'Everything in life is memory, save for the thin edge of the present.' - Michael Gazzaniga, eminent cognitive neuroscientist.
'Memory is not a passive receptacle, nor is it necessarily a truthful recording of events in our lives. It is an active and selective process with both strengths and weaknesses.' - Jonathan K. Foster
Memory is a kind of Ur-subject when it comes to journalism - one I've been circling round for years without coming to grips with its mysteries. The very first post on this blog was called Memory Exercise, the title I gave to the long process I have been undertaking to reconstruct the history of my working (and personal life). This raised a number of interesting questions. Why, for instance, did it seem that my memories appeared to me in still images (frozen moments) or moving sequences. Why couldn't I remember meeting Iggy Pop at Bumpers in London's West End? (There it was, clearly written in biro in my diary for 1972). Why is it that two people's remembrances of the same event can differ so sharply ? How accurate are my own memories ? These and many other matters had been worrying at me of years.
These are both personal and professional concerns. Much of my journalism has been to do with collecting other people's memories and recalling incidents from my working life. In the same way that one samples and tastes information to assess its validity and worth before incorporating into a finished text, so memory it appears must be treated in a guarded fashion. It is notoriously partial. Why should that be?
Now I have decided to try and get to grips with the subject and, as luck would have it, have found a perfect pocket book introduction 'A Very Short Introduction to Memory' by Jonathan K. Foster [Oxford University Press 2009] which I have been digesting and notating for the last couple of months. It is a valuable summary of many of the basics of the subject, not all of which I found easily understandable. But there's wonderful stuff in there which has just whetted my appetite to learn more. Expect further posts on this subject to come.