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Saturday, August 23, 2008

Time, As It Flows

PROUST WAS A NEUROSCIENTIST, by Jonah Lehrer, has a beautiful cover, and the title, as well, says, “Pick me up!” I did and was not disappointed. Turned first to the chapter on Proust, pleased to find Henri Bergson included in the story. Lehrer writes beautifully and tells the story well. Proust was keenly alive to the unreliability of memory, a truth confirmed by recent neuroscience, wherein studies have shown “that memory obeys nothing but itself,” mutating with each occurrence of remembering. “This is what Proust knew: the past is never past. As long as we are alive, our memories remain wonderfully volatile.” (A glass-half-empty person would say “horribly volatile,” I’m sure. Lehrer, like Proust, accepts and exults in reality on its own terms.) Next I read about Virginia Woolf and the illusory, slippery self (the problem of personal identity), the self that invents itself out of its own sensations, attention binding the moments together, and then Paul Cezanne, the anti-impressionist, not content with light but intent also on leaving room for and somehow inviting the viewer’s mind’s interpretation, giving us, “in the same static canvas, the beginning and the end of our sight."

I might have gone on to think and read further in a Proustian or Woolfian direction, but, by chance, the next book I picked up was Rilke’s LETTERS ON CEZANNE (written to his wife from the rue Cassette in Paris), and out of that coincidence an intention formed: after reading several letters, I looked in the case holding the art books for THE WORLD OF CEZANNE, a Time-Life volume. So, immersed in Cezanne, I was yesterday. Having dinner with three painters in the evening seemed more than appropriate. Life is too wonderful to spend it obsessing about dust bunnies. One of the painters (not David but a guest) commented that painters in Italy were probably sitting around their dinner tables moaning, "Oh, why are we not in Leelanau, with its beautiful, incomparable light?"

This morning, awake early in the dark, I got up to read, continuing with the PRAY section of Elizabeth Gilbert’s EAT, PRAY, LOVE, until, for some reason, that book inspired me not to wait until sunrise to get outdoors with my dog. We were out by 6:20 (not as dark outside as it had looked from inside the house), and the sun hadn’t cleared the trees until long after we got back home an hour later. I didn’t take a camera. Just wanted to be there. Today’s images are from other recent mornings.

Downpour yesterday afternoon, another this morning. The drought has definitely broken. Fall is in the air, but temperatures still warm, and with lake water warmed up, there’s lots of good swimming yet ahead for vacationers.


Anonymous said...

I've observed that we all rewrite our own histories all the time. It would be unbearable if we weren't able to do this . . .

P. J. Grath said...

One thing I think I've observed (or did I invent a "fact" for some obscure personal reason?) is that older people with dementia no longer revise their stories, so that a listener gets the impression of hearing a recording. It's as if autopilot rather than "someone" is giving an account. I don't mean that to be unkind. Another way to look at it is that you're listening to a document, as you would be when reading a diary. The written words, once put down, don't change from one reading to the next.