We Are What We Repeatedly Do

I like David Cain’s writing about the importance of re-learning:

I’m sure the Germans or the Japanese have a word that means, precisely, “Life-changing ideas that do not change our lives because we only read about them once, agree enthusiastically, and then forget them before we act on them.”

If not, we could use one. How many times has your mind been set ablaze by a profound truth from a book, podcast, article, or a speech, only for the idea to fade before you could do anything with it?

One thing I’ve been pondering lately: making space for good stuff I already know about. After I ported over thousands of old tumblr posts, the ongoing clean-up process has resurfaced a bunch of old stuff I forgot I ever experienced.

Photography would seem to preserve our past and make it invulnerable to the distortions of repeated memorial superimpositions, but I think that is a fallacy: photographs supplant the past and corrupt our memories.

Sally Mann, Hold Still (via austinkleon)

CONVERSATIONS ON SLOWNESS | Vestoj

When we talk about the 1970s for instance, they think about ABBA as one of the icons of the decade. They don’t know that ABBA at the time was considered to be extremely bad taste – vulgar and completely unfashionable. ABBA was still wearing platform shoes when everyone else had already moved on. What I mean to say is that it’s not always the best versions of the past that live on.

CONVERSATIONS ON SLOWNESS | Vestoj

How You Know

On re-reading:

Reading and experience train your model of the world. And even if you forget the experience or what you read, its effect on your model of the world persists. Your mind is like a compiled program you’ve lost the source of. It works, but you don’t know why.

[…] Reading and experience are usually “compiled” at the time they happen, using the state of your brain at that time. The same book would get compiled differently at different points in your life. Which means it is very much worth reading important books multiple times. I always used to feel some misgivings about rereading books. I unconsciously lumped reading together with work like carpentry, where having to do something again is a sign you did it wrong the first time. Whereas now the phrase “already read” seems almost ill-formed.

How You Know

I think we have to be frugal with our photo-viewing. I love it when you find a photo from a time you’ve forgotten about – one that, maybe, someone else had possession of. It makes you realise how linear and reductive memory is.

Philip Gourevitch: Memory is a disease – Salon.com

Great interview. I’ve been slowly working my way through The Histories lately, and this attitude reminded me of Herodotus:

If I were simply to present these people talking about the deep past at face value, an historian would almost immediately say, “Gourevitch was taken in by these guys and their spin on history.” But to me what’s interesting—and the way I’ll present it—is that this is how they are invoking and recounting their inheritance, which may or may not be historically accurate. […] It’s an identity story as much as an accurate history.

On memory and moving on:

There’s a kind of fetishization of memory in our culture. Some of it comes from the experience and the memorial culture of the Holocaust—the injunction to remember. And it also comes from the strange collision of Freud and human rights thinking—the belief that anything that is not exposed and addressed and dealt with is festering and going to come back to destroy you. This is obviously not true. Memory is not such a cure-all. On the contrary, many of the great political crimes of recent history were committed in large part in the name of memory. The difference between memory and grudge is not always clean. Memories can hold you back, they can be a terrible burden, even an illness. Yes, memory—hallowed memory—can be a kind of disease. That’s one of the reasons that in every culture we have memorial structures and memorial days, whether for personal grief or for collective historical traumas. Because you need to get on with life the rest of the time and not feel the past too badly. I’m not talking about letting memory go. The thing is to contain memory, and then, on those days, or in those places, you can turn on the tap and really touch and feel it. The idea is not oblivion or even denial of memory. It’s about not poisoning ourselves with memory.

And there’s this:

There’s no such thing as a story all by itself. Stories don’t exist in solitude—they exist in relation to other stories.

Philip Gourevitch: Memory is a disease – Salon.com

What we call a home is merely any place that succeeds in making more consistently available to us the important truths which the wider world ignores, or which our distracted and irresolute selves have trouble holding on to. As we write, so we build: to keep a record of what matters to us.

From The Architecture of Happiness by Alain de Botton. (via carpentrix)

Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Opens in Washington – NYTimes.com

There is always an element of kitsch in monumental memorials, a built-in grandiosity that exaggerates the physical and spiritual statures of their human subjects. That is one of the purposes of turning flesh into imposing stone.

Via. See also Dennis Dutton on kitsch:

According to Tomas Kulka, the standard kitsch work must be instantly identifiable as depicting “an object or theme which is generally considered to be beautiful or highly charged with stock emotions.” Moreover, kitsch “does not substantially enrich our associations related to the depicted subject.” The impact of kitsch is limited to reminding the viewer of great works of art, deep emotions, or grand philosophic, religious, or patriotic sentiments.

Martin Luther King Jr. National Memorial Opens in Washington – NYTimes.com

I was on the streets for more than half of my life from the time I was thirteen years old. People sometimes say that now I’m so far away from that life–now that I’ve got businesses and Grammys and magazine covers–that I have no right to rap about it. But how distant is the story of your own life ever going to be?

Look back in memory and consider when you ever had a fixed plan, how few days have passed as you had intended, when you were ever at your own disposal, when your face ever wore its natural expression, when your mind was ever unperturbed, what work you have achieved in so long a life, how many have robbed you of life when you were not aware of what you were losing, how much was taken up in useless sorrow, in foolish joy, in greedy desire, in the allurements of society, how little of yourself was left to you; you will perceive that you are dying before your season!

Seneca. I’ll probably have a few more from this one soon…

theatlantic:

Alexis Madrigal reflects on a time when photographs resembled paintings:

Many works like Edward Steichen’s “Flatiron—Evening Camera Work 14” (above) play with fog and smoke. They hide things in the greyscale and even tend toward a hazy abstraction. Everything becomes a little harder to see and a bit more romantic. I’d long, lazily assumed that turn-of-the-century photos looked like this because of technical reasons, that this was just how cameras made photos at the time. That’s not true. These photographers were skilled enough and their techniques good enough that they could have made razor sharp portraits, but they didn’t. Instead, we have two decades where the best photographs work like memories not recordings.