by Mark Dorset
The year before, at an evening party, he had heard a piece of music played on the piano and violin. At first he had appreciated only the material quality of the sounds which those instruments secreted. And it had been a source of keen pleasure when, below the narrow ribbon of the violin-part, delicate, unyielding, substantial and governing the whole, he had suddenly perceived, where it was trying to surge upwards in a flowing tide of sound, the mass of the piano-part, multiform, coherent, level, and breaking everywhere in melody like the deep blue tumult of the sea, silvered and charmed into a minor key by the moonlight. But at a given moment, without being able to distinguish any clear outline, or to give a name to what was pleasing him, suddenly enraptured, he had tried to collect, to treasure in his memory the phrase or harmony—he knew not which—that had just been played, and had opened and expanded his soul, just as the fragrance of certain roses, wafted upon the moist air of evening, has the power of dilating our nostrils. Perhaps it was owing to his own ignorance of music that he had been able to receive so confused an impression, one of those that are, notwithstanding, our only purely musical impressions, limited in their extent, entirely original, and irreducible into any other kind. An impression of this order, vanishing in an instant, is, so to speak, an impression sine materia. Presumably the notes which we hear at such moments tend to spread out before our eyes, over surfaces greater or smaller according to their pitch and volume; to trace arabesque designs, to give us the sensation of breath or tenuity, stability or caprice. But the notes themselves have vanished before these sensations have developed sufficiently to escape submersion under those which the following, or even simultaneous, notes have already begun to awaken in us. And this indefinite perception would continue to smother in its molten liquidity the motifs which now and then emerge, barely discernible, to plunge again and disappear and drown; recognized only by the particular kind of pleasure which they instill, impossible to describe, to recollect, to name; ineffable—if our memory, like a laborer who toils at the laying down of firm foundations beneath the tumult of the waves, did not, by fashioning for us facsimiles of those fugitive phrases, enable us to compare and to contrast them with those that follow. And so, hardly had the delicious sensation, which Swann had experienced, died away, before his memory had furnished him with an immediate transcript, summary, it is true, and provisional, but one on which he had kept his eyes fixed while the playing continued, so effectively that, when the same impression suddenly returned, it was no longer uncapturable. He was able to picture to himself its extent, its symmetrical arrangement, its notation, the strength of its expression; he had before him that definite object which was no longer pure music, but rather design, architecture, thought, and which allowed the actual music to be recalled.
Swann’s Way, “Swann in Love”Jean Cocteau:
The most realistic person is susceptible to the seduction of legends and believes them loyally; . . . by a phenomenon of inverted perspective, memory has a tendency to see things growing larger as they move further away, to get them out of proportion, to remove their bases, in short . . . nothing is more suspect than evidence. I have known eye-witnesses whose evidence, based on error of vision, would without demur have sent an honest man to the guillotine, and who, when their inaccuracy was proved, would embroil themselves further rather than feel any shame. It is certain that the flight of time casts a spell because in it reality twists itself in a manner that shocks a mind untutored in the realm of art, but fascinates it when the events are romanticized. Hence the success of collected letters, memoirs and other direct testimony in which we can touch the myth as we read an interview, an article . . .
“On Guillaume Apollinaire,” in The Difficulty of BeingHenri Bergson:
(translated by Elizabeth Sprigge)
In fact, there is no perception which is not full of memories. With the immediate and present data of our senses we mingle a thousand details out of our past experience. In most cases these memories supplant our actual perceptions, of which we then retain only a few hints, thus using them merely as “signs” that recall to us former images. The convenience and rapidity of perception are bought at this price; but hence also springs every kind of illusion.
Matter and MemoryGerald M. Edelman and Giulio Tononi:
Memory is a central component of the brain mechanisms that lead to consciousness. It is commonly assumed that memory involves the inscription and storage of information, but what is stored? Is it a coded message? When it is “read out” or recovered, is it unchanged? These questions point to the widespread assumption that what is stored is some kind of representation. This chapter takes the opposite viewpoint, consistent with a selectionist approach, that memory is nonrepresentational. We see memory as the ability of a dynamic system that is molded by selection and exhibits degeneracy to repeat or suppress a mental or physical act. This novel view of memory is illustrated with a geological comparison; memory is more like the melting and refreezing of a glacier than it is like an inscription on a rock. . . .
A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes ImaginationMilan Kundera:
There is a secret bond between slowness and memory, between speed and forgetting. Consider this utterly commonplace situation: a man is walking down the street. At a certain moment, he tries to recall something, but the recollection escapes him. Automatically, he slows down. Meanwhile, a person who wants to forget a disagreeable incident he has just lived through starts unconsciously to speed up his pace, as if he were trying to distance himself from a thing still too close to him in time.
SlownessJorge Luis Borges:
One of the schools of Tlön has reached the point of denying time. It reasons that the present is undefined, that the future has no other reality than as present hope, that the past is no more than present memory.
“Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius”
Herb ’n’ Lorna: burned in the Hapgood Brothers’ warehouse fire [MD ANNO]
Glynns: the sadness I find implicit in any memory, a yearning for my younger self and the fresh flavors of his new sensations . . . a kind of mourning for the distinctions that die with the passage of time
Glynns: (My art is made of recollection, and revision, and wishful thinking.)
Where Do You Stop?: An extremely vivid pictorial memory lit up my mind’s eye like the final starburst at the end of the annual Clam Fest fireworks display.
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|Copyright © 1996, 2001 by Eric Kraft
A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, dialogues, settings, and businesses portrayed in it are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this guide may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.
Portions of A Topical Guide to the Complete Peter Leroy (so far) were first published by Voyager, Inc., as part of The Complete Peter Leroy (so far).
The illustration at the top of the page is an adaptation of an illustration by Stewart Rouse that first appeared on the cover of the August 1931 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The boy at the controls of the aerocycle doesn’t particularly resemble Peter Leroy—except, perhaps, for the smile.
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