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Monthly Archives: January 2013

The man at the bar walked with a cane, or he sat with it rather, only actually walking twice all night, when he made his trips to the bathroom, three times counting when he left, four counting when he arrived, which he must have, though I wasn’t there to see it. The cane that he kept with him as he sat and as he occasionally walked was not one of the new, medically approved kind that support the body according to principles of physiology.  It was one of the old wooden kind, and it only came up just above his knee, so he leaned slightly as he walked, his arm straightened into an extension of the cane, both of them pressed against his rigid leg, forcing him to bend, shuffling and hunched and painful.

The commonplace is always transcendent, not in spite of how it appears, but precisely as it appears, in its own transcendence.  It is only our lack of attention, our lack of concern, our lack of attendance, that allows the commonplace to seem common, that reduces it to the measure of our own understanding.  We have our being among things that are too much for us, too beautiful and too horrible, too massive and too miniscule, too bright and too shadowed, too full of the transcendence of the world, yet we are content to imagine that we ourselves hold the measure of everything.

The experience of God cannot be summoned or controlled, only awaited.  Our participation in its arrival is only to await, not in passivity only, but also in active expectation, to be open to however and wherever it will arrive, to expect that it will arrive in the times and the places where it is least expected.  This is why there is no church — whatever name it might bear, no altar — whatever sacrifice it might carry,  no symbol — whatever meaning it might offer, that has anything to do with the experience of God except to the degree that it brings us to a place of waiting.

I am by no means an expert on the history of mnemonics, but it has always interested me to see how growth in literacy has tended to cause a corresponding decline in the practise of memory, as people become more and more content to have the written word remember for them, to replace their memories with archives. There is something to be said for this arrangement, of course, since writing allows us to recall and transmit far more knowledge with far more efficiency than even the most highly trained memory ever could, but writing also permits us the luxury of a peculiar forgetfulness, where we need not know what we can find in the archive, and we need not find it if we would rather remain forgetful, for reasons of politics or expediency or even sheer laziness.

The rise of the technologies that are commonly called the internet are pushing this relationship between archive and forgetfulness to even further extremes, because we know submit everything to the archive — our photographs are on Pinterist or Flickr; our videos are on YouTube or Vimeo; our lives are journaled on Facebook or in our blogs; our correspondence is stored in our email accounts; even our water-cooler gossip is preserved on Twitter. This capacity for archiving ourselves, however, has been accompanied by an equal capacity to be forgetful of ourselves. We have recorded our lives, but we have not remembered them, have not understood them, have not told their stories, and so we no longer know ourselves, or if we do, we know ourselves very differently, as media creations that we no longer recognize as ourselves.

This is not what the internet must mean, of course, because the internet can be made to mean other things, but for many people this is what the internet has in fact come to mean: both total archive and total forgetfulness.