if I go to heaven I will forget you,

and

if I go to hell you will forget me.*

memoryportraiture
self portraiture created through the use of mixed media

In China a person who will not forget the past is described as ‘one who did not drink Old Lady Meng’s soup.’ Borrowed from Buddhist folklore, Old Lady Meng dispenses the Broth of Oblivion to souls leaving the last realm of the underworld on their way to reincarnation. After drinking her soup, the soul is directed to the Bridge of Pain that spans a river of crimson water. There, two demons lie in wait: Life-Is-Not-Long and Death-is-Near. They hurl the soul into waters that will lead to new births.

Old Lady Meng is more than a quaint antidote for the Greeks’ Mnemosyne. She embodies a psychological understanding about the forces that promote, indeed demand, forgetting for the sake of ongoing life.  It is not enough to note that water is linked with amnesia in Chinese folklore as much the same way that the river Lethe is associated with forgetting in Greek mythology. The challenge here is to make sense of the distinctively Chinese attachment to remembrance in spite of the benefits of Old Lady Meng’s soul.

In Jewish tradition, too, the benefits of amnesia were acknowledged along with the sacred commitment to recollection. There is a midrash, or Torah-based story, that teaches us a lesson similar to that of Lady Meng: ‘God granted Adam and Eve an all-important blessing as they were about to leave the Garden of Eden: I give you, He said, ‘the gift of forgetfulness.” What is so precious about amnesia? Why would God, who demands fidelity to memory, offer the relief from recollection?Perhaps it is because without some ability to forgive and forget we might become bound by grudges and hatred. To remember everything may be immobilizing. To flee from memory, however, leads to an ever more debilitating frenzy.(40-41)**

source:

*Arang and the Magistrate

Munhwa broadcasting corporation 

**Bridge Across Broken Time

Vera Schwarcz

Initially posted on October 10, 2013

As the ink flows onto the page, 

each word creating and tumbling into another,

she wonders aloud to no one in particular,

“are these sleeping memories

left in the shadows of grief …

a past writing on and on

this tale and that …

moving my pen across the page

as if a bridge to yesterday?” 

my face – my mother’s

lingering scent of sweet peas

mirrored reunion.

meandering tales

beyond a haze of tear drops

my mother’s face – mine.

faded looking glass

a cup or two of coffee,

“Let’s linger a bit.”

if I go to heaven I will forget you,

and

if I go to hell you will forget me.*

memoryportraiture
self portraiture created through the use of mixed media

In China a person who will not forget the past is described as ‘one who did not drink Old Lady Meng’s soup.’ Borrowed from Buddhist folklore, Old Lady Meng dispenses the Broth of Oblivion to souls leaving the last realm of the underworld on their way to reincarnation. After drinking her soup, the soul is directed to the Bridge of pain that spans a river of crimson water. There, two demons lie in wait: Life-Is-Not-Long and Death-is-Near. They hurl the soul into waters that will lead to new births.

Old Lady Meng is more than a quaint antidote for the Greeks’ Mnemosyne. She embodies a psychological understanding about the forces that promote, indeed demand, forgetting for the sake of ongoing life.  It is not enough to note that water is linked with amnesia in Chinese folklore as much the same way that the river Lethe is associated with forgetting in Greek mythology. The challenge here is to make sense of the distinctively Chinese attachment to remembrance in spite of the benefits of Old Lady Meng’s soul.

In Jewish tradition, too, the benefits of amnesia were acknowledged along with the sacred commitment to recollection. There is a midrash, or Torah-based story, that teaches us a lesson similar to that of Lady Meng: ‘God granted Adam and Eve an all-important blessing as they were about to leave the Garden of Eden: I give you, He said, ‘the gift of forgetfulness.” What is so precious about amnesia? Why would God, who demands fidelity to memory, offer the relief from recollection?Perhaps it is because without some ability to forgive and forget we might become bound by grudges and hatred. To remember everything may be immobilizing. To flee from memory, however, leads to an ever more debilitating frenzy.(40-41)**

source:

*Arang and the Magistrate

Munhwa broadcasting corporation 

**Bridge Across Broken Time

Vera Schwarcz

Initially posted on October 10, 2013

orchids… Sony RX100-3 f/2.8 1/640s 14.9mm 800 ISO

“…to remain alive is to be subject to the grinding force of memory. Day and night the millstone turns, shaping the soul and softening the heart. To some, this going around and around the same subject may seem like emotional paralysis. But there is also something freeing about this attachment to remembrance. One day, one hour, one child, keep cutting through to the present. All other days take shape around this circle of emptiness.” ~V Schwarcz (Bridge Across Broken Time)

To be human was to be a sentient being who remembers.*

“The third-century classic Jinshu summarized the paradox of memory: ‘Qing you yi sheng, bu yi ze wu qing.’ No words in English can capture the condensed reservations expressed in nine simple characters. The first four summarize ancient psychology: emotion is born out of remembrance. The next five advise the wise to stem this process of arousal altogether: where there is no remembrance, emotion will dissolve as well. The point, simply put, is that distress causes memory. To be sure, it is human to have feelings, but this can be curbed by a willful quieting of the emotional upheaval caused by remembrance.

“Simcha, the Hebrew word for ‘joy,’ has as its root macha, meaning ‘to remove’ or ‘wipe away.’ To be joyful, in this sense, is to be free of the tearful weight of the past.

“In the end, however, neither Chinese or Jewish rememberers settled for the peace of a memoryless world.

“The opposite of quietude can be found in the story of Lot’s wife… Here, a woman who refuses to walk away from history is turned into salt–a concrete symbol of endless weeping. Lot’s wife captures the need to remain connected to the past and dares to stand still when the known world is about to crumble. Although some might argue that Lot’s wife looked back with nostalgic regret for past pleasures, Anna Akhmatova, in the poem, ‘Lot’s Wife,’ suggest she did so out of her refusal to become deaf to the grief embedded in the past.”*

*Vera Schwarcz, Bridge Across Broken Time

Metaphor ferries memory across time. It allows us to enter worlds of imagination and feeling that might otherwise be closed to us …

Ricoh f/10 1/24s 7.3mm 80 ISO

… memory can take refuge in silence…*

The rememberer … is a person who defies the natural laws of decay, one who makes of the heart a more hospitable ground for traces of the past… The rememberer might also be a lonely rebel against the passage of time. To resist the erasers occasioned by this passage, memories have to be written down.

Although yi (memory) brings up unsettling emotions, and simcha (joy) depends on wiping away old aches, remembrance remains the only way not to betray the past.

V Schwarcz, Bridge Across Broken Times

contemplative photography 26 copy
Sony RX100 III  f/5   1/800s   8.8mm  800 ISO

A world without memory is a world of the present. The past only exists in books, in documents. In order to know himself, each person carries his own ‘Book of Life,’ which is filled with the history of his life. By reading its pages daily, he can relearn… Without his Book of Life, a person is a snapshot, a two-dimensional image, a ghost. … Some pass the twilight hours at their tables reading from their Books of Life; others frantically fill its extra pages with the day events.

With time, each person’s ‘Book of Life’ thickens until it cannot be read in its entirety.  Then comes a choice.  Elderly men and women may read the early pages, to know themselves as youth; or they may read the end, to know themselves in later years.

Some have stopped reading altogether.  They have abandoned the past.  They have decided that it matters not if yesterday they were…. no more than it matters how a soft wind gets into their hair. ~A Lightman, Einstein’s Dreams

In his 1991 file ‘Prospero’s Books’, a cinematic adaptation of William Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’, Peter Geenaway showed a series of exotic books that were kept in a library on a magical island and revealed just enough of their content to have me wishing the fantasy books were real. Among my favorites are ‘The Book of Colors,’ where “the pages cover the spectrum in finely differentiated shades…a ‘Book of Motion’ that describes, in animated illustrations, all possibilities for dance with the human body. ~J F Simon, Jr., Drawing Your Own Path

…instead of a coherent personality that stretches back in an unbroken line to a first memory and looks forward to an indefinite future, we discover a self ridden with gaps and ambiguities.  Who “I am” appears coherent only because of the monologue we keep repeating, editing, censoring, and embellishing in our heads.

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