Remembrance of Things Past: The Misty Wraith of Lost Time




Lost time. Things past. Echoing memories, sensations, twinges and the ghost of muddled emotions. What we believe happened – but in reality, nothing but extant feelings. Sometimes, what happened alongside dreams, stories and histories from the lives of others. I mean for this post to be unabashedly Proustian – with a rambling narration that reflects on life lived – or, what may have happened. Because, in the aftermath, all we have of lost time resides in our imaginations. The imagination, as our scientifically rationalist society may argue, cannot be trusted for accuracy. Phenomenology as an academic discipline battles for epistemological respect in the social sciences – the rigor of the personal experience is questioned.


As we travel through our life course, we rely on memories, histories and stories, often without interrogating the architects of their construction. Nietzsche (and Foucault, among others) has problematized meta-history in his Genealogy theory, which argues that history is written by individuals with certain interests and privileges. Shared accounts of events recalled may conflict with one’s own recollection. And stories are notoriously slippery and difficult to grasp. Do these thoughts render one’s memories untrustworthy – or do they imbue times past with new vibrancy and meaning?


I know, when I recall some emotionally difficult times, these memories and thoughts are coloured dramatically by emotions, latter reflections and realisations. I might immerse myself in a memory and transport myself to the time past, my imagination conjuring images, smells, sounds and emotions. I can stop, rewind and skip parts. Sometimes, I change outcomes, taking the role of movie director or god. In one’s memory, unlike in reality, control over circumstances is perfect and untouchable.  If unpleasant emotions or images invade our fantasy, we can block them, erase them. The continual practice of interrogating the past and analysing one’s self sees the integrity of memory blur. However, due to our subjectivity and personal ontological positioning, a perfect and accurate recording of lost time can never be attained. It is literally time that is lost; only unreliable simulacra float in our imaginations, stories that tell us who we are and where we have come from. Does this render a narrative of identity and personal history obsolete? Or does it give us the existential freedom to keep trying to get things right; a second chance to soothe uncomfortable feelings and rationalise bewildering events?





2 thoughts on “Remembrance of Things Past: The Misty Wraith of Lost Time”

  1. oh Proust – I think about him very often when some aroma/scent transports me (smell is ‘hard wired’ in our brains).
    But, if “imagination, as our scientifically rationalist society may argue, cannot be trusted for accuracy”, then what can?
    I wouldn’t want to be testifying in court that someone was or was not ‘wearing a plain dark coat” when a bank was robbed for instance.
    I had a carpenter in the house all day today and could not describe his clothes if I was asked now. This should be a warning to never be at the mercy of ‘witnesses’. hell no.

    Another favourite view is “we are a landscape of all we have seen” (said sculptor/designer Isamu Noguchi, known for that perfect curved timber and glass topped coffee table)

    1. I have a replica of the iconic Noguchi coffee table! I wish I had got an original because the glass was better quality…but I digress 🙂
      These thoughts were mildly terrifying to me yesterday. I was thinking of my beloved father, who passed 2 years ago and I was upset I couldn’t remember a small detail about a moment together. I like to think I have a good memory but a lot of it is very emotive rather than perfectly objective. I often remember smells and feelings more than the colour of a coat or a stranger’s face. So I might recall how someone looked at me or how they had a weird habit of not looking me in the eye when speaking…the kind of info that a court cares little for!
      But you are right; we are a landscape of what we have seen…and this quality is very much ‘me’ 🙂

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