Meditations on memory: What do you remember, and in what way do you remember it? I like to say my truth is in my fiction, though I believe I know the one from the other. Still, I probably have as many issues as most folks in differentiating between what really happened and the version I’ve told myself. Our revised accounts are composed of any number of tiny, seemingly innocuous fictions. But, thing is, these mite-sized fictions evolve over time. A detail here. A timeframe there. The cast made larger, smaller. The setting or tone changed. The dialogue made ever so slightly different.
We all have a story about who we are. The story’s a good one, a bad one, something variable or in between. Others influenced the setting, tone, cast of characters, etc., but we are the author of our own story. And, like it or not, we’re invested in that story, so much so, I’d argue, that at times we consciously or unconsciously manipulate our memories so they fit in with that story. It should come as no surprise really. Our story is the story of a lifetime–our lifetime–after all.
I listened to an interview yesterday with Julian Barnes who won the 2011 Man Booker Prize for The Sense of an Ending. Barnes told NPR’s Linda Wertheimer that his novel’s about “What time does to memory and what memory does to time, how they interact. And it’s also about what happens to someone in later years when they discover that some of the certainties they’ve always relied on, certainties in their mind and memory … are beginning to be undermined.”
“I have a brother who’s a philosopher,” Barnes says in the interview. “He maintains that almost all memories are false, all fallible, and that memory is the act of imagination, rather than the act of a lucid remembering machine somewhere up in our brains. … I certainly increasingly think that [memory’s] not only faulty but sometimes over-reliant on the imagination.”
Perhaps memory serves to remind us how we felt about the events of our past. And how we felt (or perhaps still feel) is surely connected to our story about who we think we are.
These meditations on memory come to a close, then, with these questions: Who do we think we are, and what do we think we’ve edited from our memory as a result?