HOW LONG TO FORGET THE SECRET?

The music of video games. They are fitted into tables. You can drink, you can lunch, and go on playing. They open onto the street. By listening to them you can play from memory.

The Pizza Hut in Gaffney had a cocktail-table video game of “1942.” Mom buys me a pair of Solar Shades and passes a quarter to play while we wait on a pepperoni with green pepper and onion. I play from memory: take a barrel roll and blow those Nakajimas out of the sky.

He claims that electronic texture is the only one that can deal with sentiment, memory, and imagination.

I’ve never agreed. Who says no? It’s not so easy forgetting how to play the drums.

He described to me the ceremony held at the zoo in Ueno in memory of animals that had died during the year.

At the Cleveland Zoo, I asked my aunt why she married my uncle.

And beneath each of these faces a memory. And in place of what we were told had been forged into a collective memory, a thousand memories of men who parade their personal laceration in the great wound of history.

Each leaving a loss, each loss a wound: Canton, Gaffney, São Paulo, Tokyo, Wooster, London, Pittsburgh, Prague, Brest, Dębica, Kraków. Even leaving Dubrovnik after a few days is masakra.

That’s how history advances, plugging its memory as one plugs one’s ears.

Memories are knocked out poorly without earplugs.

I’m writing you all this from another world, a world of appearances. In a way the two worlds communicate with each other. Memory is to one what history is to the other: an impossibility.

Memory all too possible: forgetting does the real damage in its impossibility. History is never impossible; only as compared to history is memory sometimes impossible.

I envy Hayao in his “zone,” he plays with the signs of his memory. He pins them down and decorates them like insects that would have flown beyond time, and which he could contemplate from a point outside of time: the only eternity we have left. I look at his machines. I think of a world where each memory could create its own legend.

A world in which each memory creates its own machine, more likely. Cannot—must not—sufficiently investigate that simulation. Too fatigued by outrage and devtool-babble.

Everything works to perfection, all that we allow to slumber, including memory. Logical consequence: total recall is memory anesthetized. After so many stories of men who had lost their memory, here is the story of one who has lost forgetting, and who—through some peculiarity of his nature—instead of drawing pride from the fact and scorning mankind of the past and its shadows, turned to it first with curiosity and then with compassion. In the world he comes from, to call forth a vision, to be moved by a portrait, to tremble at the sound of music, can only be signs of a long and painful prehistory.

To understand that prehistory before forgetting it. To understand very little, to already have forgotten some, most.

But it was then that for the first time he perceived the presence of that thing he didn’t understand which had something to do with unhappiness and memory, and towards which slowly, heavily, he began to walk.

After each happiness of memory, ASMR.

I remember that month of January in Tokyo, or rather I remember the images I filmed of the month of January in Tokyo. They have substituted themselves for my memory. They are my memory. I wonder how people remember things who don’t film, don’t photograph, don’t tape. How has mankind managed to remember? I know: it wrote the Bible. The new Bible will be an eternal magnetic tape of a time that will have to reread itself constantly just to know it existed.

I remember snow in the month of January in Tokyo. Two inches, max. School called off. We met in Harajuku and tried out some longboards. By afternoon the snow had melted, we skated around Shinjuku.

That a short wave announcement from Hong Kong radio picked up on a Cape Verde island projects to Tokyo, and that the memory of a precise color in the street bounces back on another country, another distance, another music, endlessly.

Is it a choice? Precise colors on the streets of Santo Amaro, Ebisu, Ohio City, Farringdon, Ridgewood, College of Wooster, Squirrel Hill, Žižkov, Krowodrza, Hongdae, Újlipótváros, Delfshaven.

All those who remember the war remember him.

His father took photos in Vietnam with a Japanese camera. The tail of a downed American bomber, torn off the fuselage, down the road.

Madeline traced the short distance between two of those concentric lines that measured the age of the tree and said, ‘Here I was born… and here I died.’ He remembered another film in which this passage was quoted. The sequoia was the one in the Jardin des plantes in Paris, and the hand pointed to a place outside the tree, outside of time.

To meet the person you could have become, become that person prepared to meet who you could have become.

He said, “I will have spent my life trying to understand the function of remembering, which is not the opposite of forgetting, but rather its lining. We do not remember, we rewrite memory much as history is rewritten. How can one remember thirst?

How long will you take to forget the secret?

OSLO, 1971

You took the train outside the city to see the Holmenkollbakken ski jump, it was late summer, green out. You went to the top and stood where they take off from, like the top of a roller-coaster. “Not for me!”

Then you visited a museum where they had recovered a large (100 foot?) Viking ship from the bottom of the ocean and were restoring it. They had to spray a solution on it for 24 hours a day for an estimated seven years to keep it from crumbling.

You were alone, wandering. How much beer did you drink? Or maybe akvavit?

When you walked off the base in Bremerhaven, you had a thirty day Eurail Pass, $300, and no itinerary. So you went to the station and got a train to Denmark (where you had been before). Normally you would look for 8-12 hour train rides at night in order to save on a hotel. Either on the train to Denmark or probably from Stockholm to Oslo, you were in a cabin by yourself when a guy came in and sat down. You nodded to each other but never spoke, assuming he didn’t speak English. Eight hours later when the train pulled into the station, you got up and put on your pack, said “goodbye.” He looked up and said “goodbye!” so you asked where he was from, and he said Cleveland, Ohio.

From there you just traveled down through Holland, Belgium, Luxembourg, France, and Spain before running out of time and returning to the base. You went to Frankfurt and flew to New Jersey in the cargo hold of a huge transport plane. You had planned to hitchhike to Ohio, but you were too tired and flew home.

1

DEPART / ARRIVE (OHIA) I

Christmas, 1993, São Paulo to Cleveland alone, must have been via Miami, some book in hand along with unaccompanied minor papers. Picked up at the airport gate: still beyond security that year, immersed. Shuttled between the west side and Columbia Station with the heat blasting, drowsy against wet reflections of car and holiday lights. Some formidable tapes that trip: in your father’s boyhood room, staring up at the mint green ceiling and the light fixture painted with cowboy themes, blasting Daydream Nation between the trains barreling by; tramping through the snow back of the garage with Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge; up early your aunt’s, camped out on the floor of the living room painted orange sherbet, going through Last Splash; rooting through your grandparents’ attic with Trompe le Monde, finding your father’s old Land’s End blue checkered flannel, worn in that photo forever etched, city and country come together in front of the frozen well. A new skateboard from Schneider’s Bike Shop, skidding back and forth in the tiny basement off Denison, no more than ten-twelve feet to be covered before you’d either hit your head or run into a 1952 refrigerator. After popping a few butterscotch candies and before sitting down to paprikash, walk up to the Convenient Food Mart with some quarters for a few games of NBA Jam. Christmas morning, blueberry pancakes, the privilege of your cousins’ ritual for the first and last time. That was the winter you almost drove your grandfather’s 1949 Ford tractor into the pond while pulling your cousin on the toboggan – you cut to the right just in time, tried to deny the close call, but the tire marks in the snow told the whole story.

3

RETRACED ROUTES I – 53 RUA MÁRIO RUAS ALVES, SÃO PAULO

“…a certain ‘diaspora of memory,’ to use writer and critic André Aciman’s expression, the memory that no longer has a single anchor in the native city but unfolds through superimposition of native and foreign lands.”

– Svetlana Boym, The Future of Nostalgia

Awaking before five and flipping your blanket to try and cool down, in hope of getting back to sleep you start tracing routes on another continent – to school, friends’ houses, parks, restaurants, record stores, skate spots, Morumbi, Ikebukuro. Despite the blank spots in your memory’s topography, a few random recall clips appear as your route digresses towards faces, books, views out of certain windows, candy, roasted chicken. These are the traces, and they lead you back to sleep.

Later that same day you retrace the routes along Google Street View and reassess the memory-city. Streets have become longer and wind further to the left, traffic is heavier and there are far more apartment buildings, but the same greens and greys paint the city and much the same advertising signage is at play. Mnemonic seams are reinforced as new ones are ripped open by your inability to find that one friend’s house where you spent so much time or at the sight of shadowy corners now brightly lit.

You cross the city easily in Street View but can only venture as far as the walls and gates, of course. You are cut off from entire internal worlds that appear only faintly in your recollections, and thus your forgetting ebbs and flows against a privately dissolving memory. But you will always remember São Paulo as a city of huge walls and steel gates. There was a continuous sense of being fenced-in there, guarded against the city’s violence and stark inequality. Your inhabiting of the city was delineated by privilege, you know this now even if you did not fully realize it then. So as you move freely along in Street View, you wonder sheepishly, what would it have been like to walk these streets more thoroughly?

But you can pursue this hypothetical only so far against the barrage of details that are culled as you negotiate this forced externalization with offerings of mnemonic internalization. You now recall that your best friend wore Old Spice, the bus driver had one of those wooden-beaded seat covers and might have even smoked cigarettes while driving, the black-and-white stone mosaic sidewalks undulated when seen from the street, how many churrascarias and pizzerias you would pass daily, the white wall on the sloping street where the car radio was stolen had been freshly painted, the side-street where you parked for the flea-market at Praça da República always seemed sinister. These superimpositions of internal and external, native and foreign – these are the retraces.

You move through three mnemonic levels on Street View. The first is your current set of memories of what you did and saw along the routes. The next is a recognition of memories formed and utilized while living there and actually proceeding along these routes (i.e., your then-current knowledge and understanding of the city, the locales you would pass on these routes, neighborhoods where you spent time, places where people you knew lived, various emotional responses to certain urban spaces) – a kind of memory of these memories. The third level is the memories you perhaps formed and at least accessed between living there and now of these routes and surroundings (i.e., a mnemonic gradation between then and now, memories that were altered through social frameworks [especially in conversations with others] about São Paulo after having lived there, even potential false memories you created). And finally there is the forgetting that slices through, mutates, closes in on, and opens back up all of the above mnemonic levels.

São Paulo, city of over 20 million, the 100-mile traffic jam, fern-covered walls topped with broken glass, subtropical concrete covered with pichação graffiti, apartment complex gates guarded with machine guns, purple-flowering jacaranda trees, and smog-choked palms. As you retrace the routes, it is the forgetting you become more conscious of, and you have no idea why you didn’t think of these city routes for so long. You wonder how much this megapixelated clarity can assuage your disbelief at spending so many years in that South American megalopolis so long ago.

busStart here, on Rua Mário Ruas Alves, and get on the bus, one of those diesel-guzzling Mercedes beasts from the 70s with the angled sliding windows and São João Batista or something painted along the sides in a flamboyant script, the driver with tanned, grizzled face, slicked-back hair, and a few buttons undone down his shirt, you say “bon dia” to Nelson’s mother the school librarian who always sat right up front, go back about eight or ten seats on the right, the weathered tan vinyl perfect for dozing off in, your head resting against the stiff, blue curtains bleached by the sun and billowing in the exhaust of millions of Volkswagen Kombis and Fuscas, the bus roaring past graffitied walls with the occasional strand of barbed wire, pulling up next to the bakery with the great pãozinhos and the newsstand where you peep some racy magazine covers through the window, to the left across the street is the small futebol field where you were devastated after losing a game with the Argentines José and his brother Fernando (who was such a dramatic and whiny player), the bus turns right down the hill and then a sharp left past the video store where you always wanted to rent Cyborg or My Own Private Idaho, then to pick up Mariana, who spends the entire ride in the seat behind you looking for split ends in her dark wavy hair, then another left at a corner well-known as a site of forced child begging, down past the Swiss school and out towards Chacara Flora where you’d wander around with Devin and Brendan imagining you had stepped straight out of a Dragonlance novel and where Brendan once put an injured bird “out of its misery” on the side of a red dirt road after you had covertly climbed up a water tower for fun, then down to pick up Daniela and her loud-mouth brother who were from Buenos Aires and whose psychiatrist mother had supposedly treated some of the Alive survivors, you once went over her house for a birthday party but only reluctantly because you thought you were invited as a joke, you were in a strange mood after having watched Henry V with Kenneth Branagh but you wound up having a great time doing cannonballs into the pool, and further into that neighborhood to pick up Brian with the big purple mohawk who made you a tape of the Dead Kennedys’ In God We Trust, Inc. and Plastic Surgery Disasters, which you still have and still admire how neatly all the song titles are written out in blue ink, he once told you he hung out in cemeteries with Brazilian Goth girls so one day you walked shyly to the very back of the bus where he sat to ask if he liked The Cure and to tell him about the tape you had recently got, then turn left somewhere to pick up Giovanni who was into Agnostic Front, he once lent you one of their tapes which you didn’t like, and his sister who may have had a crush on you, they were Chilean or something, and soon thereafter beautiful Carolina who had a pool in her front yard and spoke German, all the while you’re slouched down with your knees on the seat in front of you reading Allen Ginsberg or Nat Hentoff or Franny and Zooey, the second half of which you always envisioned set in your grandparents’ house on West 94th (who’s that beat guy having a smoke on the stoop next to your grandmother’s hydrangea?), and wearing your photographer’s vest and the Spanish army beret you got at a gun show in Cleveland with your grandfather, and eventually there’s the bridge over the Marginal Pinheiros, that nightmarish black river, virtually an open sewer through the city, never forget once seeing a guy slide into the water from a dinghy, you knew the stories of the alligators and chemicals and disease and how that former-family friend told his wife to just shoot him if he ever fell in there, the smell would lift as high as the nineteenth floor by noon and one time you even got sick from it on the bus alongside the river, you puked up scrambled eggs which ran under the seats as the bus went over hills, then further up there’s that skatepark where you went with Dan and Steve and Zach, it was drizzling and the concrete bowl was slick and you all kept wiping out and laughing, and there’s where you played paintball and the Jardim Sul mall, which had a go-cart track next to it, and straight up the hill which a certain stretch of Cedar Avenue in Cleveland for some reason always reminds you of, Jon’s apartment is there on the right, his parents were Mormon missionaries and you went over there once to watch Monty Python and the Holy Grail, past Escola Graduada now where, at the end of your first year and on the very last day before summer, a car full of bandits armed with shotguns got in through the front gate somehow to rob the school, you were herded into classrooms by wild-eyed teachers clutching scissors, then swing down the hill towards Preston‘s apartment where you’d read MAD Magazine and do medieval battles in the emptied pool, Preston, who wore his black Jack Daniel’s t-shirt on every Brazilian independence day and had a mullet, there’s the McDonald’s where you and Steve skateboarded in the parking lot and you once ate two Big Macs after basketball practice, curve around past the Banca Aguia where you’d buy ice cream and peep more racy magazine covers, past that surfer Carlos’s apartment where you once wound up with Steve after school listening to Jimi Hendrix (at first you thought you had hung out with Renato, whose father supposedly took him to a brothel when he was 12, but that never would have happened), and then up towards Steve’s place where you’d listen to the Pixies, watch surf videos, play Nerf basketball with his brothers, eat quesadillas, and skate in his parking garage, Roxette and Ace of Base and Debbie Gibson or the classic Só Pra Contrariar on the bus radio the whole time, and finally you pull into the parking lot and look to the right to the top of the stairs near the field where you sat for lunch eating a sandwich and drinking a nice, cool can of Guaraná Antarctica before you played basketball or went to the library.

DIASPORIC INTIMATIONS (A FRIENDLY CONVERSATION)

In the late twentieth century, millions of people find themselves displaced from their birthplace, living in voluntary or involuntary exile. Their intimate experiences occur against a foreign background. They are aware of the foreign stage set whether they like it or not…Inability to return home is both a personal tragedy and an enabling force. This doesn’t mean that there is no nostalgia for the homeland, only that this kind of nostalgia precludes restoration of the past…I will speak about something that might seem paradoxical – a “disapsoric intimacy” that is not opposed to uprootedness and defamiliarization but is constituted by it. Diasporic intimacy can be approached only through indirection and intimation, through stories and secrets. It is spoken in a foreign language that reveals the inadequacies of translation. Diasporic intimacy does not promise an unmediated emotional fusion, but only a precarious affection – no less deep, yet aware of its transience. In contrast to the utopian images of intimacy as transparency, authenticity and ultimate belonging, diasporic intimacy is dystopic by definition; it is rooted in the suspicion of a single home, in shared longing without belonging. It thrives on the hope of the possibilities of human understanding and survival, of unpredictable chance encounters, but this hope is not utopian. Diasporic intimacy is haunted by the images of home and homeland, yet it also discloses some of the furtive pleasures of exile.

– Svetlana Boyn, The Future of Nostalgia

“Any kind of intimacy requires a strong framework of memory, right? No matter how transient or precarious that relationship remains. So what happens to those relationships when you’re attempting to forget, as you claim you are?”

“Well frameworks of memory and intimacy are nothing but tentative abroad, that’s for sure. And I’ve lost plenty. You left your camera in that cab in Seoul and didn’t even try to get it back, that’s just the tip of the iceberg as far as what can be lost. Sometimes these kinds of mnemonic frameworks, when you’re on a plane, they parachute casually down between the tectonic plates, you watch them go. Some are never anything but unnamable and can never be translated where you wind up. The rest are beaten into submission on that mediocrely-tuned brass snare of mine.”

“And who leaves whom?”

“Usually it seems that – sure, I’ve done a lot of exiting and losing – but more often those framework objects, they just up and leave the foreign one day, you know? It’s an annual theme, ‘so long, so long.’ And there’s rarely not a national border at play. They’re called by fear of regret, preordained familial guilt, moments when there’s little left to wait for. Another one just left this past Thursday, actually.”

DP, BS, JW, JT, SM, AG, AP, AR, CF, SG, GW, CL, ER

“Well can these frameworks be grounded in something other than flesh and bone? In text, for instance? Text is easy, no matter the lack of comprehension, blatant ignoring or, on the other hand, undeserved attention. But whether it’s a fixed number of characters, initials flashing round your skull, or author names standing in for those who’ve left or not yet arrived – like that time you bought The Pleasure of the Text on a snowy Sunday in Pittsburgh in hope it’d offer some congeniality – can any of that be sufficient? Or is a written framework just too thin or digressive to begin with?”

“That’s been said plenty – the failure repeated, the poorest of imitations; the endless writing, endless reading, endless writing about reading; you read this, you post this quote, you take it all very seriously; there’s too much text, we need no more, etc. Ultimately, you know, the only text worth producing is the kind you’ll forget. And your friends’ names become only email addresses, rarely to be written out in full again.”

“Let’s leave all that for a second. This diasporic intimacy, can that guard against nostalgia? I would think it depends on the mix of remembering and forgetting that the intimacy is constructed with.”

“Well it’s not even memory that constitutes the power of those diasporic frameworks. It’s the tactics of forgetting – these lethatechnics you hear about but which are hard to get a grip on. Those have proven the strongest stops on nostalgic paralysis, on the doomed pursuit of restoration, day in day out.”

“Really? I know you don’t like ice cream as much as your typical Krakowian, but aren’t there other local pleasures to pursue?”

“Sure. Just saying that, even forgetting is a pleasure – furtive, as Boym points out, but always resonant. It just depends on how much and how well you can wield it. Out-of-sight-out-of-mind, for example – that’s forgetting as utilitarian pleasure. But you have to keep it balanced and choose your objects carefully, after a lot of mnemonic processing. You have to be really, really careful, in the end. Cause it’s distasteful and inevitable to an extent, and for sure it often describes the ones who stayed behind, how they communicate or, more often, do not. But unless you stay on the move every two years or so max, you become one who stayed behind, and that same tactic can be used with you – for sure it already has! The cycle never ends. And the supposed equilibrium that results from leaving and left? For that to be any use, it must be tipped a little more towards forgetting than memory.”

“How’s that?”

“The remembering cannot subsume you. It’s got to be filtered, monitored. And forgetting becomes the gauge that lets you do this. Forgetting used through practice, method, technique. Not the other way around – memory does not gauge the forgetting. Because it envelopes memory, there’s more power in forgetting – power to shape memory, dismantle it, reject or sublimate it.”

“Isn’t out-of-sight-out-of-mind more a rather pathetic excuse than some kind of tactic? Even if you are just forgetting what was once remembered, rather than ‘forgetting’ what was never fully registered or observed.”

“It’s only an example that can be dropped and adopted again at will, reformulated, whatever. Let’s not think it’s a static solution or anything. And, again, it very much toes the line with guilt and-or laziness. And guilt plays such a big role in memory – constructing responsibilities, contriving duties…”

“That’s what I keep thinking. What about duty here, about putting time into the communication? What about valuing the textual output – all those emails about the relationship of god and capital gains on volatility, Nietzsche and post-1989 lingerie?”

“The ones that sparked so little reply, you mean? Well, that’s not the point. They were efforts put forth. There were desired ends – more exchange, dialogue, in-jokes – more mnemonic material, I guess. But the real ends were accepted eventually, not resented – they were forgotten. At least partially. But it’s almost like there has to be some kind of serious border in place to encourage those exchanges, some transcontinental span to overcome. The border gets to be too much, though, too difficult to send messages across. But you have to keep seeing the potential for such exchanges. And you just have to try not to be a jerk about it.”

“Exactly. But at the same time you can’t help but think – a tactic of forgetting? Why would I want to forget? Forget what? And that’s supposed to be good for me, even pleasurable? Isn’t it a pleasure so unexpected, you’re super suspicious of it from the get-go?”

“Yeah, well, the foreign and the forgetting go hand in hand. Always. But the forgetting we’re speaking of, it’s not based on shame or shirking responsibility or something. It’s based on the same privacy you want to expand through remembering. You have your ends in mind – you want to sleep better, spend more time on music, check out the city, be less hostile or resentful, whatever. And you want some degree of pleasure in evading your memories, in moving forward and accepting other mnemonic frameworks or material. So with a letatechnic or whatever you want to call it for reaching these ends, there is a refusal at work that is even more private, a letting go that is usually unregistered by anyone anywhere. If that’s the way you want to play it, that is. You don’t have to be all nebulous or secretive about it, but not being secretive about it is another story.”

“Maybe instead of ‘shared longing without belonging,’ like Boym identifies, there can be something like shared forgetting with privacy? Cause memory is rarely wholly private, right? Recollection is supported by all of these frameworks, especially when there is some dynamic of intimacy involved, however diasporic it might be. We’ve established that. But forgetting can be an intensely private affair. And in a way, the privacy of forgetting can lead to another form of belonging – you forget one set of frameworks in order to adopt or be open to adopting another, like you point out.”

“Forgetting can be so private, I would think, that it could even become the object of intimacy itself. At some point abroad, you become as intimate with your forgetting as with your memory. And that becomes less a ‘furtive pleasure of exile’ than a joyful potentiality.”

“Exactly. Could these strains of forgetting even become objects of nostalgia, of restorative nostalgia? As if you want to get back to that place of earlier forgetting?”

“I don’t know, maybe. Although let’s not go too far. What you’re talking about could be just a parallel of forgetting – the kind obsession and total presence that is supposed to signify authenticity, but that’s not an automatic association. Considering an ‘authentic’ forgetting is hardly easy. But something that enables forgetting as a surprisingly useful by-product, something fun, more often than not, yes. Cause of course it’s easy to be nostalgic for pleasure, but you have to take it one step further to see the forgetting that was involved in that experience. What were you forgetting that day we sat drinking radlers, watching those mini-ramp skaters at Fabryka? Or when we saw Cleveland beat the Red Sox at Fenway? Cause obviously you can be nostalgic for that, but you can’t really be nostalgic for what you were not thinking about at the time, cause why would you want to be? You couldn’t even recall those mnemonic objects, what was forgotten, or any of those dynamics now if you tried – that’s the point. See, we’re really talking about a practice of forgetting – a lethatechnic that is specific enough to learn and repeat, the way to forget that you want to remember! So that more moments actually worth remembering can happen. That’s what you want to recall and be nostalgic for in some very personal though pragmatic way. Cause when you reach the specifics of your nostalgia – the context, who you were with, the weather, even – obviously that can’t be recreated. But the practice can – the mnemonic practice or the lethatechnic, you have to make that choice. And if you choose to concentrate on the forgetting, there actually is some degree of restoration involved. But it’s not a place that is being restored – it’s a method for challenging the need to belong to any place, for understanding that experience is not just a future bombardment of memory. So it’s not a memory palace you want to inhabit – it’s more like a mobile home in Nebraska and you don’t care if it’s in a tornado path or what, you’re just going to leave it behind for a while.”

“So you’d take the tornado-threatened trailer over a decked-out memory palace? Seems to me you would agree with this suspicion of a single home, then, like Boym mentions?”

“For sure. When you first feel that suspicion it seems unnatural, disrespectful even, to question that ground, allegiance, that need of comfort or whatever. But then you see it more and more in the shadowy discourse you share with other foreigners. There’s empathy, commiseration. Plenty of exasperation and complaining. There’s also excitement at the distance from where you grew up, etc. But one day that suspicion becomes the norm – you have done enough thinking on it, reading about it, even. You have come to see the fluid lines between emigration, expatriation, real and metaphysical exile. You think about alterity, destierro and destiempo, the connection of home and love. Cosmopolitanism utilizes strong threads of forgetting, and there’s the Slavic paradigm of exile, Janus, those essays by Miłosz and Wittlin. All the while the idea of a single home increasingly becomes an anomaly.”

“Or if you’re really feeling arrogant-slash-insecure, even something quaint.”

“Sure, sure. But once that suspicion of the single home becomes natural, it’s even sometimes like you have no interest in talking to others who speak your language. Even if they speak with a Rust Belt accent, maybe especially then! Cause, you know, you’re out, you hear them on the street, their vocal fry singeing the Old Town, ‘oh my god you guys,’ you know. You see their shoes and shorts and sizes and haircuts and Purell bottles. You can spot ‘em and hear ‘em from a mile away. Doesn’t matter if they’re tourists or how long they’ve been here, who wants to talk about travel or living abroad anymore? You become tired of relaying your stories yet again, that spiel of where you’ve been and how you wound up here.”

“Especially when they have that glint in their eye, which can seem way more tragic than an enabling force, yeah? Cause they have no idea how they’ll cope with that fading, after they’re all jaded and fed up, tired of the foreign altogether or of this particular foreign. After they’re tired of being asked for drobne by those horrid Kefirek cashiers, tired of all the broken vods bottles all over the place, people running into you on the sidewalks, that pedestrian ‘Slavic swerve.’ So how are they going to eventually cope with their mnemonic frameworks running weak? They’ll encounter a novice need to forget – forget any notion of home, forget everything irritating here, who’s in Malaysia and who’s in Chile and all those in New York. They have no idea they’ll have to deal with that when the glint in their eye’s still strong. But that becomes the only thing worth talking about at some point, you know? That’s the real enabling force. The diasporic intimacy Boym is positing, the real core of that? It’s forgetting. What can you share in forgetting.”

“Thus the lethatechnics.”

“So ok, what is it today?”

“What is what, today?”

“What are you trying to forget today? What do you want to use those for?”

“Oh, well, today it’s…the idea that you have to ‘catch up’ on yard work. The emptiness of hearing country music on a rainy day. Drinking beer in plastic cups. The horror of opłatki and Wigilia in general. Steel wool. Watching golf on tv. Those beat departure lounges at CAK. Being envious of an eighteen year-old kid’s university prospects. The Dostoevsky I haven’t read. That email from J about how I didn’t seem to like his girlfriend. That whole situation with, ‘why don’t I put this cigarette out on your eye,’ what a mess that was. That J might never read the Kapuściński book I gave him – he didn’t even put it on his Goodreads! How T smacks his lips while eating.  Some $2,000 chair J lets his dogs sleep on. How M shot a deer through the heart somewhere outside Philly and then ate the heart with his new wife and a little balsamic and ended up biting down on the slug, that was a wild email to get. That I missed my cousin’s wedding.”

“Wait wait wait, he ate the heart of a deer he shot? Raw or something?”

IN ORDER TO REWRITE

I write my poems in order to be able to forget them.

– John Ashbery

Certainly. A monolith upside-down, a text mirrored, the thread count backwards, the sunlight in reverse, your post-scriptum relief, whatever else can be flipped. The poems are forgotten before they stand a chance of describing the forgetting.

I’ve forgotten all of these:

A Vicious National Triumph

All Kinds of Untowards Things

At Night and At Night

Behind the Fir

Brighton Water

Bruiser

Can It Just Be Nice to See Me

Cancel the Car Ride

Copse and Mirror

Dividual

Don’t Let Us Drink

Doctor’s New Date

Eric Dolphy

Excess, April 1-12

Four or Five Placid Angles

First First

Gosposia

Hairpin National

Honey Machine

Hot Cup of Soup

Lets You

Inconnu

Intent to Pacify

Kosmischer

Lava Down Cleveland Avenue

Learn in the Cold House

Left Notation

Lucky SG

Mallards Creek 4c

Movietone

Murmur Faith

My War

Naja

Near the Tape

North Canton

Oaths Hid in Rochester

Of Us the Worst Circulation

Osborne Road

Party Of Helicopters

Peninsula

Plotki

Redoubt

Riposte

Sleep on the Road

So Steamed Reaffirmation

Story 1-49

Sunlessness

The Mint Hunt

The New Gold Circle

The Sky for a Few Minutes

The World’s Biggest Necklace

Three Men

Trouble Forever

Two Centers

You Don’t Necessarily Honor that Code

Your Arm Has Been Asleep All Day

Vestmannaeyjar

What Does Hello Mean

What Year Is This, Anyway

When They Were on Television

Wherefore, Mercy

ON THE DISINTEGRATION LOOPS, REAL REPEATERS, AND PLAYING DRUMS

William Basinski’s The Disintegration Loops contains the most striking intersections of memory and forgetting that I have ever come across in music. The story of this collection is well-known by now, and begins with Basinski making these loops in the early 1980s from snippets of classical and easy-listening. In 2001, while he was transferring the loops to a digital format, the magnetized metal was eaten up from the tape as it passed through the reader head. Basinski let the tapes run to record this tension between preservation and destruction, resulting in engrossing music born of a process of inadvertent subtraction and the devouring of mnestic traces.

The context of this process was 9/11, and stills from the video that Basinski made from his rooftop that day comprise the covers of the records. The skies went dark, the day ended, but the music remained with the ruins and trauma.

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I heard the first two loops (there are nine in total) for the first time in the spring of 2004, after purchasing the cd at the Bent Crayon in Cleveland, Ohio during a visit there with my friend “Medina” Jim, who also bought the record. This immediate sharing with a friend was beneficial, as it took me awhile to come to grips with all that was entailed in the backstory, process, context, and imagery. Making it through the first loop, “d|p 1.1,” which is a little over an hour long, took a few attempts, unused as I was to listening to gauzy drone and long-form experimental music. But that first full listen was a powerful experience which clued me into the enterprise of deep listening, and discussions with Jim helped to flesh out what we had both found in the music.

This was around the time, too, that I started to become interested in memory and to see opportunities of discussing art from that angle. In addition to getting into Basinski’s music, seeing Chris Marker’s film Sans Soleil and Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima, Mon Amour for the first time played a major role in the development of this interest, all of which helped me to make a little sense of the few years after 9/11. But I still cannot listen to “d|p 1.1” that often. Simply put it is just too heavy, and in an hour-straight sitting the horn sounds move far, far beyond melancholy.

Recent mornings spent with the 40-minute “d|p 6,” however, have reignited my interest in The Disintegration Loops, particularly how the listening experience utilizes an active forgetting. I have found this particular loop endlessly repeatable.

What are the mechanisms of forgetting at work here? There is a mechanically-forced oblitus in the degradation of the tape, first of all. This destructive element is an expansion of absence through subtraction from the loop rather than addition (an alternative recording could be imagined based around, for instance, an amplification of the scraping of the metal from the tape, which would lend itself to a more noise-oriented result). If the loop can be considered a mnestic trace to be repeated endlessly, with a requisite balance of integrity and minor variation, then what we are left with is the sound of a progressive forgetting of that trace as the loop subtracts from and degrades itself.

It is no stretch to say that this sonic experience of forgetting operates beyond a concentrated, metaphorical parallel to mortality. Because the destruction focuses your attention on an instant by instant basis, deep listening encourages you to try and remember what has fallen away, notice the subtle changes, and monitor the absence. This data – lost and retrieved and lost and retrieved again, both instant by mnemonic instant and long after the piece has finished – has no place to go, hanging as it is from a loop that is skeletal and spectral from the beginning.

The flipside of this mechanical process is the forgetting of the human touch in the actual composition. Basinski did not play this music; he recorded, sliced, and manipulated it to create the loops, and the source music and original musicians have long been forgotten. This is one step removed from a traditionally “authentic” musical creation (an issue comprising a different discussion).  Additionally, what matters are not the original loops, made by Basinski with a different intention (whatever that was). What matters now is how the loops were once again given over to a machine, which led to the devouring process, and thus the forgetting of the human touch is doubled. But at the end of each loop, should we assume that the tape completely ate itself up, resulting in a silence that would semi-neatly mark an endpoint, or should we assume instead that this was Basinski’s choice, to finish at 52:21 or 20:07, to cut the loops that could go on for longer? We forget these questions of the process – in part as a result of the hypnotic effects of listening to such music – and thus the forgetting of the human touch is tripled. So while memory resides in the narrative and the historical context of the music, forgetting dominated the process and the end result, and forgetting continues to dominate the listener’s response.

The loop form itself is an ouroboros of memory and forgetting. The loop remembers and/or forgets only itself, and it can add to and/or subtract from only itself. It is self-sufficient and fully integrated, and it maintains its integrity despite external manipulation. Furthermore, the loop induces the listener to forget – a structured song seems passé except as a brief respite from the power of the loop; other loops are unnecessary (at least for today); and why remember what is outside the window, which has already been folded into the loop anyway?

Have you ever repeated a song for hours, do you have what I would call real repeaters? Such songs function similarly to loops but operate on a more limited scale. Their extension is not necessarily infinite, closely measured as it is via the repeat button or the repeated pressing of the “previous” button on a device (the difference of these gestures, of course, marks the desire for repetition – there is planned repetition and there is more spontaneous repetition, respectively). Such repetitive engagement may cause you to forget where you are, untethering you from any one place in favor of an internal navigation, or it may fully root you in place, especially if the song’s repetition is guiding recollection and nostalgic reverie.

But as responses to “traditional” songs, these acts of repetition are all on the listener-end. The loop, on the other hand, is composed on the creator-end to submit the listener to repetition without question. The loop becomes the location of the listening experience, and that’s why music such as The Disintegration Loops can apply as well to images of space (with a kosmische approach), cities (with cycles of frenetic social energy), and nature (with a slower sense of wonder that the music attempts to “culturize”). Loops can put you to sleep (i.e., invite you to drink from the river Lethe), or keep you going for hours in a trance state with their utilization of longer finite measures as impetuses to forget everything else. For example, “d|p 6” has a length of 40:37, which for the melodiousness and length of its base loop seems even too short. This in turn qualifies it as a real repeater and encourages the foresight of planned repetition, i.e., the pressing of the repeat button on my player, which loops the loop infinitely.

I have read about live performances of The Disintegration Loops here, which sound captivating and bring up a different set of mnemonic issues. In “d|p 6” there is a definite rhythm at work with the percussive echoes, which makes it all the more intriguing, and as a drummer, I can picture playing a pattern that would work sufficiently. Subtraction from such a rhythm that was never fully there in the first place, diffusing the pattern gradually throughout 40 or so minutes, this would help to signify the role of forgetting in the live setting. Keeping time while inserting longer rests and more silence as well as decreasing volume and minimizing form would surely be an exciting challenge. A mechanical stiffness would be needed, too, paralleling the mnemonic interplay of machine and human that is at the heart of the piece, and further reflecting the emulation of the metronome that a drummer interminably struggles for and against with degrees of musicality, sweat, and imperfection.

There is no better example in music I know of interactions between memory and forgetting than in The Disintegration Loops. Perhaps extended free-jazz or noise jams would offer other possibilities, but those types of music operate with a different set of dynamics revolving more around improvisation, addition, stamina, and collaboration. While playing drums and utilizing such dynamics, memory functions as technicality (i.e., “chops”) and as the driver of both improvisation and collaboration, while forgetting works towards the potential of playing in a kind of trance state, wherein conscious and formal effort is subtracted (or at least replaced by physical/muscle memory). Basinski’s loops operate on another level entirely, and you do not need the backstory, the historical context, or any of the underpinning ideas to be moved by these pieces and to observe how your forgetting may operate in response to them.

I have only thoroughly listened to “d|p 1.1,” “d|p 1.2,” and “d|p 6” – I forget that there are six other loops to investigate. I do not feel the need for additional stimuli while listening to this music, nor do I feel that greed for immediate accumulation that is part and parcel of our cultural consumption nowadays. “d|p 6” is especially calming and giving, and in the end I like the idea of only investigating another piece every few years. It is as if I do not want to forget the forgetting involved in each loop, which is just another way of saying I would like them to fully occupy my memory.