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Archive for August, 2008

Thoughts on Marcel Proust

Thursday, August 28th, 2008

Proust wrote about catalysts into the past. Catalysts can come in many forms.  For Proust it was a madeleine, music, and the smell of a certain flower.  For me, I remember one time, in particular, in which I caught one smell of orange blossoms in spring – in the town I grew up in, but left when I was 12 for Oregon.

It was amazing.

With one smell, I could recall hundreds of memories.  I remembered the time that my father got angry for leaving his tools in wood pile, and allowing them to get burned with the wood pile.  I remember walking through blackberry bushes, barefoot.  I remember digging in my backyard and searching for treasure.  Memories like that couldn’t be cued up on demand.  They were things that required a catalyst.

What Proust says about such catalysts is that their efficacy dies away each time you rely upon them to bring back such memories.  If you overuse them, then you lose your ability to recall these things through the medium that you rely upon.

If I sat all day in an orchard in spring, pretty soon those memories will have no more meaning.  If I thought over and over about the time I kissed my high school sweetheart under an oak tree, or the time I horse-jumped a fence on my uncle’s property in Oregon, or the time I stood up on Rattlesnake Rock and looked down upon the land that I would leave for college, then these things – these memories – will lose their meaning.

If I look back too much, I will lose my ability to look forward. And, I feel, right now – moments after looking through the scrapbook that holds my college memories -  that I have little to look forward to.

I feel that meaning can only be found in the past, but I truly want to believe that it is there for me in the future.

They Thought They Were Free

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

A fascinating entry from a book written from the perspective of Germans living during the Third Reich. It makes you wonder: Are we slowly, but surely, being coaxed in the U.S. into feeling “It’s not me, so why should I care?”

What happened here was the gradual habituation of the people, little by little, to being governed by surprise; to receiving decisions deliberated in secret; to believing that the situation was so complicated that the government had to act on information which the people could not understand, or so dangerous that, even if the people could not understand it, it could not be released because of national security. And their sense of identification with Hitler, their trust in him, made it easier to widen this gap and reassured those who would otherwise have worried about it.