Silence, Memory


In Nabokov’s “Speak Memory,” remembrance becomes a narrator, and narrators are not to be confused with authors, even (perhaps especially) non-fiction narrators, and often not to be trusted, as memory is often impeachable. Narrators are often unreliable. To remember is to be mindful, to call to mind. The writer must silence memory, then speak.

Mindful of what? Who calls to mind? “Remember the time…,” someone asks. “Yes, the Angelus bells had just finished ringing. It must have been noon. I remember the dying echo of the bells. Not dying, falling, as if the bells were still with us, but silent, as indeed they were, and they would ring again, and that would recall dinner.” Is memory an angel come to incarnate? Memory made flesh. Well, made story, anyway. Memory is not words, has no language. Look Homeword, Angel.

Memory is partial. Fragmentary. Unfinished. Abandoned for the present. And memory is partial in the sense of being one-sided. Memory favors. What happened to the trees as the bells passed through their leaves? How did they taste, the thick iron rings? Did your ears ring through the afternoon? Could you feel the bells in your bowels? Something else called to mind. Did you touch the bells?

Memory is revisionist, as in historical revisionism. Memory is a time machine that can move in only one direction. If we were not mindful at the time, of the time, how can our later memory be accurate at all? So we put memory in the third person, and we recall instructions, how things were made and can be made again, how to ride a surfboard or a bicycle, how to write.

“At the time in question, he simply was not very mindful of what was going on around him. Still, he insisted on certain memories.” These would be memories he needed now to continue.


  1. Most timely for a writer contemplating a memoir, and all too aware of the porous, the ersatz, the explanatory tendency to make sense and direction out of a carpet bag of fragments. Hence the hesitation!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. While reading Joe, “Dynamo” the magician came to mind. Did I think of him, or did you direct me to him? Alas, Dynamo controls the memories of others and becomes the narrator to a story he has contrived.
    Our mindfulness is more or less under-written by that of a goldfish.B

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I really like this. My mother-in-law had Alzheimer’s, but was spared the ending of it because of her heart. We were able to enjoy her bouncing and fragmented memories that often combined her past with present day associations.

    Memories are tender.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. “Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
      Already with thee! tender is the night,
      And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
      Cluster’d around by all her starry Fays
      But here there is no light,
      Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
      Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways” (Keats)


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