Wednesday, August 11, 2010
Stephen Hawking and a number of biology and physics theorists have come to the lofty conclusion that " the whole history of science has been the gradual realization that events do not happen in an arbitrary manner, but that they reflect a certain underlying order, which may or may not be divinely inspired". The subway taught me this. Life has taught me this. But when reading the theory of relativity, which redefines reality as consisting only of contextual truths, which perpetually vary according to our mass and speed in space and time (which has conceptually become the same thing in science, aka spacetime) I begin to wonder what then becomes of Memory.
The proposed 4th dimension, if we were all to travel at the speed of light, exists as a continuum where time=light, so by moving at the speed of light, we are also moving at the speed of time, and the future is behind us, with the past at our fingertips in front of us. If history is possible, time travel must be possible. Perhaps the laws of inertia are in play with humanity, and we simply haven't ricocheted in the opposite direction into Unhistory. But if we had the profound ability to go back in time, would we hold on to our memories and relics of passing ages and people? Is this proposed 4th dimension somewhat of a key into the Collective Unconscious, that there may be an overlap that hints at the future experience? However scientifically learned we may become, one serious thing cannot be accounted for by space and time and quantum physics. This aspect of reality is as contextual as any other aspect, and reading the flow of history, of movements and recessions, temperature fluctuations and the resulting human reactions, we move with a force and depth of emotion through spacetime that makes the powerful evolution of a river much more appropriately used to describe history from its emotional/human side than for the Time association of the word History. OR maybe they two are intimately and inextricably connected. If Time heals all wounds, speed of time changes according to our emotional output, that it is possible to wait forever and remember forever, it seems Emotion is also a definitive aspect of our definition of reality, an ethereal quasi-component to the dimension we exist in: EmotionalSpaceTime. Emotion+Time=Memory. History is a Byproduct of Memory. Without the ability to remember what came before, we would not exist in Time. If we didn't exist in Time, which is equal to SpaceTime, we would not exist in Space. Without our emotional context, we would not exist at all.
Keeping that in mind, my recent New York explorations brought some interesting questions and observations to the surface. I recently moved off the island of Manhattan to the very close Jersey City, overlooking the spiky New York skyline and I quickly became aware that Ellis Island lay within a quarter of a mile of the New Jersey Coast. My history classes never mentioned New Jersey during the decades of Immigration booms, no book I have read has mentioned the obvious proximity to the rest of the country the short ferry ride to New Jersey is, and that only the immigrants bound for NYC actually traveled from Ellis Island to New York. Everyone else was shuttled through NJ. The Gates of America are in New Jersey. Why is it so important for us to believe that New York was the major port for immigration? Ironically enough, the Island itself was a tiny little thing that was increased through landfill as it grew to be able to hold the massive numbers coming in through its gates, and after the 30's and into the 40's, when immigration dwindled in the face of America's Great Depression and Wartime Era... it was simply abandoned. Forgotten. A profound symbol for so many of freedom and citizenship was stripped away by its lack of prescence in our Collective Memory and became what it truly was when looked at with no emotional context. It was a fancy building falling in on itself, floating on an island of trash off the Jersey Coast.
Ellis Island started to draw photographers in the late 60's and images from the rotting walls and remnants of beautiful architecture from another time began to surface, spawning a new interest in this important axis of our history. It was rebuilt to its original splendor and turned into a museum. The bizarre part is that what came from this place was profound amount of ethereal Emotional things... there is an overwhelming lack of physical objects, because you can't SEE citizenship, or joy, fear or freedom. We seemed to remember that Ellis Island was an important piece of our cultural development... but walking the empty halls, it seems like we have forgotten why.
There were some interesting three dimensional graphs about the number and types of immigrants, and obviously, to fill the space they had to be really creative - these graphs will be something i will never forget, due to the power of their symbolism and ability to impact you with a sense of the weight of what they were there to show. There was a number that did jump out at me, one I have never encountered before. According to the map detailing the (forced) influx of slave labor, it appears that the amount shipped to Brazil is HUGE in comparison to the amount that came to the states. Huge. Have I ever heard in a class, read in a book that there was even slavery in Brazil at all, let alone probably the most massive number of forced immigration in the America's history? No. With that startling revelation, my profound respect for the power of context strikes me particularly hard. Passing thoughts about our obvious sense of guilt as a country is apparent in our intense focus on our own slavery history, versus memories of talking with brazilian exchange students when I was in high school. I remember during one conversation I mentioned the Holocaust, and these exchange students, seniors in high school, had no idea what I was talking about. Images from the Holocaust are burned into our developing minds starting in the sixth grade, and American school systems make that a required section of every year of our education until graduation. Who defines what is important? History itself depends on the person telling it. There is so much bias and emotional context, History is a constantly fluctuating line, and just as me and my brother have differing memories of the same events in our life, History is a grand Memory. What is truth? We can all talk about God, but his face in our minds would be different to every single person due to their frame of reference. He will have a deep rumbly voice like someone's father, kind crinkly eyes like another's favorite Santa Clause, the one they went to the mall to see every year. One is black, or has almond eyes and dark lashes, a pot belly, is loud or gentle, embracing or stonelike and stoic.
Coney Island is going to be torn down - another relic from desperate times. P.T. Barnum and his contemporaries were the light in the darkness of the Great Depression, their bullshit and cheap thrills the only thing that the masses of poor had to lighten the monotony of starving and working and having nothing. I'm surprised no one has stepped forward to save some piece of this rich thread in the tapestry of American History, embarrassed when I saw how dingy and silly and falling apart it looked in comparison to the grand vision that resided in the recesses of my Collective Memories. Another symbol of the stuttering heartbeat of our culture, being washed away by the flood of people and their Greater Needs. What happens when we erase these pieces of history - the egyptians defined eternity through memories, and to wipe away someone's potential for eternity, they merely had to erase every picture and mention of that person's name from their records - when there is no emotional context, people who could remember these places and why they meant so much are gone, these places do not exist in space... will they cease to exist in time? Will they cease to exist at all? To continue on towards impending future and create new memories from our own context instead of just from a previous context of the people who will be phasing out during our lifetime, do we have to let certain memories go?
I recently saw the World Trade Center site for the first time. That is an event from my context, the images from that experience burned into the Collective Mind's Eye of my entire generation. A freshman in high school, my classmates and I spent the day wandering like zombies from class to class, sitting in silence, watching in horror as the trauma continued to unfold in front of us - every TV in the school stayed on. And we watched, and watched. It was not a Holocaust. It was not a Great Depression. But in our young lives, it is the only, the first and the closest context we have for the politics of horror, and the powerful feeling of helplessness that are the definition at the base of all of those things. They are building a museum on the site, and I am stricken with an odd sense of futility and devastation. We are consciously letting go memories of the light in the darker times of our development as a country, but forcibly declaring our priorities on remembering an act meant to strike terror in the American people.
And I wonder what will go in this museum for 9/11. Pieces of desks and unidentified human remains? Melted glass windows, and post it notes with meeting times that somehow survived? What is it that we are really looking to remember, and like Ellis Island, what physical objects could possibly convey the powerful emotions that surround the events of that tragic day? Like everything else, I imagine it will eventually fall from society's context and no longer be reality. It will be replaced with new memories.