Yesterday I was working on a new seminar course I will teach next semester. The way these things sometimes come together is that you browse your bookshelf for works that might be useful. I picked up a copy of Sally Morgan’s My Place (1988) and a photograph fell out.
There I am in a suit standing in a room that looks semi familiar. I have no recollection of this photo and no idea why it was tucked in this book. I can not place the room I am in. The photo must be from about 20 years ago. I am slimmer and more hirsute up top. As I looked at the photo I tried to work out when and where it was taken.
I look at my suit. I don’t recognise it. The tie seems familiar and at first I think it is a paisley tie I bought on K Street in Washington, DC in the eraly 1990s: 3 silk ties for $10, does that seem right. But then I look closer and it is another tie one I bought, um at a guess in Hecht’s in DC a little earlier and for somewhat more money. I no longer have that tie. I think I threw it out because it got stained or something and I could not get the stain out. The tie leads me to the suit. I bought it from a mail order catalogue. I think its was Tweeds, a brand that no longer exists.
But I still don’t know where the photo was taken. All these memories and yet the one key memory where I was at the time escapes me. And since I have no idea where I was I have no idea who took the photo. One more clue: somebody (me?) liked it enough to pin it to a board at some stage. It’s all a puzzle.
There is something profoundly unsettling about not being able to locate oneself in time and space. Photographs are often memory aids, but in this case memory will not come back. There is nothing on the back of the photo to help me. But there are two posters in the photo and they offer some leads as to where I might have been and I can contact some old friends and ask about these. My individual memory then will rely on someone else’s memory that yes that is a poster I had in my room. Is that a collective (social) memory?