“But what might for us seem a desirable experience – an increase in our perceptions, a libidinal or hallucinogenic intensification of our normal humdrum and familiar surroundings – is here felt as a loss, as “unreality.” – Frederic Jameson1
As an individual determines the context of the perception of previous events, the way that we interpret those occurrences varies from moment to moment. What seemed important one second has relegated itself to the background a year later when what appeared to be an insignificant occurrence finds new prominence within our psyche. Important items are lost, and parts of who we thought we were appear missing from our puzzle. How do we, as humans, navigate this minefield? How do we determine a course of action based on memory information only to have that information change from time to time?
“The train takes you where it goes.” claims Robert Perelman in his poem China. How much control do we have on our direction? Are we just along for the ride? I don’t believe that, but how much truth to that is there? Once we set ourselves to a path, it becomes more difficult to change course without concerted effort. Even in the face of new or different information, inertia is difficult to overcome. Maybe it has to be. Would it even be possible to get anything done if we were constantly re-evaluating our situation based on a reinterpretation of our historical events? Is it possible that the basic structure of our memories remain intact while only the peripheral details become altered, allowing our path to remain consistent? If entire memories that never occurred can be installed, and complete memories of actual event removed, what mechanism would allow you to keep specific important details intact?
While each of us operates in our own reality built of our own interpretation of events and memories, there needs to be enough common ground for us to exist as a society. While we may disagree as to the color of the dog in question, we should agree that there was a dog, and maybe the color of the dog is unimportant to our common understanding of the event. Maybe we all agree that there was an animal present, but our memory of the animal in question is different. Is it important to the context of the discussion what kind of animal it was? Now we can understand the “referent” (the real object in the real world to which a sign refers, the real cat as opposed to the concept of a cat or the sound “cat”.) While the actual physical cat, the accepted definition of a cat, and the word “cat” are all different things, we understand them all to be the same. Maybe this is how we make sense of all of the contradicting and arbitrary information that we have to process in order to understand.
Could it be that my idea of each of us being an individual unique being is nothing but a mythological absurdity? The Post-Structuralist position claims that “the bourgeois individual subject is a thing of the past, it is also a myth; it never really existed in the first place; there have never been autonomous subjects of that type. Rather, this construct is merely a philosophical and cultural mystification which sought to persuade people that they “had” individual subjects and possessed this unique personal identity.”2 I find it difficult to believe that the concept of individual identity is simply a conspiracy created to control the masses by allowing them to believe that they were creating their own realities and interpreting their own experiences and memories. To counter this point, I find comfort in the bourgeois claim that “A human subject is, rather, a meaning making subject (minimally always “making up her mind” in experiencing and so likewise responsible for what she claims to know), a self-conscious subject, in this active, self-determining relation to itself in all experience as well as action. This “inseparability of mind and world” claim raised the issue of how rightly to acknowledge the “subjective” character of such experience and the many unique, elusive characteristics of self-knowledge.”3 Humans make real distinctions all of the time. Decisions are made based on previous experiences and the interpretations of those events.
Much like the interpretation of art, the viewer brings his own experiences and memories to the work, allowing different individuals to take away different meanings and memories from the viewing. When a child sees a spider for the first time, his memory of that event will color how he interprets spiders going forward. Children are not born afraid, that fear is learned through experiences, including the reactions of others around him. Some children become afraid of spiders, while others do not. The interpretation of the spider is a real thing, even though it is fluid and changeable. The second and third times that a child encounters a spider, the memories, real or unreal, of the previous encounters affect their interpretation. Maybe the child grows up to have arachnophobia, and maybe they grow up to keep spiders as pets.
Memory is what drives these outcomes. Memories are what drive all of our outcomes in one way or another. Just as powerful as the effect of a memory can be, the lack of a memory can have an equally powerful effect on determining the path that we take and the decisions that we make, and when the origin of these memories is suspect, decisions made based on this faulty information become suspect.
With the work that I am creating now, I am driven to include my understanding of who I am, yet allow for the possibility that I am someone else completely. A continual state of dialogue with myself is becoming the norm. I am curious as to whether this is a good thing or a bad thing. I second guess myself much more than I used to, and agonize over decisions that I used to make instantaneously. I am more contemplative, but sleep less.
1 - Jameson, Frederic. "Postmodernism and Consumer Society." The Anti-Aesthetic. Ed. Hal Foster. New York: New, 1998. Page 138. Print.
2 - Jameson, Frederic. "Postmodernism and Consumer Society." The Anti-Aesthetic. Ed. Hal Foster. New York: New, 1998. Page 132. Print.
3 - Pippin, Robert. "Bourgeois Philosophy and the Problem of the Subject." The Persistence of Subjectivity: On the Kantian Aftermath. Cambridge University Press. United Kingdom, Cambridge, 2005. Page 2. Print.