Thursday, 9 March 2006

Still Life

I turn back to the ambiguous zone of motionless memory, intimate and sheltering. Away from destruction, there is a history of everyday memory which has not caught up with itself, so withdraws from narrative and becomes spectral. We are in the region of still place, of memories that have no place. There is a history, but it has not begun. The half-formed history belongs to memory. History has not begun.

In the absence of a historical framework, memory remains stranded; reduced to the category of “irresolute.” If trauma wrecks the emergence of memory, then what does the scattered remains of everyday – but lost – memory tell us? Yet the memory comes in fragments, even then, involuntarily. Unwilled memory. Memory which seizes us. It is a melancholy moment when we stand outside of ourselves, knowing that time and place are disrupted by the negations of consciousness.

As if it provided consolation, I returned to the spatial origin of memory, to the place where memory was grafted. Dead places: but only because they disprove the emplacement of memory. Bachelard’s remark continues to be my idée fixe: “Memories are motionless, and the more securely they are fixed in space, the sounder they are.” In the land of non-history, we return, hoping to be reminded of a forgotten recognition. To recognize the past, out of the cloudy horizon of the present, would mean to bring about its representation. Memory, irretrievable, but simultaneously present. A search would begin, following in the traces of remains. Yet the mutable quality of memory means recollection falters. We recollect what was once remembered, only to have the “once” destroyed by the “now.”


Memory is dialectical. It suffers at the rejection of its own distance. Yet distance is its natural habitat. Memory traces. The ruins of memory. Phenomenologically, the contents of the ruins precede the counterpart from where those fragments have fallen from. Memory begins in the ruins and rubble. The resistance against oblivion takes place, literally, in the rise of and reconstruction of the ruin. A mistake. The fallout of the past is not united, but mocked up. The place of the “once,” ruined by the time of the “now.”

Jetztzeit.” Benjamin occasionally writes enthusiastically about this term, meaning “now-time.” Less known is Schopenhauer’s criticism of it. Undoubtedly, the correlation is arbitrary. But surprisingly, Chapter XI, Volume 2 of Schopenhauer’s Parerga and Paralipomena, for me extremely significant, contains a phenomenological reading of temporality, perhaps inherited from Hegel, which prefigures Husserl. Constant motion, “the taskmaster,” is Schopenhauer’s source of vanity. The “no longer” might well have never existed. Even the most “insignificant present” has a certain power of the full present, since it exists as the real. Yet the moment is gone: “Every evening we are poorer by a day.” This vanishing point does not dissuade us, however, from viewing the present as the final present, “as if the Now were the Now…the Now for whose production alone all previous Nows have existed.”

This is Schopenhauer’s reading of Jetztzeit. The term implies a temporal convergence. A continuous identity, flourishing, reaching a peak, and then falling into irreversible decline. Memory, it seems, falls under the same delusion. Conferring a presence on the un-recollected past, we take it that memory guides itself in the dark, navigating itself toward the terrain of remembrance. The motion of memory, instead, reveals itself to be going astray, neither motionless in Bachelard’s term, not progressive in the Hegelian sense. Going astray means it runs off, beneath the threshold of recollection.

Finally, “I don’t remember” becomes the rule of honesty. I don’t remember. I only observe the remnants of duration which continue to linger into the present. The ruins of time keep me close to a past which has become amorphous, existing somewhere in-between time and place, and whose traces have been uprooted from the landscape of the Jetztzeit.