Our so-called memories, according to some scientists, do not belong to us. What we eventually remember, to a great extent, depends on our immediate environment, including friends. And by the way, the concept of “friends” implies shared/common memories. If you don’t see others for a long time, recent memories drift further away and, in a sense, you cease to be friends. A formerly close friend suddenly becomes just a buddy. So my advice is to periodically call, or at least write; otherwise you will grow apart. Love is a little more complicated, but not by much.
Despite the huge difference in age, a rather strong affection emerged between the young expat Russian writer Vladimir Nabokov and old expat Rissian writer Ivan Bunin.
Nabokov all but idolized his older friend, and wrote to him with an excited devotion that was almost tacky. Bunin corresponded regularly with the rising superstar of Russian literature, although he once wrote in the margins of Nabokov’s Mary manuscript, “This is awful!”
Gradually, Nabokov surpassed Bunin in all possible parameters of literature (although it seems to me that he did so immediately), and even composed half-parodies of him. I don’t mention that to provoke an argument on who was better; our theme, again, is memory.
Former student and teacher met in Paris in 1936, and Bunin suggested they go to the Russian restaurant.
In 1951, Nabokov published his memoir, Conclusive Evidence, which describes this meeting with his former idol in an ironic way. After reading it, Bunin was furious and wrote to a mutual friend, calling Nabokov a “pathetic clown”, saying that this was all nonsense because he never went to this Russian restaurant, nor would it be like him to do so… although, as it were, he did go there and then some.
Nevermind the Bunin-worshippers or Nabokov-philes. We’re only interested in this charming forgetfulness, the sincerity of which, I hope, is not in question.
And now I have another case. I don’t remember anything about the murder of the Swedish prime minister, Anna Lindh. It turns out that it happened in 2003; she was stabbed in the supermarket. It’s hard to imagine that I, as someone who follows world events rather than deal my own affairs, did not know about it. However, only Olaf Palme sticks in my memory, who was also killed as the prime minister of Sweden. Sweden is apparently a statistically safe country, unless you’re the prime minister.
So why do I remember one occasion but not the second, which isn’t that much different? Is it because I discussed the first very vividly at the time, but did not discuss the other, even with myself?
No matter how unbelievable this may seem, it is probably true. These scientists, whose names aren’t very important, have studied this phenomenon and its effects on memories – how they’re both real and fictional, fed into by our immediate environment.
Today, many Russians “remember” a wonderful life in the USSR, resulting in completely fabulous “facts” about the abundance, ridiculous prices, and other fairy tales. Anyone who actually remembers, or studies this topic, marvel at how these myths could have originated, or more importantly from where all these “witnesses”? that experienced this inverse Soviet miracle, could have come,
What is most interesting is that they are convinced they had seen it with their own eyes, but we don’t question their vision. Just like with Ivan Bunin, the point is not that he didn’t see himself and Nabokov at the same restaurant, although at his age he may have needed cataract surgery. Let’s not confuse the physical eye with the mind’s eye.
So what happens with real memories, and where do the false ones come from?
(to be continued)
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Text and photo: Sebastian Varo