Sunday, 17 February 2008

“The Nervature of Past Life”

As with the majority of memories, the history of this blog—indeed most blogs—is the groundwork of a nostalgia that is either in the process of forming or has already become sedimented. A pre-emptive leap toward the uncharted future. Posts, punctuated into episodes, thrust into the world of desire, estrangement, transgression, otherness, and loss. So much concealed by a necessary obscurity. Details of a life, stripped of its privacy, and yet sunken into the distance. On occasion, I have gone back in time to amend posts that I imagine are floating adrift in the ether, no longer there to be read. An indulgence, to be sure. Details, prosaic and intimate, added to posts that are otherwise without specificity. Names. Places. A history given the flesh it lacked. In short: an untimely confession.

A lifeworld brought together through thoughts and memories. But how to stand in relation to this past? If I am honest, then I would have thought that I would be done with certain themes by now. I remember 2002. A specific urge to rid myself of an unmovable weight, to break the rhythm of the past, played out with the memory of a glass table and a kitchen. I was writing on (or more specifically through) Hegel, appropriating the theme of despair and unity as one of endings. And yet, the desired end simply spilled over into another metamorphosis, another series of episodes. Perhaps there is something farcical in this fixation, as though the close proximity between thinking and remembering was simply a side-effect of narcissism, and nothing more.

To be done? But that would mean the withering away of repetition, and no such diminishment seems impossible where memory and time are concerned. All that alters are the manner in which these themes are held toward reflection. With some reservation, I recognise these words of Cioran: “My vision of things has not fundamentally changed; what certainly has changed is the tone.” (Cioran, 1992, p. 251). Despite this, I do not – or no longer – share Cioran’s fatalism. The theme of “weariness” is a false problem, and certainly not a concern of mine. Indeed, far from experiencing a sense of “memory fatigue,” my turn toward the history of this blog (and of other blogs, too) is symptomatic of a broad struggle (philosophically and personally [if such a distinction can be made]) to reconcile how Sebald’s “the nervature of past life” can be absorbed by the present without a massive surge of Verfremdungeffekt. That struggle continues. Only now with an emphasis on other ways of experiencing the tension between memory and temporal continuity.

Thursday, 14 February 2008

Out in the Street


For a while I lived in a rectangular room above a Mexican restaurant. Outside of the window, I looked down upon a large cauldron of chilli, either decaying of cooking. I could never tell. Back then, I would go down to the Mexican restaurant on Haverstock Hill for their £5 evening buffet. An underground restaurant, the table was a mixture of cold calamari, rice, and dried refried beans. I would eat alone. Designating it as my main meal of the day, I would often covertly extract fajitas into a napkin for the day after. Once done, I would head back upstairs and keep the remains on the windowsill above the restaurant to keep the fajitas chilled. Occasionally I would wake and find that the rain had washed the fajitas away, pushing them into the cauldron below.

Shortly after that experience, I was walking along Haverstock Hill and got caught in the rain. Like so many memories involving rain, I found myself lodged in a doorway, protected by an alcove and yet with a move of my arm, still able to remain in the rain. There are no twilight porches in North West London, only shop entrances closed for the night. Striking how the experience of being caught in a downpour, at once intense and obtrusive, can suddenly switch, becoming a scene of comfort rather than a disruption of movement. And here, too, the moment adopts a dramatic gesture. A moment of intimacy, in which couples huddle together to ward off the cold while those who lack the desire to run resign themselves to a state of unobserved solitude.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Nostalgia for 1986


As though to prove that nostalgia is causa sui (in the strictly Freudian sense of the term), here’s my minor contribution to the New York Post.

Friday, 1 February 2008

This Place is Haunted

A voice becomes nearer, felt in the present, and manifest indirectly through being lodged in space. Often, the encounter is by chance. A room slowly vibrates with its own past, the tension in the bookshelves amplified by the memories those books contain. Time and again, I resurface at these shelves: they are ageing as the world is. Soon they will give way. Today, those memories appear through a disjunction between what is heard in the present and what remains to be said in the past, and yet cannot be said.


The voice speaks: we are haunted. Places have opened upon us. In doing so things have returned to the naked daylight, exposing homesickness to a state of being undead, itself thrown back upon the world. Can we speak of things still being “there” in this death? The bookshelves speak, yet no one speaks behind them. I stand beside them, yet they are elsewhere, divorced by a fundamental gap in my experience of them. The room becomes enclosed, compressed with a timescale that vanishes once the world of the room is left behind. Tonight, I am being looked at. I am being watched.

Bodies that have touched the world before disappearing into darkness can redirect their direction through implanting themselves in space. The world become haunted, gain eyes which are then returned upon the world. Lacking the means to communicate with the visible world, those bodies commit themselves to disturbing the materiality of things through leaving things in their place. It is in this way that things become experienced as places. Infused with its own decommissioned memory, the life of place is an afterlife, a reverberation that pulls the present into the past before throwing it back into the daylight.