Stepping away from Purgatory

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I have been pondering writing on this subject for a little while when this blogpost appeared on the WeAreOCA site and it struck a note in respect of a number of things I am feeling currently.

I’ve started a new journal, always a difficult task for me, disrupting the virgin sheets with the likelihood of nonsense. However I am sending both my other journals to assessment and as they are likely to be there for a couple of months or so, the Christmas past present has been brought into use. I am researching ‘Memory’, I thought I knew how far I might trust my own, it turns out I was very likely wrong and so the jottings and drawings I have made are committals of memory, both ideas from the research and my own musings. And in the back of my mind, perched on my shoulder – or some other random metaphor – is the knowledge that I will be giving a talk in Sheffield soon about my work.

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Soon after jotting down a few ideas about the talk I stopped and realized that what I was doing was developing the idea/s that were in the work produced for BoW. I had made a decision not to talk about the work in isolation, but to try and find a way to express the work ‘I still look for him, I think I always will’ as part of a wider practice and by doing so introduce a new work under the ‘Legacy’ banner. I have become very interested in the term ‘False Memory’, the idea that we can manifest a memory that may only have a notional relationship to fact, how we can construct memories that might or might not fit our ideal perspective on events from our history.

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The impending talk therefore has served to bring the two strands together, that of my earlier project and my thoughts on a new one, which has contrived to surface a sense of something I have been wondering about for the past month or so and therefore making it very clear to me. I am no longer sure of anything that I have used as a memorial narrative in my last project. That is not to say that I doubted the veracity of any of the source material – in that I didn’t create purposeful fiction – but my remembrance of the past must be a concern. What part of what I have committed to memory is reliable, if memory is such a malleable and precarious thing?

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When I read the aforementioned blogpost I swiftly came to realize that maybe what I had imagined my earlier work to be about – my relationship with my deceased father – was in fact something other than that. I had nodded in agreement with the idea in the piece that after some time of working to produce images/imagery that it starts to become clear what it is that the work might be about. I can distinctly remember just after Assignment Three that it was about that relationship and the editing choices started to display a greater satisfaction, a clearer sense of direction. Now I am wondering more about whether the work is questioning whether I have got any of that correct and that I am continuing the same project, but looking for different direction(s) about something called ‘False Memory’.

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Purgatory (Purgatorio) is a tale about memory, it’s central theme is about how to rid the penitent of their ‘stain of sin’, their shame of sin and then, when the pain has been deemed to equal the summation of the sin(s) committed, the penitent can release their sinful memories by drinking the water of the River Lethe and expunge the body and mind of the past. The penitent cannot enter Paradise with even the stain of their past sins on their person, they will cross the line never knowing what was the reason for their adventure in Purgatory and so join those who are equally blessed in a memory free paradise. Both Plato and Freud thought about memory as a kind of trace, something like a wax writing tablet where, despite the efforts of the writer/sinner to erase past marks, there will always be a trace left, like an echo of the past. Sometimes incoherent, these trace memories – research tells me – might resurface unheralded and maybe attached to other memories where the notion of temporal integrity is irrelevant. Much like how my previous project became narrated.

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So, my project wasn’t about that father/son relationship? Maybe, though it was possibly about memory. I’m not considering the work ‘I still look for him, I think I always will’ as defunct, rather it is part of the wider conversation I am having with memory and perhaps provides the first stepping stone. And it is certainly informing me regarding the testimony I have recorded of my Mother, whose re-narrations of her past lend credence to the research I have been undertaking regarding how memories re-form for many reasons.

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4 thoughts on “Stepping away from Purgatory

  1. It seems to me that memory is not an exact or definitive thing. Rather it will always be subjective. Different people will perceive the same event differently. Selective and false memories become real. Does this matter? I don’t think it does. What counts is what one feels now about a past event. It is this that pervades or being and influences our mood.

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  2. Thanks Keith. My thoughts are that memories aren’t fixed, they mutate and whilst I agree it’s what you feel about an event, sometimes those feelings can be seriously challenged when the veracity of the memory is put into question. Mostly of course it doesn’t matter, but just once in a while….

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  3. Deep philosophical questions here. If sense of self depends on memory, which it must do have a continuing sense of self, then do we presume that a false memory gives one a false self. On the other hand it provides the opportunity to create a new self.

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    • Of the many things I’ve read recently on this subject the following struck me: “memory should not be considered a passive process”, meaning of course that when one remembers something it is reconsidered at the point of remembering. And each time that happens a reintegration of memories form to make it fresh, using old connections but also the possibility of augmenting them with new perspectives and where the older memories might exert reducing amounts of influence.
      So I do think that ones perspective of ones self does become reformed in light of renewed consideration. Thanks for that thought Catherine, very helpful.

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