Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Layer 343 . . . Memory, Forgetting, Laughter, Kundera, Childhood, Truth, Reality and Madness

Memory and Forgetting

It's a truism that we learn from experience. However, our greatest difficulty is that we forget as much as we remember. In any case, we're creatures of habit - lazy in thought and deed. It's not surprising therefore that so many people simply stagger through life - repeating the same mistakes, failing to recall things that should stand them in good stead.

Milan Kundera wrote a novel called 'The Book of Laughter and Forgetting', in which he considered the political and personal cost of masses of people being mentally lazy, or incapable, or careless.

A blog is at least an attempt to put on record some thoughts and memories - be they simple or complex. We never know what might be useful to remember. Diaries and blogs should be the tracks of our mental wanderings, reminders of where we've been, the ground we've covered, the lessons we've learnt. Followers of the Tao (and Zen) use meditation to sift and (re)construct memory/experience, and writing is a development of memory consolidation & construction.

Wikipedia has an interesting page on the politics of memory:




Here's an example of the importance of memory. Pre-2008, when the economy was still booming and hardly anyone was anticipating a financial crash or a banking crisis, both David Cameron and George Osborne were going around saying that the Tories were committed to maintaining current levels of spending on education, health and social services. They agreed, apparently, that the levels established by New Labour were right and proper. They had no intention of returning to the old Thatcherite agenda of 'shrinking the state'.

Fast forward to 2009/10 and all we hear from those guys is that New Labour allowed public spending to get out of hand, that far too much was spent on public services, and it's now crucial that public spending is drastically reduced. Not just as a temporary measure to deal with the 'national debt', mind you. They now proudly proclaim that their mission is to complete the Thatcherite revolution and in fact intend go much further than even the old bag and her cronies had ever thought possible or desirable.

But how many of us even remember their pre-crash utterances, nay promises?

"The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting"
— Milan Kundera (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)



Memories of Childhood

There was a wonderful programme on one woman's memories of her childhood and the house she grew up in on Radio 4 this week.


I'd never heard of Emma Harrison or her businesses before listening to this programme, but she's clearly a very remarkable individual, not least for the fact that she spent so much of her childhood seriously ill in hospital, and the fact that her mother walked out on her family when Emma and her two brothers were very young, only occasionally coming back into their lives before disappearing again for long spells.



Fortunately Emma's father seems to have been quite a remarkable guy, who gave Emma the  opportunity and the conditions to grow up in with a huge amount of autonomy, and with lots of fun and creativity. "We were always looking forwards - never backwards."

They held regular parties in their large house in Sheffield, with and without her father being present, with lots of friends, music and laughter.

She now owns a large mansion set in its own estate, in which several friends and their families also have homes. It's more of a collective than a commune, but one in which there are everyday opportunities for friendship, laughter, music, parties and quiet relaxation.

In conclusion she said, "My parents gave me my love of life". I wonder how many of us can truly say that about our parents, how many of us have never felt any real love of life, and how many of us, if we have a love of life, had to find it for ourselves, often after much searching . . .


"The heaviest of burdens crushes us, we sink beneath it, it pins us to the ground. But in love poetry of every age, the woman longs to be weighed down by the man's body.The heaviest of burdens is therefore simultaneously an image of life's most intense fulfillment. The heavier the burden, the closer our lives come to the earth, the more real and truthful they become. Conversely, the absolute absence of burden causes man to be lighter than air, to soar into heights, take leave of the earth and his earthly being, and become only half real, his movements as free as they are insignificant. What then shall we choose? Weight or lightness?"
— Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

The idea of life being based on what is real and truthful is also the main idea of Zen, as is loving life, and also finding satori or spiritual fulfillment in everyday reality.

"There is no perfection only life"
— Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

"Perhaps the reason we are unable to love is that we yearn to be loved, that is, we demand something (love) from our partner instead of delivering ourselves up to him demand-free and asking for nothing but his company."
— Milan Kundera

"Living is being happy: seeing, hearing, touching, drinking, eating, urinating, defecating, diving into the water and gazing at the sky, laughing and crying."
— Milan Kundera (The Book of Laughter and Forgetting)

Chopping wood, carrying water . . .


More interesting Kundera quotes:

"Loves are like empires: when the idea they are founded on crumbles, they, too, fade away."
— Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

"There is a certain part of all of us that lives outside of time. Perhaps we become aware of our age only at exceptional moments and most of the time we are ageless."
— Milan Kundera

"She loved to walk down the street with a book under her arm. It had the same significance for her as an elegant cane for the dandy a century ago. It differentiated her from others."
— Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

"Love is by definition an unmerited gift; being loved without meriting it is the very proof of real love. If a woman tells me: I love you because you're intelligent, because you're decent, because you buy me gifts, because you don't chase women, because you do the dishes, then I'm disappointed; such love seems a rather self-interested business. How much finer it is to hear: I'm crazy about you even though you're neither intelligent nor decent, even though you're a liar, an egotist, a bastard."
— Milan Kundera (Slowness: A Novel)

"The Greek word for "return" is nostos. Algos means "suffering." So nostalgia is the suffering caused by an unappeased yearning to return."
— Milan Kundera (Ignorance)

"The worst thing is not that the world is unfree, but that people have unlearned their liberty."

"The more indifferent people are to politics, to the interests of others, the more obsessed they become with their own faces. The individualism of our time."

"The only relationship that can make both partners happy is one in which sentimentality has no place and neither partner makes any claim on the life and freedom of the other. "
— Milan Kundera (The Unbearable Lightness of Being)

"We pass through the present with our eyes blindfolded. We are permitted merely to sense and guess at what we are actually experiencing. Only later when the cloth is untied can we glance at the past and find out what we have experienced and what meaning it has."
— Milan Kundera (Laughable Loves)

"Why in fact should one tell the truth? What obliges us to do it? And why do we consider telling the truth to be a virtue? Imagine that you meet a madman, who claims that he is a fish and that we are all fish. Are you going to argue with him? Are you going to undress in front of him and show him that you don't have fins? Are you going to say to his face what you think?...If you told him the whole truth and nothing but the truth, only what you thought, you would enter into a serious conversation with a madman and you yourself would become mad.

And it is the same way with the world that surrounds us. If I obstinately told the truth to its face, it would mean that I was taking it seriously. And to take seriously something so unserious means to lose all one's own seriousness. I have to lie, if I don't want to take madmen seriously and become a madman myself."
— Milan Kundera (Laughable Loves)


Here's an example of the madness.

Here's what happens in England in the 21st Century. Someone is told they shouldn't bother applying for the headship of a state school which is about to be advertised because there's no way they will even be shortlisted. That person then realises they should give up any hopes of further promotions, so goes off and trains to be an Ofsted inspector, and then goes around schools up and down the country and pronounces on the competence of headteachers.

No-one considers this at all bizarre or frankly mad because

a) competent headteachers who love their work would never even consider becoming an Ofsted inspector (for a variety of reasons), and

b) all that's really required of an Ofsted inspector is to sit in an office for a couple of days and "interpret" so-called "data" which relates to the "performance" of the school during the past few years. They carry out some token interviews with heads and other senior staff, but those interviews are simply a means of getting the interviewees to offer their own explanations of the "data". They're more in the way of interrogations than proper interviews.

The "performance" of the headteacher is, of course, judged according to the "performance" of the school - i.e. the "performance" of groups of pupils in timed tests and exams. The "performance" of individual teachers is judged on periods of 20 or 30 minutes observing two or three teachers working with children - doing science, maths, English lessons, etc - after which the "lesson" is awarded one of four grades.

One day we'll all look back on this madness and have a really good laugh.

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