Amidst the Ever-Present, there is no past as well as no future
It is becoming clear to me that by desperately trying to collect and ‘itemise’ memories,you end up starving them of life – putting them into something that resembles an expansive yet underused ‘memory museum’ (a collection of dead things). Yet, inspite of this, I remain obsessed with time, captivated by the passing of it, that there is tantamount importance placed on personal memories in my life, almost in a king Canute-style attempt at stopping the flow of time. But I try in vain to stop the flow precisely because life doesn’t seem to move and alter with time anymore. And I think that the reason (which is certainly connected to the political/cultural dead end we’ve found ourselves in) is because the total recording (and instant availability) of all events around which memories form (think, for example, Youtube -a the photo-album of all that’s ever been, or Netflix ) has landed us in an ever-present, where there is no past as well as no future. And within such a reality, the unpreventable decay of all organic things is so much more painful.
It is likely that a major player in the reason why I post my writings on here is possibly the futile desire to make sure my thoughts really do exist upon the melancholy ‘computer world’, where any organic happening, that doesn’t have its computerised stunt-double upon it is threatened with never actually existing anyway. After all, I am still pretty-much an arm-chair thinker, a writer from the ‘lay’ community; having to drop out of a culture studies Masters, and having a pretty weak range of sources from which I quote. This is partly why, even though I write as much as I draw, I pull the writing under the ‘artist umbrella’, from where it will be more accepted, within a ‘specialisation’ I actually completed a degree in.
So then. Recently I felt an urge to track down the Sci Fi cop-drama Ashes to Ashes (the follow-up TV series to the popular Life on Mars) where a woman on the verge of death in 2008 finds herself transported into the early 1980’s – it remaining uncertain whether it is a dream or she really has travelled back in time . My urge to track it down had nothing to do with whether the program was any good or not, but to do with being tempted to preserve the unpreservable: a memory that, during the last 5 years since I was an over-tired armchair-bound spectator of bits of the series, has accumulated not nostalgia but a longing for a feeling from my past to exist now. Originally I saw a clip that contained music by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark (specifically their late 70’s early 80’s music) which prompted me to investigate their music that itself serves as a time-capsule of a past that seemed to be in control of both its present and therefore had anticipation of its future. And the music stuck, became wrapped up with the memories of the show, and many personal feelings from that year (2009).
The inevitable inability of the actual series being able to live up to the memories, prompted me to move onto Life on Mars itself, from where I remembered a rather interesting blog written about the TV series by one of the very theorists I overuse to the extent that my poor range of sources is proven: Mark Fisher’s blogs ‘The Past is an Alien Planet’ and ‘Mitigated Nostalgia‘, written in 2007 about both the problem with Life on Mars and the then new Doctor Who series.
Both shows are nostalgic: Dr Who in trying to resurrect something lodged in British cultural memory of the mid 20th century, in the 2000’s, and Life on Mars in trying to actually resurrect that very time-period on screen. Fisher argues that they do not succeed and gives reason as to why this may be in our non-times when everything that has been recorded, as long as you have constant web access and active web accounts (which, most likely, you do) is more or less always at hand. Fisher wonders, with doubt, whether “the new series of Dr Who, which continues to frustrate and disappoint, will be remembered as the old one was. In the period before re-runs on digital channels and VHS re-issues, the old show existed only in the form of memory, of course. In the case of many of the episodes from the 1960s, long since wiped by the BBC, this remains so”
Fisher here Places an importance on the difference between memories and the resurrection of every media artifact around which the memories originally grew out of. This began with the availability of VHS/cassette-tape recordings (although cassette recordings had a character specific to each individual tape that none of the following devices for music storage would have) and has thus-far resulted in seemingly being able to track down any media artifact on the web within a minute of memorising it. He refers to Jean Baudrillard’s remarks “that computers do not have memory because they cannot forget” – if everything can be recollected then memory does not exist. But ,frighteningly, “digital memory” is beginning to be used instead of real memory, and, I would argue, a sense of tragedy, ensues.
“These augmented recollections, these re-dreamings, inevitably had the richness that actual episodes, when they were available again, could not match, damaging the reputation of the previously celebrated”. Is Youtube (to pick an example) a memory graveyard (the vitality of the original memory drained the moment it appears online)? Once you know that it is extremely likely that the artifact exists in digital memory on the ‘computer world’ the temptation to seek it out is often too great; the argument not to seek it is very weak, as it is nigh on impossible to practice a life without access to these digital memories.
In this time there is no time, because everything is ever-present. In this context the past can no longer exist, and regarding Life on Mars, Fisher say that it “is a 73 that doesn’t feel lived in. The actual post-psychedelic, quasi-Eastern Bloc seediness of the 70s is unretrievable; kitsch wallpaper and bell bottoms are transformed instantly into Style quotations the moment the camera falls upon them”. Yet as, he points out, digital memory doesn’t forget, and, as our culture devoid of time increasingly has to rely on referencing a past “that every cultural object from 1963 on has been so thoroughly, forensically, mulled over that nothing can any longer transport us back…”
In a blog I wrote well over a year ago, called Miles Away, I commented on how an emotional response to (in this case) a music track that memories had grown around is often only now achieved by listening to (mainly sonically-innefficient) adaptations of the originally-heard track; “Not as good quality, not as good versions, cover versions, poor live performances, these [are often the only ways to] rejuvenate shivers in me that the original/and landmark (to my ear) ones can no longer create.”. A memory kept half alive by imperfect representation of a song. But almost in a direct response to the melancholia of the takeover of ‘digital memory’, there seems to be something particularly captivating about 8-bit-computer-game-style remakes of classic tracks. Maybe through them we have an emotional outlet for the loss of vitality that ‘digital memory’ has done to all cultural artifacts?
How to move beyond this ever-present I am not sure. Meanwhile the organic, normal decaying process of life, and the collapse of planetary eco-system becomes more unbearable as cultural experience remains frozen in this ‘digital memory’. It gives us less means to be able to come to term with death. But this in turn encourages us to try to immortalise our lives, by constantly documenting and referencing everything we have done, seen, heard or felt. This, to be honest, was the sources of the doubts I had about my own actions, that originally prompted me to post this blog.