Psychology in Everyday Life

Remembering & Being Remembered

What I wrote previously about my relationship with Toronto during 2010-2015, and the subsequent deepening of that relationship during the following six years while away from the city, and my eventual return last year, places the burden of agency exclusively on me. After I finished writing, a different way of looking at those years and the relationship occurred to me. A way of looking that recognizes an agency that is external to me.

What if, instead of you remembering a city, it is the city that is remembering you? What I regard to be “my decision” could be an answer to a call, an affirmation of something–a narrative, a fate, a relationship–that had already existed. A reason that had already been present. If you don’t like the word “fate”, can replace it with something akin to a “gambler’s urge.” Responding, surrendering, to a gambler’s urge is still responding to some-thing that is there, something from which you can dissociate yourself.

The switch in perspective–the relocation of agency–should be considered with reference to the activity of writing. When I sat down to write about returning to a city, my explicit intention was to write about a decision, my decision. What interests me the most, now, is how the opposite sentiment emerged as I wrote about my decision. Through writing about my decision, I realized how it was not completely and purely mine. The initial image was centered around my choice, whereas the image that emerged was centered around a place, like the transitions we experience with bistable images. In the new image, I became a participant, a part, no longer shouldering the entire burden of the decision. I found and began settling on the position of having been remembered, even though I started with writing about remembering and returning.

Could we general this observation and turn it into a principle? Could we say, “You write to unburden yourself, to relocate yourself from the center of the narrative to a place with a better view, a place that recognizes others …”? This process, however, depends on the intention to start at the center and speak from the center. Enantiodromia. The complementary perspective emerges with the continuity of thought.

1 thought on “Remembering & Being Remembered”

  1. This is interesting, as I have considered this other perspective too. I’m wondering if there is still an important asymmetry between these two relationships: the way that you remember and relate to a city, individually and personally, is not the same as the way a city “remembers” you, or the way individuals in that city remember and relate you when you return). This is not only due to a city’s sprawling heterogenous nature but because returning is much different than being returned *to*. The city didn’t care when I returned, even if I fantasized that it did. A handful of individuals cared, but for most it was an incidental (“Oh, you’re back then?”), and sometimes the anticlimax of that mismatch could be jarring.

    I realize you are not being quite so literal and that your larger point is the decentering. And this is a beautiful idea. But I still think the asymmetry has bearing, to the extent that the first is more on the level of metaphor and frame, and the second on the level of concrete actions. I recall you remarking elsewhere recently about the limits of metaphor, how they can be insensitive to context. Perhaps in your context you really were called, by family ties or other exigencies. In my case there was a pretext, an affordance – but still it was very much a decision I had to make alone. So it depends on how heavily you want to foreground the causality vs the relation of membership.

    What does ring true for me is your proposal that we “write to unburden yourself, to relocate yourself from the center of the narrative to a place with a better view, a place that recognizes others.” This so perfectly captures what you said elsewhere about always writing *to* or *for* or *with* somebody in the background, which it how it has always felt. But for me it feels decentering not because of the thematic subject matter (e.g. a city and one’s place in it), but because of the relational mode it places me into: one of disclosure and explanation. It is not so much that the burden of the decision is shifted, as I feel myself being listened to as I am reprocessing it.

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