in the same town I went to college in, and there are old faces everywhere: anyone I recognize could be someone I shared a class with, someone from the climbing gym, a friend of a friend. My brain can’t remember any more names. After a certain point, there’s just a vague, uncanny familiarity: I simply “recognize” someone. They fit, somewhere or other, into the vast jigsaw puzzle of my past experience.
To be honest, I think this phenomenon of recognition is a fiction, or at the very least irrelevant. When neither person can remember where they know each other from, it’s just an excuse to start a new a conversation. Like recognizing a phantom in a dream, the fulfillment of this recognition is meaningless. Two people settle on a shared understanding of a history—namely, that there was some sort of history—and then promptly move on.
Today I had a long talk with an old man who lives out of his van and sells his artwork to support himself. This description, although realistic, sells him short; I love this man for his charm, his eccentricity and sense of humor. As we spoke, the story of his past came out. His wife divorced him the day before finals in art school; he once worked pouring and casting stainless steel; he protested the Vietnam war; he directly or indirectly led to the creation of many art exhibits. As I watched his face, taking in his words like I took in the wind and the soft colors of the autumn morning around me, it occurred to me that I would have enjoyed his story even if it was completely made up. How could I have known? It wasn’t the accuracy of historical details which was important—he could have told me anything. His story was a context I could use to place his person, an excuse to get to know him. It was the sincerity in his words that I found beautiful.
Is the recollection of my life or yours fictitious too? Is it important? Just like the recognition phenomenon, like those craters of meaning which we fill with images of people come and gone, I think that recollection’s only real purpose is to foreground the place where we find ourselves today.
We acknowledge that there was a past, some kind of story. But that story could be anything—the details don’t seem to matter very much.
Joe, high fives. You are a phenomenal writer. Your post is relevant for my m.a. thesis, especially your thoughts on thinking of the past. The details of the past do matter, in certain cases- in scholarly-art-historical cases. I am trying to put together details of the life of the artist I write about (born in 1763) and everything that happened in his lifetime (politics, culture, Napoleon, the Ottoman Empire –> what happened around him historically,…) until he passed away in 1831.
I believe I’ve read a similar post of yours, about how you often don’t believe that what “strangers” on the street tell you to be true. Okay, well not that you don’t believe, just that you are unsure of their truthfulness. .. I wonder why this theme of yours persists?…
Warm Greetings, Lale
Was this the post? http://lankydiatribes.com/2014/06/27/the-skeleton-crew/
The details of the past definitely matter if you are looking at them in a historical perspective, of course… I meant this to be more of an idea or a teaser. Is it possible for us to live a life with little or no conception of the past? Can we accept that it was just interesting, but holds very little sway in the way we interact right now? I definitely struggle with letting the past go—in fact, I’m sure that I obsess about it. I have a tendency to master things from my past and beat them into the ground. After moving to Alameda I got the old Crash Bandicoot (2 and 3) videogames for PlayStation, and played them until I had beaten them 100%. I remember liking them as a child, but this behavior was definitely unnecessary. I feel almost like I have to progress at some things NOW, simply because I’ve liked them in the past.
Art history is definitely another matter, though. 🙂
Glad you’re reading still. How close are you to finishing your masters?
Selam Joe, Yes, that looks like the same post. (You have another blog, with the same material? Which one do you want me to follow? (Bloglovin.com is a good tool for followin’ several!)
No. I do not believe “We” can live a life without a conception of the past. The past shapes us into who we are within each new second of our lives, both the conscious past and the unconscious past. For example, you would not be able to write as well as you can if it was not for THE PAST. Nor would we even be able to communicate together if we had not ever crossed paths, we would not even know each other if it was not for the past- we would not even know how to type, let alone speak English.
Yeah, I still readin’ your blog. I follow it through the bloglovin.com tool.
My master’s thesis progress and productivity has been quite well, a lot of momentum , massive momentum, came to me last week.
I DESIRE to graduate from my master’s program May 2015. To do so I must submit my thesis-committee-approved/ signed off master’s thesis to GAPE (grad. studies and program evaluations) by WEDNESDAY, 1 APRIL 2015.
(The last question you asked me is the most dreaded question.)
The answer to which blog is: either!
I’m still playing around with which I like better, whether I want to put the two into one, or post different kinds of content on either one, or whether I want to try and make Lanky Diatribes super public or not to try and make money from it.
Good point on all that past stuff, I guess…. 😛
with all your schooling: SLAY THAT SHIT!