Notes on Memory and Philosophy

May 10, 2010 — Leave a comment

Notes From…

Rossington, M; Introduction: Enlightenment and Romantic Memory in “Memory” (ed. M. Rossington, A. Whitehead) John Hopkins University Press; Baltimore 2007

“And in this Sense it is, that our Ideas are said to be in our memories, when indeed, they are actually no where, but only there is an ability in the mind when it will, to revive them again, and as it were paint them anew on it self.” (Locke, 75, 76)

“Distinctive in the treatment of memory in A Treatise of Human Nature (1739-40) by David Hume is the repeated pairing of the term with ‘imagination’. On the one hand, Hume seeks to distinguish between the properties of these two faculties, on the other to draw attention to what, to him, is their perilous proximity.” (p70)

“…Hume posits that ideas of the memory are more vivid representations of copied impressions than those of the imagination, in the second, ‘Of the impressions of the senses and memory’, which begins with the skeptical claim that the ultimate cause of impressions is impossible to know, Hume probes further the contrast between these two faculties, concluding that ‘the difference betwixt (memory) and the imagination lies in (memory’s) superior force and vivacity.’” (p71)

“Hume sounds markedly contemporary in his refusal to accept a common-sense notion that human selves are stable and coherent. In a celebrated passage, he declares: ‘I may venture to affirm the rest of mankind, that they are nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions, which succeed each other with inconceivable rapidity, and are in a perpetual flux and movement’” (Hume in Rossington, pp72)

“Hume’s treatise thus points to a willingness to admit an essential discontinuity in human experience which the imagination in collaboration with memory seeks to overcome.” (p72)

All these thoughts on memory correlate to documentary and what documentary means to story telling and the human experience. Quite often people seem to take documentary as a kind of truth, whether viewing or making. If, on a fundamental level, our relationship with the way in which we communicate our experience of the world to others (memory being one particular vehicle for this) is flawed by this perpetual flux and movement described by Hume, why should our approach to documentation not be based on instincts for story, dramatic license and imagination. Films and filmmakers that come to mind are Ken Russell and Herzog. Ken Russell’s BBC documentaries from the 1960’s are almost entirely re-enactments and visual collages of imagery that he felt best describe the emotions and deeper feelings of the artist he was ‘documenting’. Herzog has been known to say that Fitzcarraldo, a feature film, is a documentary as he re-enacts the legendary attempt of Fitzcarraldo to drag a steamboat over a mountain in the Amazon. So one of the themes I want to explore in my project is using dramatic and creative license to allow the filmmaking process to become part of the overall feel of the story. In a sense, it seems to further marry film form and film imagination with the subject, and not to pretend that there is some kind of objective goal.

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