Physics of Memory

My attempt to understand the confusion of Perec’s memoir/novel lead me to the parallel bridges on 21st Avenue. Each bridge, facing one another, identical and providing sight of the other over a stretch of land with mutiple obstructions and distractions of view, represents one of the parallel narratives of W, or The Memory of Childhood. I could even go so far as to say that the “V”s displayed on each bridge represent the double-V that Perec uses to explain his attempt to understand his childhood. But when I saw the first bridge, I instantly realized a deeper meaning.

I took this photo standing on the first bridge, viewing the second. I felt so weird standing there for the first time, but recalling such a familiar feeling. In class, one of the suggestions was to take a picture representing an earliest memory of Vanderbilt. This was it: “Vanderbilt” became real to me when I saw that first bridge, which I now stood on viewing the second. I felt the essence of that day, thinking, “this should (will) be familiar, but it’s not (yet)”. It was strange that I felt this while standing on the first bridge, because I first felt this feeling when I saw the bridge from below. I imagine that is what Perec feels when fabricating the narration parallel to his life. He looks at his duplicate history attempting to grasp the real thing, with the frustration of knowing that the real answer should be right under his nose.

Perec’s random rants as he tried to explain this slightly annoyed me, but now I understand. My first Vanderbilt memory, my first “essence” of Vanderbilt, that I recall does not bring feelings of nervousness or excitement. The familiarity hit me on that first day when I realized that these bridges looked exactly like the toothpick bridge I designed for Physics in high school, especially with the indentation at the middle. That’s all I think about when I see them. I remember designing, building, and presenting that bridge in class much better than I could remember my first day at Vandy (which is all a blur). I feel what I think Perec felt when describing his one certain but seemingly insignificant memory of the boarding house (pg. 129). The memory is significant, simply because that is all that’s there.


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