What Haunts us: Selected/Selective Memory
What Haunts Us: The etymology of “to haunt” comes from the Old
French hanter, probably from the Old Norse, heimta, meaning ‘ to lead home,
pull, claim’; we ignore such hauntings at our own peril, for they emanate from us.
“Home,” according to Lance Morrow, is not just a physical place but ultimately
the “bright cave under our hat.”
Joan Didion has implied that what haunts us is “how it felt to me...,” not
how something actually, factually, was. In naming and framing our memories —
that is, in giving them over to language, they stop haunting us; they let us go
having been given a shape of their own. In so doing, they yield up an aesthetic
whole for others to reflect on.
Memories: we too often think we actively select them. More likely, they
select us. It is memory that is selective; it most often resembles a crudely
harvested, abandoned field waiting to be plowed under. Now and then we
stumble across a forgotten beet or turnip or carrot and pull. Resisting, it often
pops up whole-- the dominant feeling, the persistent image, the metaphor that
won’t go away until it is given voice—an odd lump to which attach misshapen
clods and spidery rootlets--a story that wants telling. Sethe in Toni Morrison’s
Beloved explains it this way: “I got a tree on my back and a haint in my house. . .
. I’ve never seen it and never will. But that’s what she said it looked like. A
chokecherry tree. Trunk, branches, and even leaves.” This haunting metaphor,
Morrison tells us, yields up “[Sethe’s] sorrow, the roots of it; its wide trunk and
Yes, memory is that selective. Henry James once observed, and rightly
so: “The whole of anything cannot be told. We can take only what groups
together.” The most haunting memories are yanked out whole, dirt and all, pulled
from the corners of our minds, most of them evading the ordinary harvest.
Writing our hauntings brings us home to ourselves, in the process
reconnecting us to what is most human about us: our stories, no matter how
mundane, no matter how alien. In writing them, we give them shape and form.
There is time
to tell you
the only story I know:
A youth sets out,
a man or woman returns;
the rest is simply incident
And yet what storms
I could describe
in every thumbprint. (Lisel Mueller)
(c) Gabriele Rico
Rico’s Thoughts on Your Vignettes:
The inner eye must be activated in outer DO-ing, or it disappears.
discovering design cannot be forced—if we allow flow, it leads us to archetypal depths.
If these patterns occur to you, then what can we say about the artists whose works we
look at, read, view?
What seems to be the most pressing concerns that emerge in these pieces?
What are some differences between writing and music, writing and painting, writing and
sculpture, writing and dance, writing and acting? What are some underlying similarities?
Note how often feeling is given FORM – Susanne Langer says that all art is a form of
feeling. What do you think she means? What does she say in the essay you read by her?
What can you say about the difference between a Van Gogh and one of the voices on
What do we mean when we speak of the archetypal in our lives, in our expressions, in our
If art comes from the Latin ars, meaning “to make, to fit together,” then what are we
doing? Why do the Eskimos have no word for art?
If we all engage in artistic activities in one way or another, how does culture influence
our “making” processes, our pattern-making processes?
Would you rather be not famous and engage in making art than have a one-two-mission
chance of becoming famous or else not engage in making art, any art?
What are the primal elements in the impulse to art?
If all art is a metaphor for feeling, then is metaphor art? If not, what do we do to make it
art? (c) Gabriele Rico
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