I tend to write "fractured" reflections when I am about to start looking into something. I write down what is most present in my mind and use those fledglings to help me find sources for proper research. Anyway, that's how this post got written:
We say that the body remembers. The dancer cannot recount the steps of the old dance without dancing them. Watch her face. You will see her eyes look up and to the side. She looks into the past and her body retraces the step. Muscle memory, we call it. Though muscles would “remember” nothing without a mind to hold them in unity.
Perhaps a movement exhaustively trained need not be remembered. Maybe it is always with us, like the ability to walk or ride a bicycle. Similarly, perhaps the logos, the use of language, is not something to be remembered but used. So, at the rehearsal, one does not ask “do you remember the step?” when the subject is a dance that is currently in the repertoire. Rather one simply asks, ‘what is the step?” The movement is present; it is with us. So we don’t need to look back for it. That which happened yesterday on stage is not yet history.
Memory lies elsewhere. We breach the boundaries of the present at the moment that we exert effort, at the moment that we “look” for the right words, or try to “recall” the location. Something is gone and we must bring it back. The event has faded into the recess where it has become a memory. To find it we must reach and what we pull out of that grayness is often flawed.
The reaching can be influenced. Sometimes the force of the sway is the passage of time, which can bring a kind of dimness to even the brightest recollection. But the memory is also subject to what psychologists call “suggestion.” Give us the right information at the right time and we will recount what the people in white coats wanted us to recount, feeling these implanted images to be our own.
For these reasons, the mind is not like a container. Memories are not like pictures. The metaphors of modernity, of hard drives and RAM do not help us here. This technology can reproduce something. We never reproduce. We never go back to the source copy. Because everything that we reach back for is brought forth into a new meaning. The context is always different and this fact alone brings a newness to that which we remember, no matter how incomplete the memory may be.
Nostalgia is the name for one such meaning. I recall a moment from the “good old days.” Back when men were men or when music was good. My reflection on the worth of the past is quite possibly a judgement about the worthlessness of the present, but I do not register it as such. I am taken by the mood and the mood itself is what looks back. So, I recall my first wedding with general ambivalence and I note foremost its worst elements. I can scarcely remember what was good about it. But I look back on my second wedding with a soft feeling of joy. I remember the look of love in my bride’s eyes and the warmth of her hand. In each case, the mood has constructed the past for me. Perhaps this is all that ever happens.
But mood is not the only brush with which the past is painted. The fireman remembers the blaze and the runner remembers the race. Others may have been present, but they cast narrow nets because their logos is limited. It is said that the limits of our language are the limits of our world. The Laban movement analyst writes each step into his mind with a deep vocabulary. While others struggle to reclaim a close approximation, he calls back exceptional detail. But only because he was receptive in the experiencing, because he was trained to look for the most subtle movement. Because he had words and could place the signs with there meanings with their referents. Yet very few of us have a surplus of terms for basic daily life. We live it but have not been trained for it. We have not studied it. Meanwhile, some are well versed in the pessimism and despair of a hundred philosophers. For them, the past is as hazy as it is meaningless.
Perhaps it is inevitable, then, that we come to the great claim of such a philosopher. He says that life would not be bearable if we did not forget. We may be able to live without remembering, he says. But we cannot live without forgetting.
“The person who cannot set himself down on the crest of the moment, forgetting everything from the past, who is not capable of standing on a single point, like a goddess of victory, without dizziness or fear, will never know what happiness is. Even worse, he will never do anything to make other people happy.”
The past, he says, can dig a grave for the present. We must not allow this. We should take from the past that which makes us stronger or more focused and leave the rest to wash away until we forget that we forgot it.
So, what one remembers is much less important than what one forgets.