Friday, June 16, 2006

Reading. Nabokov. (on memory and forgetting).

I find myself forgetting things all the time. I will open my mouth to speak, and realize that I've forgotten what it was I had been meaning to say. I will set some papers down on a shelf, and trail around the office for several minutes trying to remember where I'd put them. I write down phone numbers and then forget who they belong to. I can't remember which story I told to which friend, or if I have already told one long-suffering friend (usually J., who points out that I've told the story already, on the phone, via IM, email, or in person, or all of the above) the same story several times. But other things I remember. Conversations I had with people I loved. Fragments, incidents from my childhood. And above all, certain beloved passages from my favorite books, my favorite opening sentences, one of which comes from Nabokov's Speak, Memory.

The cradle rocks above an abyss, and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness. Although the two are identical twins, man, as a rule, views the prenatal abyss with more calm than the one he is heading for (at some forty-five hundred heartbeats an hour).*

These words have never failed to send a shiver up my spine, a reminder of my own mortality, of the reality that the world around me existed quite well without me before my appearance and will continue on after my "brief crack of light" has passed. Everything that follows these opening sentences is an exploration of all that passes in that time, in that moment of existence between birth and - if not death - the time when the book was finished. It is sometimes strange for me, as someone who forgets everything, to read other people's memories, as if by reading them I could recover my own, if not lost, then only vaguely remembered memories.

*Nabokov, Vladimir. Speak, Memory. Vintage International, 1989. p 19.

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