MORE STADLER

Another bit from Matthew Stadler’s Landscape: Memory:

But it was the last part that bugged me most: “. . . the very young and the very old have poor memories; they are in a state of flux, the young because of their growth, the old because of their decay.” It was just like the mistake with buildings. In fact “the very old” have the best memories, the most cluttered and colorful and interesting memories. Just like old ruins holding more of the past. They are in a state of flux and will, I’ve found, often change their account of some past event, but always for the best. That is, the story gets closer to the truth, it’s refined by their changes. That seemed to be the nub of it: this stuff from the book implied that any change in a person’s memory would make that memory somehow worse, that memory should be a frozen, fixed thing, like a photograph.

I thought of nurselogs. It was hard not to, what with “decay” and “growth” written right there next to each other on the page. It seemed fitting, the thought of those big trees, felled by age and their own weight, blown over and rotting. Their decay is what gives rise to new growth. All the sturdiest saplings, the healthiest of the young trees rise from those fallen, rotten giants. And I think memory could be like that. What seems to us to be decay could be growth. Maybe good memory isn’t simply like a camera. Aren’t photgraphs as smooth and frozen and finished as those thin plaster walls of the Fair? Aren’t they just as flimsy?

. . .

All in all I found my painting a good sight more satisfying than the actual landscape. I had several choices and I faced them boldly. I chose to make excuses and go with my aesthetic impulse. My impulse was to leave my work as it was and forge ahead. My excuse was that my memory was more like a nurselog than a camera. I was remembering the trouble I’d had with Cicero. If he was right, if my memory ought to be an accurate replica of the original experience, if that was so, my painting was hopelessly inaccurate. It was a bad painting of a fuzzy memory. But I preferred to think that memory is never frozen, nor should it be. My painting was a successful rendering of the dynamic memory that had simply begun with the original event. It accurately captured the decaying grotesque of memory that lay rotting in my head, that fallen nurselog out of which so much of value must be growing. My painting, I figured, was so very accurate in its depiction of this memory that it would inevitably look wrong when compared to the original model.

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