Along the reaches of the street
Held in a lunar synthesis,
Whispering lunar incantations
Dissolve the floors of memory
And all its clear relations,
Its divisions and precisions.
These are the first seven lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem “Rhapsody on a Windy Night.” I didn’t understand the poem the first time I read it, and I still don’t. Perhaps that’s just as well, because it seems to speak more in the tongues of reverie than of knowledge, of things almost sensed and connections just missed.
That being said, the poem still resonates for me in the dreaminess of its language and the intensity of what is felt — there is an immediacy there, I believe: the things we can almost grasp hover before us clear as day, perceptible, yet still out of reach. This is perhaps what we feel in nostalgia, or distortions of memory such as forgetfulness or déjà vu.
What is the purpose of memory, then? We are always forgetting things, misplacing past and future events or remembering them incorrectly. It’s easy enough to solve this problem by taking advantage of technology — and certainly this can be an advantage. If we have our schedules logged in our phones, with color blocks and reminders, we won’t miss a thing.
Yet this can be a disadvantage. Certainly it is good to be aware of our doctor’s appointment at 3pm and our dinner date next Saturday, but when do our notifications turn into mere collections? I think of a stamp collection gathering dust under the bed. Not lost, not misplaced, yet somehow still forgotten. Every stamp painstakingly catalogued, and not one of them enjoyed.
On the flip side, I’ve experienced the joy of remembering forgotten things: a good word I hadn’t encountered for years, a gift I received for my last birthday, an event I was already looking forward to and hadn’t really forgotten, but suddenly remembered I would be attending. If not for the imperfections of my memory, I wouldn’t have the privilege of delighting in these small joys.
There is, I would suggest, an art to remembering things, and it goes hand in hand with the ability to forget. If we cannot forget, then how can we remember? The imperfections of our minds hold great potential for a fuller experience of life, and give us reason for great gratitude.
In this vein, Fragments will spend the months of May and June considering the nuances and potentialities of memory. Our articles and creative pieces will explore the implications of forgetting, remembering, and forgetting again, and ask how our experiences of memory shape the way we know ourselves and the world around us.
Editor in Chief