Memory & History


On Memory & History


“You only like my photographs because they remind you of the Istanbul of your childhood,” he would at times say to me, sounding oddly irritated. ‎
“No!” I would protest. “I like your photographs because they are beautiful.”
But are beauty and memory separate things? Are things not beautiful because they are slightly familiar and resemble our memories? —Orhan Pamuk [#]


Your memory and your imagination must essentially be the same function [...] because when you remember something, obviously some cell in your mind is firing off information and you're having a memory and it's really not all that different from imagining something [...] And I think it's all kind of the same thing. —Kenneth Lonergan [#]


"More and more, I was coming back to the memories of my childhood. I felt, almost physically, how I was losing this childish awe. It was just a little bit of this left in me, and I felt it was shrinking, shrinking, shrinking day by day, and I needed to photograph it while it was still there—a little bit, at least. [...] Because I'm not going to be like this, ever again." —Evgenia Arbugaeva [#]


There’s a line in the book: “If you free yourself from the conventional reaction to a quantity like a million years, you free yourself a bit from the boundaries of human time. And then in a way you do not live at all, but in another way you live forever.” And I certainly developed this sense of time. I was fascinated by the intersection of human time and geologic time. You know, people just go along and build houses, they do this and that, they get married, one thing or another—and then an earthquake strikes where they happen to live. That earthquake was in the making all along, but nobody knows this! Human time is so different. The earth is sitting there, it’s just there, bobbing, and now—human time and geologic time, bang, hairs crossed! The hairs crossed when gold was discovered in the American River and Sutter’s Mill, and they cross in any earthquake.
The geologists all say a million years is the smallest unit they can really think in, and you come to understand what that means. —John McPhee [#]


Does history repeat itself? Or are the repetitions only penance for those who are incapable of listening to it? No history is mute. No matter how much they burn it, break it, and lie about it, human history refuses to shut its mouth. Despite deafness and ignorance, the time that was continues to tick inside the time that is. The right to remember does not figure among the human rights consecrated by the United Nations, but now more than ever we must insist on it and act on it. Not to repeat the past but to keep it from being repeated. Not to make us ventriloquists for the dead but to allow us to speak with voices that are not condemned to echo perpetually with stupidity and misfortune. When it is truly alive, memory doesn’t contemplate history, it invites us to make it. More than in museums, where its poor old soul gets bored, memory is in the air we breathe, and from the air it breathes us. —Eduardo Galeano


Understanding the past is undeniably important to understanding our current lives, but it can't be the only reason to look backward. [...] Thinking too much about the present will lead you to ask wrong questions about the past. Take the past on its own terms, not on ours. —Jill Lepore