UserpicThe Chautauqua Lecture 9

Nothing Brightly Embossed on Them …

These passages advert to the relative persistence of the form of memories over their content. Even when their contents are no longer available to us, memories have a form that continues to guide us, to shape our lives in various ways, for good or for ill. This is what Rilke meant when he wrote of memories becoming part of our blood. There is, however, more to it than merely the persistence of form. There is also an issue of ownership. I suspect the form of my memories is mine in a way that their content can never be. The form of my memories belongs to me in a way their content never can. This, again, was a theme of The Philosopher and the Wolf.

'Often my memories of Brenin are tinged with a strange sort of amazement. It’s as if the memories are made up of partially overlapping images: one senses that the images are connected in an important way, but they’re too blurred to make out. And then they suddenly converge – snap into focus – like images in an old kaleidoscope. I remember Brenin next to me, striding the touchlines of the rugby pitch in Tuscaloosa. I remember him sitting next to me at the post-match party, when pretty Alabama girls would come up and say: I just love your dog. I remember him running with me through the streets of Tuscaloosa; and when the Tuscaloosa city streets transformed into lanes of an Irish countryside I remember the pack running next to me, easily matching its stride to mine. I remember Brenin, his daughter Tess and his friend Nina, bouncing like salmon through the seas of barley. I remember Brenin dying in my arms in the back of the Jeep. And when the convergence of images happens, I think: is that really me? Was it really me that did those things? Is that really my life?

This realization sometimes strikes me as a faintly surreal discovery. That I am in these memories at all is not given: sometimes it is a fortuitous bonus that must be discovered.'

The Philosopher and the Wolf, p. 242

Memories have both form and content. Their content is something I recall, something of which I am aware when I have the memories. But there is nothing brightly embossed on this content that reads: “Property of Mark Rowlands”. Often, the most I can hope for is that some forgotten hand will have scrawled something on the back.


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