“…memory can take refuge in silence…”*

Nikon D750 f/7.1 1/400s 135mm 3200 ISO

*cited: Vera Schwarcz, Bridge Across Broken Time


early morning readings

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.


…illuminated by electric bulbs

Exile’s Hope

light blub

 We become one man

awash in dreams

as you tell old stories

from back home.

The string of recollection

rouses new hope:

maybe here,

in exile,

we will craft

even livelier tales,

brimming with wonder,

illuminated by electric bulbs,

mirroring the sheen

of ancient cinnabar.

This night’s prattle

meanders along a foreign river,

revives a sorrow soul

as if no earthy shadows followed.

                           ~ Chen Yinke*


*cited in:

Ancestral Intelligence

Vera Schwarcz


if I go to heaven I will forget you,


if I go to hell you will forget me.*

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 me 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)**


*Arang and the Magistrate

Munhwa broadcasting corporation 

**Bridge Across Broken Time

Vera Schwarcz