The Intricacies of Memory

This week’s readings put a focus on writing style, each showing a unique voice and mapping out the process of remembering. By using repetition and imagery, Codrescu, Brainard and Danticat were able to portray the imperfect way that we remember the past and the ways in which we apply our memories to the present. 

Codrescu’s “Nostalgia for Everything” and Brainard’s “I Remember” share some stylistic similarities. As I was reading these two pieces, I was impressed with the writers’ ability to really put you into their position as the person remembering. Codrescu uses words like “remember”, “wistfully”, “contemplate the future”, “nostalgically”, “looking”, “wondering” (p. 198), in addition to a lot of imagery to express the idea that there are many things to be nostalgic about. The author’s life experiences are mapped out on the page and treated with individual importance, really bringing the reader into the writer’s point of view. Brainard’s “I Remember” also uses a great deal of repetition, with nearly every line starting with “I remember”.  However, what stood out most to me about this personal essay was that ideas were following a pattern that mimicked thought. For example, the color red is used to describe a canoe, a pair of sandals, and fingers after eating pistachios, shortly followed by a switch in subject to things that are colored and also involve eating. I thought that this demonstrated a mastery of the subject because not only was Brainard able to discuss memory, but was also able to depict memory as it plays out in a person’s mind. Brainard also mentios the imperfect way that we remember things by saying “Actually, now that I think about it …” (p. 119) in regards to a brief memory about Ivory soap. 

Danticat’s “Westbury Court” makes a strong point about the easily corrupted and confused nature of memory. An in-depth story about a childhood trauma, “Westbury Court” is full of facts about what occurred following a fire that killed two boys in the author’s building. However, Danticat speculates in the last paragraphs whether she was remembering the story correctly, unsure of whether the boys even died at all. This was interesting because before she cast doubt on it, the story was sad and powerful. “Sometimes it is too late to say, ‘I shouldn’t have'” (p. 63), her mother had said to her, a painful warning that playing with matches can result in tragedy. The author recounts that for the remainder of her time in that apartment building, she felt the guilt of not having heard the boys screaming across the hallway, resulting in her paying more attention from that point on. However, after describing how her life and behavior changed, the overall verity of her trauma is uncertain. This is especially interesting because it casts some uncertainty on whether any memory is true. Even one that held such significance could become warped over the years. However, when she brings the memory up to her mother, she repeats the saying “Sometimes it is too late to say , ‘I shouldn’t have'” (p. 65). This shows that the completeness and purity of a memory may be unclear, but it may still hold some truth. 

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One Response to The Intricacies of Memory

  1. cjchumas says:

    Nice blog post. What really stood out to me was your take on Brainard’s “I Remember”. When I read his essay, I thought it was extremely dull, and became really bored with the monotony of it after just a few paragraphs. It was probably wrong of me to instantly discredit his writing, and I realize that after reading your blog.I found it very interesting when you said: “However, what stood out most to me about this personal essay was that ideas were following a pattern that mimicked thought”. This quote from your blog along with your following explanation really shed a new light on Brainard’s essay. I liked how you pointed out that a lot of his writing was connected through a seemingly invisible train of thought. You made it clear to me that this train of thought was no mistake, and that through some of his allusions and follow ups to the different contents of his writing, he exemplifies stylistic expertise and a sense of continuity that I neglected to see.

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