[Vermeer's Woman Holding a Balance ]
I've been thinking about memory again, probably because I'm now living in the house I grew up in, walking familiar staircases, tracing remembered paths, and trying to find the best way of living in a familiar world which has, naturally, become foreign.
I also had a conversation with a new friend which started me thinking about memory and the moment of understanding. We had been speaking about the point of total undertsanding which occurs when the mind has finally grasped the essence of something, and how that point, that moment, is immune to any sort of direct analysis. The mind has knowledge of the moment's occurence, but not of the moment itself. The moments of knowledge, rare as they are, seem to be like an intersection: of then and now, of before and after, of this and that. It's a necessary intersection, serving to define a boundary, but it is in itself unknowable.
If we imagine the point of understanding as a true Euclidian point, then it may become clearer. (Forgive me if my Euclid is rusty).
Euclid's first definition: "The point is that which has no part"
It is a unit, indivisible and without measure.
But the line, defined by Euclid as "a breadthless length" is divisible and can be analysed.
So reapplied to the moment of understanding, I was thinking that the moment of understanding is like Euclid's point-- an indivisible and a total unit. The mind cannot know that moment, although it may know the effects of the understanding. So if the moment is Euclid's point, the mental activity of the mind in trying to analyse the effects and ramification of having understood something is like the divisible line stretching from point to point.
That model out of the way, I was then wondering about the power of memory, which seems like the primary mental agent in trying to recognize the moment of understanding which had been experienced. Memory must be our only way of working backward from the present (wherein I attempt to analyse what was understood) to the past "fullness of time" (wherein the understanding took place).
And so Proust, in his grand volumes, is essentially circling around and trying to attain those moments of understanding which he experienced throughout his lifetime. He understands the mind's inability to recognize much more than the existence of the moment when it has happened, and that it takes many years, and many successive experienced moments to finally be able to understand how one has become the woman or man of today.
There are additional questions, for example, if what I have been working out has any truth to it, is it true only for personal understandings, ie understandings of one's private life, or does it also apply and work for understandings of a more professional nature, like the slave boy's moment of recollection in the Meno. (That example may add an additional question regarding recollection and whether one can recall something they have no memory of having understood). Also, how does one's perception of time affect this issue, and how does this process, if it occurs, influence the construction of identity?
There's so much to think about, and I feel a bit silly for being so happy that I'm just thinking about it again. It has been so very long since Proust, memory, time, identity, and A.N. Whitehead were careening about in my head that I feel almost content to let them stir about for a while.