Transcendent Memory

The significance of the past—the past of a minute or an hour ago, 100 years ago, or 5,000 years ago—is of consuming interest to me; many writers are concerned with the effects of time on people and institutions. The past provides writers with most of their raw material. Proust had only to taste a sweet, and the world of the past flooded his mind with recollections. I am intrigued with the nature and operation of time. How do we get from here to there? How did we get from there to here?

Movement through time is complex and often bewildering. We are very different at various ages because of the passage of time. We identify blocks of time in our life or in historical existence. We recall in vivid detail scenes from our childhood or young adulthood. We remember crises and struggles, traumas, and placid stretches of life. Something that happened to us at age 10 or 25 strikes us as real as what happens to us today. We go back into time and, remembering, feel as we felt earlier in our existence. We also may be sensitive to the time in which our parents or ancestors lived. We may, in our mind, recreate moments or entire periods of their existence. If we are students of history, we may come to believe that we understand a distant era so well that it is real to us. Standing alongside the columns of the Temple at Sounion, I once felt transported to the days of the ancient Greeks who voyaged over the wine-dark sea.


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