Sunday, March 31, 2013

Memory and Acuity

My brother Ken, four years younger than me, has a more accurate long term memory of the events of our youth than I do. Whereas I recall the effect of the events on me in fairly vivid detail he had the more acuity for the event itself. I knew enough to know never to argue with him because he was almost always right. I had remembered, I thought, of an event I heard of in 1946. My uncle Edgie had been a prisoner of war in Stalag 8B for 3 and a half years after Dieppe. I was telling Ken's son that in prison Edgie had wagered a fellow prisoner that he could swallow a dead mouse for a dollar. I was telling Ken about this and he said, "No, you are wrong, the bet was that he could bite the mouse in half for a dollar." He did! Now neither Ken nor I have talked about this probably for 60 years but his acuity in the matter does not in any way take account of the horror I felt learning of that event and whether it was biting or swallowing is completely beside the point in my memory of my interior revulsion at the time. So far this little story has nothing elevating or useful to teach, but I have been reading Roger Lundin's book, Emily Dickinson and the Art of Belief. He says," for her, (Emily) memory meant the recollection of intense experiences or encounters rather than the rituals of general commemoration. It usually involved the revival of a sensory impress." In addition, he says, "She was intrigued only by the memory of what went on within the dwelling of her conscious life." I think that may be the difference between Ken and me. He saw and remembered the details of what went on in life vividly but accurately. My recollection of the same facts that I would have heard so long ago, is completely colored by the recall of the feelings. The acuity is swept up by the memory of the feelings which are the more powerful in me. In a world of law, testimony, false memory syndrome, accusation, redemption, recall, feelings, emotion, acuity,  and recompense---Justice demands, stick with the reporter rather than the poet.

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