Watching the Past – Part 2

When I was younger, the past felt different than it does now. Then, it was something that not so much lay in some distant times, but was something present that pointed to something far away. In fact, the past was a way to experience the present as something containing layers of stories, meanings, contradictions, changes. The past was a mode to experience the presence.

Incorporating the past the present was something intricate and filigree. It not only expanded the world, it expanded the feeling to be oneself. It is not commonly seen that way, I suppose, that our sense of being who we are depends on a kind of time tunnel of about two weeks. What lies behind us in these two weeks or so, and the feeling of the continuity of the last past two weeks, is what makes us feel being this person with a certain complexity in character and a certain gravitas in time. Without remembering the last two weeks, we pretty fast cease to feel, then to be a person.

The past felt different then than it does now. It was a mode of the present with images and stories stemming from earlier points in time. In this sense, bygone incidents stayed alive and became eternal – or at least timeless. But now, the past feels different. It somehow ceased to be a mode of the present, and seems to have become a collection of items in a distant sphere. The present no longer feels being made of past events. It feels like being made of nothing, just flickers of light on the surface of a sunlit river.

With the past now separate from the present, the present becomes stale and the past meaningless. There is no continuity left, and the daily occupations, the frantic rushing from here to there seems more like deafening this silence. With the continuity dropping, things become unimportant.

In earlier times, at the university e.g., I used to read much. Usually I made excerpts to keep things in mind, not to lay them down. I had to hold the whole subject in my mind, to keep it in my imaginary hands, to turn it around, to look at it from different angles, to return and go ahead. Most of the times I felt having three or four chains of thoughts simultaneously. I would work on one and could literally observe what the other three or so were doing in their respective corners of my mind. Often, while wrestling with one thought, I had to write a short note concerning one of the others just to keep the main thought going. The result of them flitting all at once was often funny and interesting. But primarily it was just arduous.

Today, with the past somehow separated from the present, my thinking feels even more dull and narrow. As the past no longer lives in the present, the present exhibits a banality that discourages me to even try to have an idea, notwithstanding the fact that ideas have their own way of coming and going, not ours.

But perhaps this is simply a question of age. Perhaps, at some point in life, the past ceases to be a part of the present, and becomes a lifeless condominium or a lumber room full of bibelot and trumpery. I don’t know what is needed to make memory a cabinet of curiosity again.


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