Thursday, 16 July 2009

The Bottomless Well

I never did get round to concluding my post on memory vs invention.
Primarily because, as I thought more about the topic, I came to realise that I'm not adequately equipped to deal with the distinction.
But here's how far I got:

I was considering Gertrude Stein's notion that imagination is superior to memories.

The reason her letter to Hem lodged in my conscious mind was because I had been reaching a similar conclusion myself. When I am as deeply immersed in a scene as is possible, I can amble around and study the blades of grass and the downy hair on a character's cheek. Invariably, I can find the one description (we're briefly outside the realms of plot here) that sums up any given scene; just as Hem always contended. This detail, however, whilst retrieved from my memory cache, must then fit the needs of the plot. Therefore it is adapted. In this way, we'd make a judgement call (What is the most important thing to deliver here?), and then rummage for the essence of that thing (Hem's white thigh bone through dirty underwear), and then go one step further, as Stein suggests, and use our imagination to alchemise the essence into the key feature that best fits the requirement/s of the narrative.

Increasingly, I'm discovering that one perfect observation can become the heart of a scene; it can transform a functional scene into something ... haunting ... hypnotic ... as lived.
(N.B. This observation fits neatly into ricardo's current line of questioning.)

I love peeking into my son's beautiful little mind.
This morning, for reasons known only to him, we were attempting to remember the teachers from his previous school. Here are a few examples of his results:

There was Mrs. Richards who had an orange face, white hair, and red lips.
There was a dinner lady - can't remember her name - who had curly hair and glasses.
(ME: I don't remember her.)
She had a white face.
There was Mrs. Smith who was like Miss Lee but taller and with a bigger head.

I've been faithful not just to the details themselves, which I have transcribed verbatim, but also to the order in which he recalled the details.

So these are pure responses to a memory search, and I love them for that purity!
But they are delivered outside the requirements of a plot, or any given scene. As such, they have not been adapted to fit into any design. So now I'm wondering if Hem placed purity before design - if the truth meant more to him than the plot (which does seem very feasible to me) - if purity itself became a constant theme.

Other observations from my son (post sex education - you didn't want to be a passenger on our bus yesterday!):
Can babies go to Hell?
What happens if a woman dies and is buried and she has a baby inside her?
Does it hurt when the umbilical cord is cut?
Does grandma have a womb?

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