“The Persistence of Memory”




Alright, this goes back a little from what we’ve recently been reading about in class, but in chapter six of A Good Book, In Theory by Alan Sears & James Carins, Sears & Carins discuss the concept of time. As the world became more industrialized, and technology advances, there becomes a stronger and stronger reliance on “clock-time”.  The clock literally runs our lives now. We watch this mechanical object as it breaks down time into literally measurable moments and marks them for us. As you sit in the classroom of a long lecture, or you anxiously await the end of your shift at work, your eyes drift to the clock, marking every second that more often than not, seems to move excruciatingly slow. This idea of “clock-time” is socially constructed. As our societies have advanced, we’ve become more reliant on a way to mark and measure time.

In order to understand the concept of time, we have to be able to apply it to history. This is where the concept of historical imagination comes into play. “We begin with the simplest idea: we cannot know the future,” (Sears & Carins, 144). We cannot know the future. Let that resonate with you for a moment. Got it? Alright, so, if we cannot know future, then we must rely on the past to predict what may or may not happen in the future. We go on everyday planning out tomorrow and the next day and the next until we’ve planned out our entire week. But we cannot know that that week is actually going to happen. In the movie, The Vow, a young woman, Paige, ends up in a tragic car accident from which she suffers injuries to her brain. As most patients who suffer brain injuries, she’s kept in a medically induced coma until her doctors see improvement and healing in her brain. When Paige is woken up out of her coma, she’s woken to a world she doesn’t know. Her concept of the present and her recent past is gone. There is a man in the hospital room with her when she wakes up, along with another woman. The man, she finds out, is her husband, Leo. Her memories of roughly the past five to ten years of her life are gone. As the film goes on, Paige tries to put together the pieces of her recent past to see if her memories will come back. She even makes a timeline of some photographs, describing a decent amount of the pictures as being “in the lost years”.

“Our understanding of society and of our own lives is necessarily retrospective. We look back from the present, which is the latest moment in the process of development. We can understand the world around us only by asking how it got to be this way,” (Sears & Carins, 147). Throughout the film, Paige continuously asks questions about her recent past, and the things that she cannot remember. By doing this, she is trying to find ground to stand on in the world she is living in, but does not recall. Children, and adults alike, do this very same thing, often without more than a moment’s thought. As we go throughout our day, we don’t consistently ask, “How did that chair get there?”, “Where did ‘x’ come from?” unless we’re analyzing a new area (or just doing some strange math problems). We know that these things are there and/or that these things happen, because they have been there or have happened in the past, so we understand these things to be a sort of constant. A young child, however, doesn’t have a vast knowledge of history (personal or social), so they continually ask the adults and older children around them questions who’s answers may seem obvious. As such, they are the prime example of how we understand our world only by asking how it got to be this way.

Tying this all together now, we understand time, and life within time, only through the society in which we live. Our concept of time in America is not the same as it is for someone living in a country in Southeast Asia. Our society, our culture, sets up the framework for our understanding of the past, the present, and the future. It is through our memories, our teachings, and our social interactions that we are able to understand time in the way that we do. We know the past is the past because we are told that it has happened before the moment we are currently residing in . However, as Sears & Carins put it “…the past is the present.” We are living off of the events that have happened in order to form a prediction, of the future. Time then, is a method to our madness, if you will.


Note: The above image is of Salvador Dali’s “The Persistence of Memory”. I found the image rather fitting when talking about time, historical imagination, and the past. It reminded me of the concept of time, not just because of the clocks, but because the clocks are seemingly melting. My mind interpreted that image of clocks melting as “Time is slipping away”. Memory is more than essential to being able to understand time. Without memories, it would be rather difficult to sort out what is the present, what is the past, and what the future may hold. Which reminds me a lot of those with dementia and Alzheimers, which is a topic for a later day. Also, the title of the piece seemed rather suiting as well (and I have only borrowed it for this blog post).

Historical Imagination

While reading Sears and Cairns, I was particularly struck by the concept of historical imagination in chapter six. Historical imagination is described as essential to understanding our past as well as ourselves in the present while sociological imagination “allows us to understand not only the forces that shape our world, but also the potential for our own activity to change it” (Sears 144-146). To apply this to my own life, I can take a look at why I’m here at Parkside. I’m only at college because my beautiful, older sister attended Columbia of Chicago and graduated with honors. I was in no way motivated to go anywhere for a secondary education. It has taken me five years just to begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel. When I was younger, as I do today, I aimed to be just like her. I idolized her and still admire her very much. My admiration for my sister, even though it was not very evident years ago as we bickered and fought like sisters will do, made me want to further my education and become a more successful version of myself. I stopped going to Parkside for three years and in that time I saw her graduate and helped her party when she was done. I then realized the great amount of time I had wasted by not finishing what I had started. My parents had attended some university but never finished, as far as I know, and during my time in high school they crammed the idea of attending college so far down my throat I gagged. My sister was and is the only source of inspiration to have continued my education. Learning from her personal history, seeing her succeed, and seeing my own past and how it was stunting my intellectual growth led me to where I am today.

I can use the historical imagination to also understand who I am in regard to my relationship with my grandfather. The man drove a tank on Normandy Beach on D-Day in the Second World War, so I am convinced he is a war hero. This translated into his life as an incredible work ethic and the inability to sit still while knowing there was much to be done, not only around the house but in his community. As a kid I spent time with him constantly working on household projects or his time spent doing odd jobs for neighbors in need. Because he was trained by the military he became disciplined; because he was a disciplined man he became a methodical, well-organized husband/father/citizen; due to my time spent with him, I learned to do things right the first time and to the best of my ability. In a roundabout way, I owe my sense of duty and hard work to the instigators of WWII because my 18 year old ancestor was drafted and turned into one of the greatest men I’ve ever known.

Taking apart my everyday existence and looking deep into my past, as well as my family’s, has helped me understand who I am today and how/why I’ve gotten to where I am. It is interesting to know that the incredible events of the past that are so far removed from my own experiences and reality have shaped not only the world I live in but my own personality and how I view the world.