|The Non-Remembrance of Things Past - Page 6|
Okay, Okay. Not Everyone Has Amnesia
Ralph Nader, for example. Yes, the aged, once-lionized, now much-maligned Ralph Nader. He doesn't. He's brimming over with facts and opinions that bubble up—no, pour out—at the drop of a question. Asked about the Middle East, he prefaces his answer by saying he has four points he wants to make. Then he does something that, for you, is simply unimaginable, the near-equivalent of time travel: he goes on to make his four points!
You are in awe.
First, he remembers that he has four points to make. Second, whenever he is done with saying whatever it was that he wanted to say about a point, he then remembers not only to go on to his next point, but, Third, he remembers what that next point is, and, Fourth, he then actually proceeds to make it. (While you are unquestionably awestruck, you're also not quite sure what any of his four points are. Once upon a time you listened to the content of what public figures said; now you merely "listen" to the competency of the flow, and, if it's unimpeded, you just float along with it, indifferent to substance, as if listening to music, or better yet, Muzak.)
How does he do it? Even if it's all memorized, even if it's all rote, even if Nader has turned himself into a four-(and-sometimes-even-more-than-four-) point-making machine, you're still dumbfounded by his proficiency. Could you make four points about anything?7 Sure, it's true, once upon a time you could (and, probably too frequently, did) recite the Gettysburg Address and "Gunga Din"8 (often doing so back-to-back), but that was once upon a time. Now you can't even memorize a phone number. (Well, you can manage the first three digits as Information is giving them to you, but from there on out you need at least one other person close by to help you with the other four.) 9
And it isn't just Nader. What about the fast-talking political commentators on TV (always angry) and the fast-talking sports announcers (always excited). A vast community of remember-it-alls, loaded with more damn information at the tips of each of their tongues than they can ever be allotted time to say. You hear Daniel Schorr on the radio, at 90-something, rattling off historical precedents to the week's news. And Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Shortly before he dies, you see him on a panel. Then in his mid-eighties, the man has total recall: a conversation with JFK, the plot of an obscure film he saw in the '30s, a passage from his father's work. No pauses. No stumbling. Nothing escapes him. Who areplanet you're from? How do they remember all this stuff? They're as unbelievably flabbergasting as Michael Jordan in his prime, except these people are mental these people? Are they even from the same athletes, whose prime apparently lasts their whole lives. You watch them recite all those facts and figures and do it so jaw-droppingly coherently (you assume it's "coherently"; you can barely listen to them anymore) that you come to the only conclusion you can rationally arrive at: they are extraterrestrials. In contrast, aging Earthling that you are, you seem unable to hold onto a thought for anywhere near as long as you did in the old days. You struggle with it, like working out with a barbell you can only do one repetition with and then must drop. Memories used to stay put on the felt board where you placed them. Now they don't: you have to hold them there, but you still only have two hands. It's all too much. Before you know it, they're on the ground, along with that barbell, somewhere you can't find them.