Sunday, March 14, 2010

O Memory!

Ô souvenir,
Tes arbres sont en fleur devant le ciel,
On peut croire qu'il neige,
Mais la foudre s'éloigne sur le chemin,
Le vent du soir répand son trop de graines.

(Yves Bonnefoy, "Une Pierre," Les Planches Courbes)

Memory. It is something that fascinates so many ancient and modern thinkers. It is the basis of epistemology for Socrates/Plato: all knowledge is remembrance. It is the basis of the Self and where one finds God in Book 10 of Augustine's Confessions. The Bible constantly enjoins one to remember: zakhor, as the famous book by that name by Yosef Yerushalmi examines. It is the recollection of God's actions with Israel.

Augustine depicts memory as a vast cavern with nooks and crannies in which some memories are easily accessed and others are hidden and only elicited with great difficulty. Bonnefoy's image, however, is not of the space of stone that can be filled, but organic. It is not empty space to be filled, but the spring flowering buds on trees that fall as leaves take their place. The storm comes--the retreating thunder--and the evening wind blows, carrying these memory blossoms elsewhere, where they can sprout and expand into new trees. It is an image in which the memory is constantly expanding, branching out, seeding anew. It renews itself.

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