Wednesday, January 05, 2011


Over the holiday's I have been reading at Warmth of Other Suns, Isabel Wilkerson's detailed recounting of America's great migration… that of a significant percentage of black America away from both the Jim Crow laws of the South and the roots of their own culture. It is not an easy read and I will return the book to the library today, unfinished. I would rather buy the book than to try and deal the pauses I must take in order to absorb what I have just understood.

Wilkerson chose to illustrate this bit of history by capturing and relaying the memories of those who lived, grabbing the memories before they were gone, lost in those who would deny it, closed off by those who did not want to relive it. This narrative has overlapped much of my own 70 years, but not much of my own experience, of which I will write later.

As I probed my way into her chosen narratives, I was reminded of another writer who based his books on re-told personal narratives, Studs Terkel. I pulled up my well thumbed paperback edition of The Great Divide: Second Thoughts on the American Dream(© 1988). I got no further than the introduction before I had to stop and think again.
In the making of this book (and even while considering it), I was burdened with doubts far more disturbing than any I had ever experienced earlier. In understanding this self-assigned and at times perverse task, I was away of an attribute lacking in the 1980's that had been throbbingly present in the earlier decades, even in the silent 1950's: memory.
There is no doubt that we have command with a lot of facts, most of them irrelevant to how we live our lives. As we lurch from media headline to media headline, prodded into thinking that what Lindsay Lohan and Charlie Sheen have done is really important. We have a collective memory that lasts no longer than it takes us to click the remote sort of a national Alzheimer's of things important.

Along the way, Mark Zuckerberg became Time's Man of the Year for replacing social interaction with social media where our ever increasing trivial utterance is packaged for analysis by those who would sell us yet another diversion… is it Cityville now?

Can we challenge ourselves to create new memories, or do we just not want to get involved.


Ross Levin said...

"The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history, Then have somebody write new books, manufacture a new culture, invent a new history. Before long the nation will begin to forget what it is and what it was. The world around it will forget even faster……The struggle of man against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting."

Milan Kundera

Wes said...

Good point, Ross. In today's times, maybe it will always be there electronically, but we will never be able to hear it through all the static.