|Paper i wrote in prague
||[Aug. 18th, 2003|09:27 am]
|||||Jr. Ewing - Repitition is Failure||]|
How can one possibly deal with the past? It is always there haunting many of us. Not only do our past actions get in the way of our current actions, but they shape who we are. Memories are a journal of our lives. Often, these memories are so profound that we often wish for a repetition of them. We feel nostalgia for the past. We learn to ask ourselves, how can this present possibly live up to what I’ve already experienced in the past? As Kundera points out at the very beginning of Ignorance, nostalgia comes from the two Greek words: nostos (return) and algos (suffering). Nostalgia is the act of suffering under a yearning to return. As most will discover, nostalgia is unappeasable. The past can never be repeated exactly. Events in time are singular. If there is a forcing of the present to be the past it only becomes a disappointment and a blunder. For the feelings of the past will at best be reproduced and with repetition comes boredom. I say at best here because this is the original goal of nostalgic recovery. This nostalgic forcing only causes the present to be a failure. In essence, the present will never become a memory you will be nostalgic for because it will be only remembered as a repetition.
Not only do memories cause suffering through nostalgia; there is also the opposite feeling of distaste for the past caused by unpleasant memories. These memories cause us to want to forget. What is the best way to deal with this? How can one face living through the Holocaust? How can one face an affair? An abusive childhood? These are the problems heard every day throughout the world. How to deal with a past of suffering is a question that spans time. Tolstoy asked it in Anna Karenina. Hardy asked it in Tess of the D’Urbervilles. Hugo asked it in Les Miserables. Every relationship or life that has been or will be will run into this problem. But there must be an answer to this time old question for we manage to live our lives through the Holocaust, through Stalin, through every atrocity and it does not always end up destroying us. I think there is an existential answer to this question. How can one possibly deal with the past and form constructive relationships with it (no matter how great or horrific it is)?
In Ignorance, Kundera explains that we really only retain a tiny scrap of memory when compared with all the time in our lives. So the life we live is not actually our life in reality, but the reality we make up for ourselves to take the place of memories lost. It’s the combination of past truths and our illusions. If we could remember everything, our lives would be completely different. The nostalgia felt refers to these illusions. That in fact is why nostalgia is such a common feeling. The memories we add into the mix mostly provide a better sense of how the past happened so it becomes more desirable.
That’s why in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting, Mama had imagined that she had recited a patriotic poem celebrating the end of the Austrian Empire. It gave her dignity, at least more than the reality of reciting a Christmas poem. Even upon remembering that it indeed was not a patriotic event, she still decided to leave herself with the new imaginary reality because it made her look less ignorant in front of her son.
So, when asking ourselves the question, how can this present possibly live up to what I’ve already experienced in the past, we automatically trap ourselves. Our past is so unattainable because of our added imagination that our present can never possibly live up to it unless the question is never asked in the first place. If nostalgia is ignored, then the present can proceed into an unbounded infinity of possibilities where anything can happen and there is a chance for a happieness greater than that which you have felt in the past.
This infinity is expressed in The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. Kundera explains two types of time. The first is linear time. It is the type of time that we generally think associates with the term, time as a passing moment, something quantitative and mathematical. In it to progress is to regress because the longer we wait the less time we have. The less time we have before a paper is due, before we grow old, and before we die. This time is terrifying and leaves us with the reality of being alone. In this time nostalgia exists. We look upon a line of time or a sequence of events always dreading the end and therefore always seeking to return to the beginning. Being nostalgic gives us a false sense of being young again, escape from death, and escape from loneliness.
This is the time Bara is stuck in throughout the majority of Klima’s The Ultimate Intimacy. She is unable to deal with the impermanence of the world and unable to handle the fact that death is inevitable and unpredictable. No one can stop her death. She is totally out of control. No one can love her forever. She knows the truths of reality and is in despair over it. Daniel feels similar. He says he finds being close to death oppressive. He however shields himself in his religion –‘He has freed us from the very arms of death and will free us...’ But this is false to him, for he has no faith and arrives at, “And yet I still feel anxious. More so than most other people perhaps.” (Klima 8)
The other type of time is an infinite time, a circle. It is the realization that there is infinity in the now. By that I mean that in every split second there are limitless possibilities for action and unbounding possibilities for intensification. It is an intensification of the self. It is being able to look inward and to find meaning in everything you do. This type of time, Kundera explains, is made through variations. A variation is a point at which, “concentration is brought to a maximum.” It allows us to “go straight to the core of the matter.” Instead of seeing life as repetitious, you turn to see it as a set of these variations. One event is never played over; each similar event is connected to another to form its own section of the circle. Each variation has its own theme. Life becomes a clump of these variations which are neverending. There are connections everywhere between everything and there is meaning lying in each. Life ceases to be a beginning and an end but a collection of pieces which form a puzzle.
This is exemplified in Ignorance. Milada (if not her, some other random girl) in her younger years is fascinated by the repetition of events that play out between her current boyfriend and her ex. She notices that they try to kiss her at the same spot in teh forest, that they both look good in a blue jacket, that they both use the same words to woo her. She notices these “furtive contacts between present and past; she seeks out these echoes.” She feels that these connections reduce the gap in the temporal dimension between past and present and it gives her a sense of growth. They give her meaning, “The intrusion of the previous boyfriend into the story she is currently living is to her mind not some secret infidelity; it adds further to her fondness for the man walking beside her now.” Growing older, she sees these repetitions as a lack of individuality in individuals, as a mere fact. She loses that sense of meaning in coincidence. (Kundera 79-80) She stops living in a meaningful time and moves on to a time where she must end and she is alone. She even probably feels nostalgic about her childhood naivete in finding meaning in such petty things. With the infinite time you learn to expand the great pleasures in life and learn from them. It is the most intimate connection that one can have with the moments he is experiencing.
The case for memory intensification is quite a bit easier than the case for dealing with memories that one looks back upon with scorn. If never overcome, memories from the past will haunt us forever, distort our lives, or drive us into despair. If there is an intent to overcome these memores, one must look deep down in his heart to find the answers to his secluded inner questions. Let me follow with:
Dealing with the fact that a lover has cheated on you and betrayed all promises is a difficult one. The memory will never leave and always haunt you. How can one deal with this properly? Should we forgive the lover for her sins? Laugh at oneself? Or decide that through everything I am still going to love this person? Immediately after the fact there are certainly two main obvious routes: one, this person has wronged me, disrespected me, and I refuse to continue with this relationship. Two, just yesterday this person loved me and said she cared for me, so this betrayal isn’t derived from lack of love, but from some other problem that has yet to be figured out. We love still so we will work through this. Even if the latter is correct, out of all rashness the former is chosen. You move on. There must be love elsewhere with someone who won’t hurt me. So you move on, but the memory remains. I still love her. This isn’t what I need. She is what I need. Any new relationship will cary the burdens of the previous one. Not only that, love without hurt is an illusion. But being back in the previous relationship doesn’t solve the problem either. It magnifies it. You are scared and deathly jealous. But even through the jealously you manage to pinpoin the original sin and correct it as best as possible. Now at this point, there is either the option to forgive or forget.
You could forget and fill in the missing pieces with false memories. The end result of such an action would be the same as otherwise –You could both still be together and be relatively happy in your falsehoods. There is no sense of meaning in this path, though. Both lovers lose their connection to each other because when you interject new memories they are yours alone and your lover will inevitably remember something different. A part of intimacy will be lost and it will slowly tear holes in the relationship.
The other options is to forgive the lover completely. This requires some great strength and faith inyourself as well as the lover. There must be strength in yourself to overcome your own self-doubts and to feel worthy of love. You must have faith in your lover that she has been completely honest with you and will continue to do so in the future. There must be a complete understand between the lovers as to what has happened and the relationship must be strong enough to bare that weight.
On the other hand, this is not easy on the betraying lover either. The lover must bare an even greater weight. She must face guilt in the face and learn how to cope with you taking her back. By giving her your faith you put immense pressure on her. She must also put faith in you that you will not only not regress to your previous faults, which led to the affair, but also not seek retribution against her.
So when looked upon merely at the surface we can catch a glimpse of an answer on how to deal with such difficult circumstances. Somehow it involves faith, love, and forgiveness. When something horrific like this happens the belief system you had that kept the relationship together collapses, the trust is completely broken. The person that was is non-existent. After the belief system crashes down there are three options. One, there is a new belief system formulated around something or someone else. This in a sense is really not moving on at all because you haven’t grown or learned anything from the experience. It would be similar to giving up the cheating lover, forgetting all about the affair, and finding someone else. If there is not another fall into a belief system, then there must be a death of the old self who believed in the lover.
This is similar to Kafka’s Metamorphosis, but on a smaller scale. Gregor severed all ties with humanity and felt utterly alone. He needed to learn how to do everything over again. His self image had to die and the image of others to him died also. The same must happen when we die in our lover example. After the death there must be a rebirth. It is the stage in which you must learn to do everything over again. It starts with the alone time after the breakup, relearning yourself, regaining a self image, reestablishing that you are worthy of another human being. It continues on to seeking a new mate and travels so far as realizing that your previous lover is the one you belong with. Then starts a new stage. It is a stage where our lovers try to learn about themselves all over again. To learn why the hurt started in the first place and how to prevent it from happening again.
This rebirth can move in one of two directions both of which give you the realization that there is a nothingness surrounding you. There is a constant aloneness no matter what you do or what you believe. It can result in a nihilistic nature where nothing matters. For example, if he decided to take retribution against the lover to hurt her and to somehow make up for that fact that she has hurt him. It is to move the relationship into a state of destruction where both partners are in a constant state of pain and suffering. The other possibility is to rise to faith. You realize that all your life was a gift. That all there is to offer is a body and a soul. Both lovers are naked before God. Love exists between the two lovers not for any reason at all. It just is. They lose all sense of why and fall into infinity.
So to be more general, to break free of a horibble past requires a death of the self and rebirth. The most progressive form of this rebirth is the reach for faith and the discovery of the infinite, which is very similar to the sense of infinite time. By realizing you are alone before God, one learns to deal with aloneness in a more constructive way than feeling lonely. All despair can be thrown away and there is room to appreciate the past and find meaning in even the most dreadful things.