Wednesday, 18 February 2015

It Never Happened


Nope, still don't remember...
(Amsterdam junkshop)
 
I was mentioning an unforgettable incident from our shared, misspent youth to an old chum, recently, when it transpired that he couldn't remember a damned thing about it.  Now, when herbal mood enhancement may have been involved, it's perhaps not surprising that memories differ and fade, but you'd think, if you had been ejected from an exhibition of kinetic sculpture with the immortal words, "Please leave now, this is an art gallery, not an adventure playground", you'd probably recall the occasion.  But no, not a glimmer.

I am increasingly intrigued by this "partial memory" syndrome.  The recognition that there are differing perceptions of the same event is nothing new, of course.  The fable of the blind men describing the elephant is ancient, and well-known, though it would be interesting to know whether any of them, forty years later, had managed to forget all about ever having handled that elephant.  Especially in the case of the unfortunate guy -- rarely mentioned -- who discovered that an elephant was very like a heavy shower of evil-smelling rain.

But that entire notable events can be forgotten -- not just recalled differently, but erased from the memory bank -- by one or more of the participants is strange, and not a little sad. This is especially the case when that particular event is of significance or emblematic to someone.  I was puzzled, for example, not to be able to recall an occasion, early in the relationship with my Significant Other, when, apparently, a pigeon flew into a department store window directly in front of us, stunning itself -- thunk! -- and falling to the pavement, leaving one of those ghostly "feather dust" impressions on the plate glass.  Ah, talk about yer coup de foudre...  Such a shame that, in my mind, it never happened.

Worse, though, is to be the subject of stories -- much retold by others and polished to a deep shine -- which, as far as you can recall, either never happened at all or, if they did, were perpetrated by somebody else, someone completely unlike you.  Me?  I would never say or do something like that!  Admittedly, there can be a certain level of Jeckyll and Hyde in my behaviour; like anyone, beyond a certain level of intake -- even of fresh air -- I may switch into a different personality, and say or do things I may come to regret.  Or forget.  Or even choose to forget.

But that thing with the monkey on a tricycle in that carpark in France?  It never bloody happened, as far as I'm concerned.  Though oddly -- in the words of the song -- I remember it well.  Just don't ask.

The horse that wasn't there...
(Tropenmuseum, Amsterdam)

8 comments:

Zouk Delors said...

And, of course, different people witnessing the same events, at the same time, don't always "see" the same thing anyway. I refer you to the highly amusing The Real Inspector Hound by Tom Stoppard.

stephen connor said...

On the off chance that you haven't read it, you might have a look at Julian Barnes's, "Nothing to Be Frightened Of". It's partly an autobiography (built, more or less, around his fear of death). In trying to jog his own memory regarding childhood events, he has talks with his brother. There's a lot of, "No way," "Never happened," "That was you, not me".

Mike C. said...

Zouk & Stephen,

Two gaps in my reading exposed, right there... Or maybe I've just completely forgotten reading them.

The interesting thing about the Barnes (as you describe it, Stephen) is that he has made a feature of describing the differing recollections, whereas I'm sure most autobiographical works decide on an "authorised" version and use that.

Talking of "authorised" versions, it's an interesting (?) exercise seeing how different the stories told by the four gospels are (it's also interesting to note that none of the evanhelists were there: all four were written hundreds of years after the events described). Strange, that there should be a "partial recollection" issue at the heart of our key western religious tradition...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Read The Real Inspector Hound by all means -- but not until you've seen a production; it's very visual (but also very cerebral). I don't think it's giving away too much to say that the curtain rises on an unbelievably bizarre scene which transforms in a matter of seconds, leaving a policeman at the door baffled as to what has happened to the "crime scene" he believes he witnessed through the window moments before. At least, that's how I remember it.

If you and your friend can't agree about what happened, there's only one way to settle it: time travel.

Zouk Delors said...

Actually, I've just looked at the Wikipedia page for The Real Inspector Hound, and either I'm thinking of the wrong play or the Wiki contributor is -- which is strange as I've seen it twice and have read the script, which I have a copy of somewhere. Perhaps one of your readers with a better memory than me can tell you what play I'm thinking of. Or Wikipedia what one they're on about. You can't trust the internet, you know.

Zouk Delors said...

Ok, it's not The Real Inspector Hound, it's After Magritte . I hesitated to use the word "surreal" to describe the opening scene, but it seems that's exactly the right word.

Thank God Wikipedia's integrity is intact!

Mike C. said...

Zouk,

There is a word for something which is a perfect illustration of itself (in this case, forgetting and false remembering), but I've forgotten what it is...

Mike

Zouk Delors said...

Ceci est un exemple du paradoxe d'Epiminedes.