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The Shape of Memories

Author: joe

Monday, 28 December, 2009 - 16:08

A magician wrote about how the natural course of healing covers over the wound as spiders' webs ultimately smother the bric-a-brac on a table in the corner of a long-locked room; yet he wished to not allow the wound to heal over, but every day pick it open and keep his pain alive, rather than allow the web of forgetfulness to conceal the rawness of his experience.

The extremity of self-knowledge is the pursuit of the only absolute foundation he could reach: "nothing is true; everything is permitted." My self-knowledge is bound to a foundation made, amongst so many influences, of my father and the unknowable depths of my psyche which are made from his history in my life. I recall my father as much to understand myself as I do to keep his memory alive.

Rowing boats, van-rides with Candy and souvenir mix-tapes; evenings in beer gardens, Neil Young in the car; yards with kids, playing action man in the street. Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick on Top of the Pops; kissing a girl on the school railings, AZED crosswords, tin of snails in the first university hamper. Sunday afternoons with 2p for the phone box; huge home-knitted jumpers with big striped colours; shopping for records on my birthday; black and white photographs of me and an old Wolseley.

Memories have shapes. Although they are recalled all at once, like frozen instants, they also unfold in time. They have a flavour and pattern whose tone and complexity seem to present themselves whole; yet they also play out their complexity, like stories retold. Each retelling allows some room for change - room to create new tastes and tones.

As I let each memory spin out I recognise a new note attach itself. It is an aftertaste of grief; there is a hint of bitterness - the reaction against tragedy; but also an intertwining of happiness and melancholy. Maybe grief imparts complexity the way a cask enriches the liquor aged within it. Perhaps the immediacy of the experience is lost; but perhaps as each year passes, there is an ever more rich emotional flavour to each recollection.

Perhaps the bitterness will round out; the joys and the sadnesses may mold themselves into familiarity; and perhaps rather than need to keep pain alive, it will be replaced by something other than the forgetfulness the magician feared. Another Christmas passes...

Categories: xmas, dad, grief, time, memory, complexity,
Comments: 1

A Cherry Tree and Memories

Author: joe

Saturday, 26 December, 2009 - 18:18

I went for a walk by Pond House and Horsepool Hill in search of a cherry tree and memories of my father.

Boxing Day 2009 Walk in Shipley Country Park set on Flickr

Download the podcast (mp3, 23:53, 55MB)

Duration: 23:53; Size: 56MB

Categories: xmas, grief, boxing day, shipley country park, memory, place, walk, pond house, cherry tree,
Comments: 0

Wounded research #2

Author: joe

Wednesday, 29 April, 2009 - 07:38

The scrawl on the paper is a residue of a thought, and the reading of it now no more retrieves that thought than water restores dried up remains to their original vitality. I'm looking at the few notes I wrote in the phenomenology / depth psychology masterclass, and wondering if the handwriting itself might give me a clue as to the quality and taste of the thoughts and reflections that provoked them. Still, in the distillery they might briefly miss the port that has left the barrel but soon enough they look ahead to the flavour of the whisky. One of the other participants asked me at the time if I was enjoying the class, and I replied that while it was wonderful to be able to dwell for a couple of days on the place of my self in my work, when it was over I'd still have to return to the pressures of the institution and objectify, alienate and commodify my work and pretend I'd somehow contributed value to a knowledge economy. Actually I didn't quite say that: but that's a fancy way of retrospectively reworking the meaning I think I remember trying to put into brief, friendly, conversational words.

"Objectivity as a performance" is the note on the paper. The discussion turned to the kind of knowledge you'd want a carer to have or use. A doctor needs to slip between different modes - from the caring, interpersonal, individual-focussed human being who talks to the patient about their unique embodied life; to the impersonal, efficient, distant expert who examines your intimate body without judgement. When you visit the doctor and ask him to check your prostrate, you don't want the subjective eye of the appreciative flaneur of the body to be cast over your rectum: you want what Robert refered to as 'the hand of knowledge' to be the hand that touches you; not the hands of aesthetics, culture, poetry. In this respect, the doctor's behaviour is a performance in the strong sense that Goffman would use the word. The embodied, co-presense of two human beings in a room, each of whom have a myriad techniques of the self with which to hold at arms length the blank face of the universe, must always find ways to mediate the event of their interaction: scripts and roles which they understand and which they have already frequently rehearsed. The doctor's role is a difficult one: as any stage actor knows, flicking the switch and moving from one role to another is challenging enough; that the doctor absolutely must play one role, 'dead behind the eyes', but absolutely must not play that way, must 'be there', for the other, only augments that difficulty.

But this legitimation of 'objective knowledge' comes with ambiguity for me: it neither affirms the naive realism that asserts the viability of objective truth, but neither does it deny it. The performance of objectivity by the doctor is comparable to the performance of objectivity by which the drama of science unfolds. Those engaged in the practices and pursuits of scientific knowledge are engaged in a continual enactment of the scripts and signs of objectivity, permitting the collective suspension of disbelief which we all assent to by participating in modern society, and which would crash around our ears should enough of us suddenly nudge our neighbours in the theatre and mention the fact that we're really just decorated monkeys with a knack for communal hallucinations. In either case - the one to one with the doctor, or the continual reproduction of the scientific-technological superstructure - we might ask to what extent is the performance of objectivity a historically contingent phenomenon, or to what extent is the appeal to universal truth a part of the furniture of the mind, or, indeed the furniture of the universe? Of course, we can imagine a world in which those of us in need of care can seek help from others without needing to negotiate our neuroses and thereby demand that our carers perform their schizophrenic roles, and instead meet us with the freedom to be holistic, whole-person healers. But one of the premises of this masterclass is a discipline of depth psychology which is grounded in an archetypal approach to psychoanalysis and psychotherapy, itself a mode of understanding the architecture of the human mind as somehow fixed: the human psyche as a unity in diversity. It helps not at all to say that the structure of the human experience is contingent upon our evolutionary history, if as a species it is still an inescapable, eternal necessity.

Categories: subjectivity, objectivity, knowledge, phenomenology, depth psychology, masterclass, Robert Romanyshyn, science, performance, memory,
Comments: 1

On the intersubjectivities of tobacco

Author: joe

Saturday, 02 June, 2007 - 19:02

I have recently stopped smoking (more or less - every month or so a night on the lash is only made more enjoyable by trashy fags), and have done so because it stinks, because it makes my lungs hurt, because I resent the dependence, and because it killed my father, and would (and probably anyway will) kill me.

Nevertheless I shall be immensely sad when the smoking ban comes into effect in July. It feels as though one of the colours has been banished, or an entire mode of thought and living outlawed. Richard Klein wrote a brilliant meditation on the cultural life of the cigarette, Cigarettes are Sublime, and his history extends well beyond the ambiences and atmospheres that have pervaded my existence on the planet. He writes of Laforgue's poem La Cigarette, itself 'pushing the Baudelairean ennui to a new, more modern despair'. Laforgue's poet smoker kills time while awaiting death, thumbing his nose at the Gods. As Klein puts it,

"The instrument of his war is the cigarette, whose power derives from the capacity of its 'blue meandering' smoke to plunge him into a state outside himself, outside the course of everyday time that seems to run its tedious ribbon to infinity."

And the war is against not only the mind-numbing passing of endless time, but the 'poor future skeletons' that will unluckily inhabit this wasteland of eternity.

For myself, I wish not so much to step outside of time - I do not have enough, and though stopping the world for a duration measured out in tobacco smoke and silent acknowledgements with the quasi-masonic society of nicotine savoirs is a comfort I miss, it is one whose confiscature I can survive. Rather, it is the world around me which has been formed by the consumption of tobacco, and which in turn has formed the world of my memory and my identity that will die, leaving the bereaved ex-smoker inside me hovering at the fading entrance to the past, ever-more-vainly trying to call back the colours and textures as they disappear.

I recall from my childhood the doorways of betting-shops, the liminal place where a boy would wait for his father who had been swallowed by that belly of adult manhood - the smoking world I grew up in was after all a male, musky world. My conscious thoughts were of the betting-slips that I saw go from counter to pocket, to being concealed behind picture-frames at home. But unconsciously I knew the odour of cheap cigarettes (the only truly necessary cigarettes) because even now a sudden scent will bring that bookies back. The cheap smell has changed - what happened to Embassy No 7? - but the whole world of the small-town, midland-grey, east-coast fog, cold-rain and overalls underclass is encapsulated in a puff of tobacco nevertheless. It is the world of the Still, the public house of betting men and Saturday dinner cottage pies, flat caps and worn-out, threadbare cheap tweed, all bound together by a static hanging fog of pungent smoke, as though its absence will cause all to fall apart.

And from my teens, next to the pint of bitter is the round blue brewery ashtray on the scratched faux-mahogany table, roll-up dying off in the indented rim while we take turns at pool. How could anyone play pool without a roll-up? That mouthful of round and woody stench, a good hot fix of cloudiness eaking into the under-stimulated sides of your tongue where it feels as intimate as a finger in a crevice? Today I still sometimes pass a road-side pub where the side doors are opened and leaking the fust of beer, stale fags and in-between-last-night-and-tonight-ness. Sun outside but agoraphobic teenage boys inside the afternoon dinge, at the bar and feeling older than they are, excited with their unwieldy freedom but trying hard not to show it.

And through it all are the fights, friendships and night-passing ships which form and twine and end, bookmarked, punctuated, and rendered grammatical by the syntax of inn, beer, funk, juke-box, rizla, clouded-glass window, snakebite sticky carpet - and tobacco and its blue meandering. The grammatical rules of the future are asthmatic from over-sanitisation and underexposure to the fox-stench-like bitterness of steely jawed working men and their smoke. We will pass the unopened side doors of fitness clubs, protected from the hot stink of body which will be deodorised with fanatical regularity. The atomising family will, despite the onslaught of modern times and its fragmenting force, acquire an imprint of cleanliness and health. The public interior will become a hell of post-formica plasticity and vinyl plants. We will be coerced into living longer than we wish or need, all the while the human face is stamped on, not by a jack-boot, but by training shoes, facsimiles and mediocrity; such will be our shared cultural life.

I mourn the passing of the stinking cancerous world of the cigarette.

Categories: smoking, cigarette, memory, tobacco, smoke, the-end,
Comments: 2


Author: joe

Monday, 27 February, 2006 - 19:34

I got a CD through the post with some petouli (patchouly?) scented rose petals in it.

I haven't smelt that scent for a while, not even down the Hatchet where the petouli-types go. And when I first got a whiff of it the other morning, I didn't think of Jack wearing it when we were at school, or about Alison whose leathers smelt of it when we were 17 and on a bench in the park one night; I didn't even think of Michael my third step-father, who wore it because he was a twat.

I thought about my dad wearing it when I was a kid and we went to a sea-side camp for a day and visited one of his women; and when he wore it after tidying up the lounge where I was sleeping because he had a date coming for dinner; and when he wore it when I must have been about 10 years old and he lived with a feller called John, who got really embarrassed when he and my dad went to the chippy, and the guy asked if they were together, and my dad said, 'yes, and we're very happy'.

I miss my dad :-|

Categories: dad, petouli, scent, memory,
Comments: 1