Please play this song while reading:
While reviewing all the museum visits and assignments we had for this class I started thinking about memory and how it relates to narrative experiences. That prompted me to do some research about written history. Which then led me to remember Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory” from 1931. Created during a time when he was practicing a sort of subconscious, dream inspired form of painting, this work of art manages to capture the sense of loss ingrained in timelessness. It makes for an interesting philosophical conversation about the meaning of recognized physical time like what you see on a clock, and the sense and feeling of time not existing. So, how does this relate to memory? In some ways we experience the reflection of memories we’ve had in a space in our mind that is without the time and space that was relevant at that time. In other words, when we reflect upon our memories, they exist in a point in time that no longer exists to us, and so it is abstracted from its original place in time. We call it into our conscious and allow our minds to conceptualize how it relates to our current thought process. But to go back to Dali, his painting speaks to the feeling of the passage of time that we experience specifically when we dream. But what does this say about memory? If we go a little further with the title of this painting, it could be about the way we experience memories in time and how we misplace where certain memories happened and how we hold on to certain memories over others and then formulate a history for ourselves based upon our self-constructed view of our past. Our whole identities are, in some way, created by the way we string our life events and our memories of them, together, in an order.
With all of that in mind, there’s something very interesting happening with the way we store our memories outside of ourselves today. A narrative experience or history used to be passed down by family members or close friends. Storytelling was a sort of “telephone game” where stories would get passed down from generation to generation and each time it would adjust a little depending on who was telling the story. These days, with the advent of social media and telecommunications, storytelling and the narrative that is formed out of it is vastly different than it was before electronic communication existed. The way we rely on our histories differs now because we can go back and look at a picture of something we remember or search google for facts (which may not be the correct term to use in this day and age) or so called factual information for confirmation of our memories. But this may alter how we view our own memory of something. Technology has, in a sense, altered our collective consciousness.
Today, it’s kind of rare to see anyone journal their lives in the ways people did before computers existed. We have so many other ways of communicating what our lives are like for others to view. Which is not to say that keeping a journal was necessarily produced for the public eye in the way that Facebook and Instagram are today. Rather, keeping a diary of your daily life is meant to remember the memories you’ve had. It’s meant to track life the way it happened, personally. Today our diaries are all published to the public, and we portray views of ourselves that we wish other people have of us, rather than a documentation of our memories of the day. Memories, as a result, may have shifted greatly due to these exaggerations of our daily lives on social media.
With that in mind, Dali in 1954, in response to the aforementioned painting, created “The Disintegration Of The Persistence of Memory.” It demonstrates the difference in the way time and memory was thought about in the 1950’s when nuclear physics was becoming a dangerous reality and the thought that human destruction could happen at the fault of humanity rather than cosmic fate. I believe this painting has significance today because of the way we store our memories on our computers whether it’s pictures on Dropbox or Facebook messages to someone who is deceased or what we post to show what we want to project our lives as being to our social media network, these methods of keeping and telling a narrative story about ourselves are vastly different than they were in a pre-internet, pre-telecommunicative world possibly because of how prevalent it is.
On that note, to make things a little lighter, let’s go back to the idea of keeping a journal or diary today. What keeps a written history for us these days more than our google search results? It is directly related to the way we think about and perceive ourselves and others. It provides insight to what I was thinking at a specific point in time and is registered. When my last living grandparent died in 2001, I remember going through her physical memories, looking at her St. Jude statue that she buried little prayers about her children and grandchildren inside the nook it’s sleeves. I recall going through photo albums of her memories some of which I was a part of. But my children will probably go through digital memories. They’ll look online through archives of photos on DropBox, through my neglected Facebook page and my decaying hard drives full of content.
This begs the question: what are we without our memories? If all of these physical and digital remembrances get deleted or lost, we have to rely on what we solely remember them as in our memory. We depend on technology so much these days to keep track of what happened to us and when, but I think in a lot of ways we forget who we really are because of the arena we portray ourselves in and the way people are allowed to demonstrate the way they want to be rather than the way they actually are through social media today.
The 5 years I spent as a computer technician gave me a lot of insight into how people relate to their stored identities. Customers would come in and start crying that they their computer won’t turn on and they’re worried that they just lost all the photos of their new baby. Well, if you didn’t have these backed up and data recovery was too expensive or just didn’t work, then yes, you would no longer have these photos. But you would have the remaining memories of these pictures, and with time, perhaps they would become distorted like the imagery of the Dali paintings are. Seeing just how upset it would make people to lose the digital versions of themselves made it all the more clear that our digital selves are indeed a major part of our narrative, and it serves as proof of our memories. Without that we are left feeling a bit devoid of our history and lacking in a general collective narrative experience that exists in a very strong apparatus today.
Some questions that arose from this assignment:
How do we create a collective narrative around memories when our individual consciousness differs so greatly?
What kind of grasp do you have on life if you’re without your memories? Who are you without your memories?
Who are we if we’re only given an opportunity to show ourselves through what we remember about our pasts?