For a long time, life deals with the still-tender memory of childhood
like a mother who lays her newborn on her breast without waking it.
I remember my father said to me something about memory, a
very saddening thing. He said, “I thought I could recall my childhood
when we first came to Buenos Aires, but now I know that I can’t.” I
said, “Why?” He said, “Because I think that memory” - I don’t know if
this was his own theory, I was so impressed by it that I didn’t ask him
whether he found it or whether he evolved it - but he said, “I think that
if I recall something, so example, if today I look back on this morning,
then I get an image of what I saw this morning. But if tonight, I’m
thinking back on this morning, then I’m really recalling not the first
image, but the first image in memory. So that every time I recall
something, I’m not recalling it really, I’m recalling the last time I
recalled it. So that really,” he said, “I have no memories whatever, I
have no images whatever, about my childhood, about my youth. And
then he illustrated that, with a pile of coins. He piled one coin on top of
the other and said, “Well, now this first coin, the bottom coin, this
would be the first image, for example, of the house of my childhood.
Now this second would be a memory I had of that house when I went to
Buenos Aires. Then the third one another memory and so on. And as in
every memory there’s a slight distortion, I don’t suppose that my
memory of today ties in with the first images I had,” so that, he said, “I
try not to think of things in the past because if I do I’ll be thinking back
on those memories and not on the actual images themselves.”
Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an
inexhaustible well. Yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a
very small number really. How many more times will you remember a certain
afternoon of your childhood, an afternoon that is so deeply a part of your being
that you can’t even conceive of your life without it? Perhaps four, five times
more, perhaps not even that. How many more times will you watch the full moon
rise? Perhaps 20. And yet it all seems limitless.
Benjamin, Walter (2006). Berlin Childhood around 1900. The Belknap Press.
Burgin, Richard (ed.)(1968). Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges. Souvenir Press.
Bowles, Paul (2004). The Sheltering Sky. Penguin Classics.