In reading W, or The Memory of Childhood, I am intrigued by the development of memory throughout the memoir section of this book. In Chapter 2, Perec boldly states that he has “no childhood memories” and “took comfort in such an absence of history” (6). However, as the book progresses, so too does his memory. Or rather, maybe it is not his memory itself that expands—because most of his memories are burdened with questions—but rather, the evidence of memories become more apparent. This evidence presents itself in many forms. One is Perec’s use of footnotes, which serve as additions to memory that come with time: thus, they are in essence, the evolution of time. Another type is his story about his scar in Chapter 21. This scar (quite literally) marks a critical type of memory: it is evidence of an occurrence that simply cannot be denied. Another form is the description of photographs.
It is this last form that I would like to look at more closely. Perec’s use of photography in his novel confirms Barthes’ belief that photography serves as a pivotal form of evidence. For Perec and Barthes, photographs prove that an event actually happened. In this sense, photographs can be directly linked to scars—they are both permanent marks of memory, the very opposite of temporality. And this is where Perec differs from Barthes. For Perec, photographs serve as memories; they directly call up the past.
I wanted to highlight this evolution of memory by taking a picture of a scar I have on my right thumb. I distorted the image, making it blurry and flipping the hand so that it extended from an unknown source above. I contorted this scene because I wanted the image to mirror how memory works in this book. While Perec finds evidence of memory, as I have mentioned, his own, personal memories are marred with confusion, questioning, and doubt—much like this photograph—making us question what and how much he actually recalls. As the memoir develops, it seems that Perec loses his sense of comfort in his “absence of history.” Rather, he forms a newfound eagerness to discover this concealed past, however, due to the questions that act as a parasite on these memories, I am not sure how much he himself truly remembers.