in his interview with the asian american writers' workshop's ken chen, kazuo ishiguro says:
i became interested in how people told the story of their own lives to themselves and how they deceive themselves. how sometimes they wanted to look at shameful episodes from the past that they had participated in and other times they absolutely did not want to look at those things.
the parent-child or any relationship tends to become dependent on some unspoken agreement not to go to certain memories, certain dark passages. after a while, you start to ask, is our bond, is our love, based on something phony if it depends on things being kept hidden?
when i think about memory, i think of nell, my favorite band. a few years ago, when they finally made a comeback after four years away, during a TV appearance, jong-wan (vocalist + songwriter) said:
예전에는 뭔가 잃는게 굉장히 두려웠던 것 같에요. 그리고 그게 되게 힘들고 … 근데 시간이 점점 지나면서는 내가 잃는 것 보다는 뭔가 잊어가고 있는 것들이 굉장히 슬프게 느껴지들아구요. 제가 예를 들어서 그 어떤 소중한 사람이 됐든 아니면 꿈이 됐든 그걸 잃어가는 것 보다는 내가 그런 것 자체가 있었다는 것 조차 잊어가는게 슾퍼서 아마 전반적인 앨범에 가사 내용이 좀 그런 내용이 아닌가 …
before, i think i was afraid of losing things. and that was incredibly difficult … but, as time passed, instead of losing things, i started to feel more sadness about forgetting things. for example, whether it’s an important person or a dream, instead of losing that, because i felt sad about forgetting that i even had such a person/thing, i think that’s why the lyrics on this album generally have that quality …*
for some reason, i've always thought of this in terms of memory, in losing memories versus forgetting memories. there's a degree of willfulness attached to losing something, that there is some contributing action that leads to the loss, whereas forgetting happens when we don't mean for it to happen, when we want to hold onto something and keep it close, only to realize one day that what we so cherished has slipped away -- and, yet, at the same time, could we not see forgetting as a type of loss, too? but, yet again, i wonder if this also is a way that english fails me because there is something so distinctive about these words in korean, to lose (잃는다) versus to forget (잊는다) that makes the comparison so poignant, so melancholy, so regretful.
the exploration of memory, though, is one reason i love ishiguro's books, especially when paired with his exquisite first-person and the nostalgic tones with which he imbues his books, and i'm interested in the new places his explorations of memory have taken him. in the buried giant (knopf, 2015), there's a mist caused by a dragon that causes people to forget, but these memories aren't lost because they will be awakened again once the dragon has been slain. when these memories are regained, tensions and conflicts will return to the land, which begs the question, is it better to forget then, to accept the loss instead of questioning it? and, on a more intimate scale, is it better in a marriage, in a relationship, in a friendship to claim forgetfulness? like ishiguro said to chen, where are the foundations then, and are they real and valid or fake?
how long can something be sustained when essential memories have been forgotten?
who are we when we've lost or forgotten our memories? who are we to each other when we've lost or forgotten our memories?
nicole krauss explores this in her debut novel, man walks into a room (doubleday, 2002), in which the main character, samson, wakes up one day in las vegas, having somehow made his way out west from new york city, though he has no recollection of this. as it turns out, he has a brain tumor, which has erased his memories since childhood, and, though his wife, anna, brings him back home post-operation healthy and physically well, nothing is familiar to him -- everything's been erased, lost, forgotten. he is no longer the man she married and built a life with, and she is nobody to him, and their marriage cannot be sustained.
the truth, though, is that it doesn't necessarily take a brain tumor to lose or forget because, as humans, we're subject to change, and, sometimes, to maintain our relationships, we willfully lose or forget things. or we simply lose or forget memories as we get older, become different people, and how regretful a prospect is that, sometimes, that this is something we can't help, and is it natural, then, that we've become a culture so obsessed with remembering, with curating our lives and preserving them on facebook, twitter, instagram, blogs, like, if we don't leave some record of ourselves behind, it'll be like we were never here, like we've never lived these lives?
"slip away" (from nell's album, slip away) ends:
혼자 남겨진 외로움보다,
눈물로 얼룩진 마음보다,
뒤엉켜버린 그 시간보다,
단 하나뿐인 그 진실보다,
잊혀져갈 이 모든 게 애처롭다
추억조차 지워갈 내 그 모습이 눈물겹다
익숙해질 그 모습이 눈물겹다
more than the loneliness of being left alone,
more than the heart spotted with tears,
more than that entangled time,
more than that singular truth,
all these things i'll forget are more painful,
the self that will erase every memory is more pitiful,
the self that will become accustomed to that is more pitiful.*
* all translations are mine; even if they are crappily done, i still claim ownership of them.
april is national poetry month, so here's a poem (or part of a poem) every monday for the rest of the month, which is really my way of saying, here's a poem by ted hughes. today's is the end of one of my favorite poems, and i will leave you with this -- have a good week, all!
even in my dreams, our house was in ruins.
but suddenly -- the third time -- you were there.
younger than i had ever known you. you
as if new made, half a wild roe, half
a flawless thing, priceless, facetted
like a cobalt jewel. you came behind me
(at my helpless moment, as i lowered
a testing foot into the running bath)
and spoke -- peremptory, as a familiar voice
will startle out of a river's uproar, urgent,
close: 'this is the last. this one. this time
don't fail me.'
howls & whispers, "the offers"