Sunday, March 23, 2014

the differentiating fluxes of time

"[T]he condition of any ongoing sameness is some capacity to resist the differentiating fluxes of time," writes Colebrook, memory making us what we are, not the particulars of the memory but memory itself, memory as a feature of the mind, memory attaching us, as if with magnets, to a phenomenon that is not time-as-it-passes, and thereby holding us together: the rest is only decoration on the essential fact. Imagine, then, that our personalities are only side-effects of the event that is our life, and sort of an inevitable but not essential companion or parasite. If literature is a system of interlocking personalities that have been extruded in some way from their parents then literature is a parasite on a parasite, or else a new and semi-independent species.

Anthony of Time's Flow Stemmed quoting Michel Houellebecq on March 16th and Houellebecq or else his narrator paraphrasing an idea he believes he found in Schopenhauer. "We remember our own lives, Schopenhauer wrote somewhere, a little better than a novel we once read." What would we be if our memories were perfect? what shape would we have? and would Powys discover that a person like that was as impossible to write about as the person who had a genuine and nonillusionary free will, this person who does not exist anywhere in his work, or not the works of his that I have read and probably not the others either, I say, guessing? -- that person whose existence he eradicated once and forever with the words "ultimate illusion"?

Perhaps we are lucky that we forget so much, so many memories being nearly unbearable. “How little we can hold in mind, how everything is constantly lapsing into oblivion with every extinguished life, how the world is, as it were, draining itself, in that the history of countless places and objects which themselves have no power of memory is never heard, never described or passed on.” (Sebald, Austerlitz) Though I need to add that I am only quoting Sebald because I have been reminded of him.

Powys loves illusionary "free will" and he promotes, praises and advocates behaviour that is unexpected, capricious and wanton (giving mental capriciousness to all of his key figures and all of the title characters from Porius, Wolf Solent, and Owen Glendower), but he also believes in a stable state, in a solidity so intense that it goes beyond the normal everyday natural solidity and lurks with an unnatural power, one character dying of love in Porius and her emotion so strong that people who pass by that spot centuries later will still feel themselves influenced, writes Powys -- influenced without knowing why.

But these two ways of behaving are both attached to the same essential phenomenon, which is the power of the person's emotional component, a power so independent that it not only acts on its own, "capriciously and wantonly," it also capriciously lingers.


  1. I like the idea that memory is who we are, that we remember ourselves and so retain our identity, and that as our memories shift and fade, so our identity changes. But I also like the image of an individual's emotion being so powerful that lingers, past the death of the individual. I like that a lot. I can't wait to start reading Powys. This summer, I guess.

    The Sebald quote reminds me of something I experience often enough. We go on walks through woods, wild areas and wetlands, and the trees are old and dying, forever toppling over and pulling up their roots as the trunks and limbs rot away into the soil, and I can't believe--I can never believe--that the forest is growing enough new trees to sustain itself, that it won't soon be nothing but decay and stumps and wind and worms. How can it be possible that things endure, given the rate of death, the endless destruction of everything? No, I can't believe it.

    1. Who is it who describes life (not an individual person's life but life in toto) as a sort of fountain with no off switch that spews and vomits material? Every time I think of it, I see this imaginary spout coming out of the earth, almost choking on its own massive disgorging, and then the puddle rotting into the ground all around the base of it. (Here in the desert we don't decay. We dessicate.)

  2. "What would we be if our memories were perfect?" Now, that is a scary question.

    I often wonder about how memory shapes our thoughts/ideas. How, for example, the order in which we read books affects what we take from them/how we interpret them. But, it's not just the order, but what we remember, and what we remember from say the previous book will often have been affected by what we remembered from the book before that. And so a string of thoughts move on, a string that may have been quite different had we read different books or, even, the same books but in a different order?

    1. I wonder about that too. I know that my mind will notice an idea in a book more readily if I've already been concentrating on a similar idea in a different book. Sometimes it feels as if the second idea is missing pieces of itself, purely because the first idea had those pieces.