|The Non-Remembrance of Things Past - Page 5|
Exhibit B: Who's the Mental Patient?
You visit your childhood friend Joe and spend several hours laughing and reminiscing. As you're saying good-bye, you enlist his help in trying to remember what the trigger was, two hours earlier, for that one particular bout of hysterical laughter—uncontrollable laughter, lasting more than a minute—that kept the two of you in stitches, like the kids you once were. But, mamma mia, neither of you can recall what was so damn funny. (This is especially upsetting since Joe, unlike most people you know, generally remembers everything.) Embarrassed and somewhat deflated (what was the point of the visit if, at the very moment it's ending, you can't even recall the highpoint?), you drive off.
The next day, you're surprised (because by then, of course, you've forgotten yesterday) to see that Joe has e-mailed the explanation for what had set the two of you so giddily off: some months earlier, he'd purchased a painting by an artist who, it turned out, was living in a mental hospital. Grateful for the purchase, the artist had written a note which, during your visit, Joe had read aloud to you. The note managed to convey without irony such primal, rock-bottom befoggedness that you and Joe couldn't help empathizing with its institutionalized author and laughing to the point of tears. It read in part: "Thank you for buying my painting. I think you bought the painting. I'll have to ask Dr. Reimer."
Exhibit C: You Do Remember Who Lincoln Is, Though
You look forward to reading the weekly book review section. Why? Partly because the writing is more gracious than the rest of the newspaper—a little more contemplative. There's no screaming sense of urgency that you find in the news section; no hastily-constructed overnight-turnaround feel that you often get with movie and theater reviews. You find, instead, that you're being extended an invitation to dip into something that has required and received some time and effort and thought to put together; something that feels lived in—an invitation to spend a little more time than usual pondering meaning. And let's not forget that reading book reviews also saves you the time-consuming chore of reading actual books, which, if you bothered to read them, you'd forget you'd read, anyway.
You're reading a review of a book about, of all things, Lincoln's second inaugural address, his "greatest speech," when you feel that pleasing shift inside: the prose is starting to do its work, leading you to some deeper place, where things are less provisional, more solid and profound. A few days later, you flip through the book section again and after a few sentences into a review of a book about, of all things, Lincoln's second inaugural address, you feel an uneasy shift inside and pause (uh, oh; one of those damn pauses again). You metaphorically scratch your head and ask yourself: "Wait a second, didn't I read this review of the book about Lincoln's greatest speech already?" You're sure you did. (You're almost sure.) But how can that be; the text seems so unfamiliar. "I'm sure I read this . . . d-didn't I?" You skim in vain for a passage that might bring it all back. You can't find one. So you decide to read the entire review again, wondering as you do what the hell is the point since tomorrow you won't have the slightest recollection of a single damn thing you've read.