The Locations Of Memories

Nov 25 2012 @ 1:42pm

Charles Simic explores how places can trigger old memories:

Henry James called them “traps to memory” in The American Scene, the book he wrote about his visit to the United States in 1904 after a twenty-year absence. Walking on West Fourteenth Street and Lower Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, he shuddered at how much the neighborhood had changed. His parental home, the massive stone church that stood nearby, the old building that housed the original Metropolitan Museum of Art, and much else in the city had now “vanished as utterly as the Assyrian Empire.” What remained were these “traps” which “baited themselves with the cheese of association,” and into which anyone who had once known the city might fall.

He adds:

Since we are ordinarily better at forgetting than remembering, it is often a mystery why some such sight has stamped itself on our memory, when countless others that ought to have far greater meaning can hardly be said to exist for us anymore. It makes me suspect that a richer and less predictable account of our lives would eschew chronology and any attempt to fit a lifetime into a coherent narrative and instead be made up of a series of fragments, spur-of-the-moment reminiscences occasioned by whatever gets our imagination working.