Sunday, June 20, 2010

Significant Moments: Mementos of Past Pains and Pleasures


Day dawn.—
Richard Wagner, Parsifal.
I am rather depressed.
Thomas Hardy, A Pair of Blue Eyes.
I go to the basement and open . . .
Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
. . . my trunk.
Edgar B.P. Darlington, The Circus Boys on the Flying Rings.
The basement is in . . .
Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
. . . my mountain home . . .

Joseph A. Altsheler, The Guns of Bull Run.
. . . after a long, harsh winter, and deep in . . .

Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
. . . the trunk . . .
Edgar B.P. Darlington, The Circus Boys on the Flying Rings.
. . . when I reach for . . .
Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
. . . Mementos of past pains and pleasures . . .
Charlotte Bronte, Excerpt from Mementos.
. . . I still feel the cold of February.
Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
The past is a quiet place where change occurs in increments of glacial slowness; it is a perpetually verdant landscape. You can go there and find that nothing much has happened since your last visit.
Luc Sante, The Factory of Facts.
In probing my childhood (which is the next best to probing one's eternity) I see the awakening of consciousness as a series of spaced flashes, with the intervals between them gradually diminishing until bright blocks of perception are formed, affording memory a slippery hold.
Vladimir Nabakov, Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited.
But what is the past? Could it be, the firmness of the past is just illusion?
Alan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams.
[I]s there any reason to trust a man in his late fifties, who speaks of his "child's memory" as if it existed, unintruded upon by intervening experience, like an old movie reel, waiting only for a projector?
Philip Gourevitch, The Memory Thief.
Nobody can really say for sure, because nobody really knows . . .
Charles M. Kozierok, Risks of Overclocking the Processor.
Speaking personally, I find that . . .
Daniel J. Boorstin, Cleopatra's Nose: Essays on the Unexpected.
My early childhood memories are planted, first and foremost, in exact snapshots of my photographic memory and in the feelings imprinted in them, and the physical sensations. Then comes memory of being able to hear, and things I heard, then things I thought, and last of all, memory of things I said.
Binjamin Wilkomirski, Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood.
Images and symbolic constructs of the past are imprinted . . .
George Steiner, In Bluebeard's Castle.
. . . in me, . . .
Homer, The Odyssey.
. . . almost in the manner of genetic information . . .
George Steiner, In Bluebeard's Castle.
. . . to become galvanized into . . .
Leonard Shengold, Soul Murder: The Effects of Childhood Deprivation and Abuse.
. . . what will later be . . .
Karthik Ramanan, The Birth of a Legend.
. . . a cinematic re-presentation
Leonard Shengold, Soul Murder: The Effects of Childhood Deprivation and Abuse.
The first pictures surface one by one, like upbeats, flashes of light, with no discernible connection, but sharp and clear. Just pictures, almost no thoughts attached:


It must have been Riga, in winter. The city moat was frozen over. I'm sitting all bundled up with someone on a sled, and we're running smoothly over the ice as if we're on a street. Other sleds overtake us, and people on skates. Everyone's laughing, looking happy. On both sides tree branches are bright and heavy with snow. They bend over the ice; we travel through and under them like through a silver tunnel.
Binjamin Wilkomirski, Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood.
I remember going in one end and coming out the other.
Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
I think I'm floating. I'm happy. But this picture is quickly scared off by other ones, dark and suffocating, which push into my brain and won't let go. They're like a wall of solid black between me and the sparkling and the sun.

Binjamin Wilkomirski, Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood.
I fight against my depression.
Cosima Wagner's Diaries (Tuesday, January 5, 1869).
I am not well, but I am not mad. I’m after something. Memory, yes. A reel. More than just time.
Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
I summon up remembrance of things past
William Shakespeare, Sonnet No. XXX.
But more than just time.
Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
Mid-day.
Richard Wagner, Parsifal.
A walk in the bright sunshine . . .
Cosima Wagner's Diaries (Tuesday, January 5, 1869).
. . . at noon . . .
Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
. . . was a great help to me; from the top of the hill I was enraptured by the ring of snow-capped mountains, which suggested to me a mysterious, unmoving dance. Absorbed long in watching the picture, my spirit heard the music which higher beings reproduce for us in sounds. — The transience of all individual existence, the eternity of the whole, was reflected to me in the blue mirror of the lake.
Cosima Wagner's Diaries (Tuesday, January 5, 1869).
"When one has passed through a narrow gorge and has suddenly arrived at a summit, after which the ways part and the richest prospect opens in different directions, one may linger for a moment and consider which way one should turn first"
Sigmund Freud, The Interpretation of Dreams.
My deep inner strength restored, I summoned the Friend from his work and together we wandered up the hill; the magnificent . . .
Cosima Wagner's Diaries (Tuesday, January 5, 1869).
. . . view of mountains . . .
Frances FitzGerald, Fire in the Lake: The Americans and the Vietnamese in Vietnam.
. . . looked like a spectral shadow.
Cosima Wagner's Diaries (Tuesday, January 5, 1869).
Fresh snow had fallen, and this partly concealed the crevasses, so that we could not make out the most dangerous places. Here my guide had to take the lead and reconnoiter the paths. At last we reached the opening of the pass leading out to . . .
Richard Wagner, My Life.
. . . the shallow valley . . .
Anthony Swofford, Jarhead: A Marine’s Chronicle of the Gulf War and Other Battles.
. . . to which a precipitous slope of ice and snow had led us.
Richard Wagner, My Life.
We stand among dark boulders, taller than we, that came to rest here 20,000 years ago when the glacier melted and retreated north.
Lance Morrow, A View From the Shore.
That which has driven me to the steep summit,
now holds me spellbound at the abyss's edge:
Richard Wagner, 'Above the abyss I stand'
I now felt that strange and mysterious sensation which is awakened in the mind when looking down from lofty hilltops, and now I was able to do so without any feeling of nervousness, having fortunately hardened myself to that kind of sublime contemplation. I wholly forgot who I was, and where I was.
Jules Verne, A Journey to the Center of the Earth.
________________________

I had my final consult with my psychotherapist Abbas Jama, M.D. on Thursday June 17, 2010.  He told me I should let go of the past, that I think about the past too much.  I suppose I think about my past more than other people think about theirs.  My past is important to me: both the pleasures and pains associated with that past.

I suspect that anyone who has invested as much of himself as I have in writing about his past and the importance of that past in the present experiencing moment will not easily give up that preoccupation.  I spend much of my days in search of lost time, but then, some people do that.

I am not a conventional person, nor would I want to be.  The aim of my existence is not to mimic the majoritarian horde.

Thinking about the past is an aspect of my identity.

I find it revealing that so many of the quotations in the passage above are from books about child abuse and wartime experience.  A preoccupation with the past can, in fact, be a consequence of trauma.  One does not overcome the consequences of trauma by forgetting about the past.  The psychiatry patient lets go of the past as part of the process of therapy, a process that involves, as Freud would say, Remembering, Repeating and Working Through.  That therapeutic process was lacking in my psychotherapy with Dr. Jama.

5 comments:

Gary Freedman said...

My interpretation? Telling a patient to forget about the past is simply a polite way of telling the patient: "It never happened."

Gary Freedman said...

The Tale of Anna and Annie

Anna Freud: So, Annie, tell me, what was it like for you growing up?

Annie: It was a hard knock life.

Anna Freud: No! That was your fantasy!

Gary Freedman said...

A note about Shakespeare's Sonnet No. 30:

The sonnet begins by using courtroom metaphors ("session", "summon up" (as a witness), and "cancell'd" (as a debt)). The speaker paradoxically describes solitary contemplation as "sweet" despite his inevitable thought on sad things. Shakespeare grieves his failures and shortcomings ("I sigh the lack of many a thing I sought"), and, although the tragedy is long in the past, he "weep[s] afresh love's long since cancell'd woe". The theme of renewed sadness in contemplation figures prominently in the sonnet.

Gary Freedman said...

Note the quote from Homer's Odyssey and the reference to Telemachus in the Time Magazine story "A View from the Shore."

Telemachus (pronounced /təˈlɛməkəs/; Greek: Τηλέμαχος, Tēlemakhos, literally "far-fighter") is a figure in Greek mythology, the son of Odysseus and Penelope, and a central character in Homer's Odyssey. The first four books in particular focus on Telemachus's journeys in search of news about his father, who has been away at war; they are, therefore, traditionally accorded the collective title the Telemachy.

Gary Freedman said...

There is an important irony, or metaphor, in this section.

Binjamin Wilkomirski's book about his experiences in a Nazi concentration camp, Fragments: Memories of a Wartime Childhood, turned out to be a literary forgery. The author was never in a concentration camp. The story of the forgery was a scandal in the publishing world in the 1990s.

The Wilkomirski book -- as a forgery -- is a metaphor for psychoanalysis. Initially, Freud accepted his patients' reports of child abuse as historically true (this was Freud's so-called "seduction theory"). He later rejected most of his patients' reports as fantasy -- as a psychological "forgery."