Wednesday, July 21, 2010


We become attached to different things at different points in our lives: people, songs, artifacts, books. Like the seasons, our preferences change. While we are at most times in love with the general through the particular—for example, a book by Sartre would serve as our attachment to books, the particular book represents a lot more than the general thing (‘book’) it stands for. Though Ulysses is the name of a book, and the book is what we mean when we say ‘James Joyce’s Ulysses, what it brings to mind is probably a lot more than just the book. It suddenly connects us with Dublin, with a few movies based on the book, lots of things. And yet, for this entire multitude of connections and meaning, our preferences change, and at different times we would prefer different books—not the same.

This might be a preference for variety. This may indicate the presence of a lot many books/things to choose from. This may also indicate the general erosion in values once things/artifacts came to be mass-produced. (We still denote by the term, ‘art’ as those things which are not mass-produced; lately, art has come to be identified largely with ‘installation’ and for good reason.) This may indicate a lot many things, but we still attach some value to heirlooms and personal effects, such as an old mechanical watch handed over from our grandparents (for those lucky few who were affluent enough to possess a watch in the 1930s). Doubtless, these were the first mass-produced things, but these still have some value which we don’t attach to things “money can buy.” Of course, money can’t buy memories.

We hop from experience to experience, from sense to sense, and each day from sleep to sleep. Things pass through our hands, and for a time we enjoy them and find meaning in them. Often we want to linger; we want to glower in the feeling, and we elevate it by inscribing them in words, or taking pictures of it, or by otherwise translating it and consigning it to storage. These symbols, we are assured, ‘stand for the thing.’ But simultaneously, we butcher the moment. No matter what we invent to preserve a moment, no matter how much useful the technique is (a wedding album serves its purpose, especially when the relationship is in the doldrums), the moment is gone, and on most occasions, the person doing the ‘recording’ (‘archival’) misses the instant completely. For him there is no enjoyment, except perhaps professional satisfaction. (I am saddened by the entry of the ubiquitous camera—which can now record almost everything except the smells—into family life. What used to be a healthy way of togetherness has now become a tableau, predominated by concerns of lighting, framing, and how to exclude other people from the frame...and so on.)

The result of all a residue (if at all we go back to those moments, which we hardly will, given that most of these ‘traces’ are immediately written to optical media, or stored on hard disks (—the portable hard-drive exists merely to serve this huge market for storing digital photographs). What really forces us to revisit is the frequency with which filesystem formats change or become obsolete; but CDFS has been around for more than 20 years and likely will stay; the real limit for good optical media would be, as the manufacturers claim, ‘100 years or more if stored in good conditions’—meaning, never. Why touch it if it can still be read?) The residues, for most of us who don’t write or read or visit art galleries all that often, are all electronic, and of very poor quality (it requires considerable mastery of the electronic gadgetry for the translation to be truly free of the observer’s presence), and serves only as a guarantee: I’ve been there, done that. Each new gadget seems to be just that—a way to secure our lives with the premise of storage. Cameras preserve our moments. What it does not preserve is the sanctity of life, our peace of mind. Instead of a nice evening doing nothing or reading a book or just looking around, we grapple with user interfaces, or manual controls, all in an effort to master a device which is supposed to ‘preserve’ our moments. And we have to be behind the lens, behind the contraption, to be preserving it. It is a cruel joke, an affront to our faculties as ‘wise’ men.

Each such step is a step away from life and from living. The collection of residues seem to be one of the principal objectives in our lives, especially as we all seem to be doing...nothing important. And each day, when you stop at the diary entry that summarizes expenses, you realize you’ve done nothing useful, and that you have meaningful residue.



Note: There remains some reformatting to be done, especially, moving those large parenthetical remarks to footnotes. This was getting too big for a journal entry, so I thought I might as well post.

To Raphael.