As time passes and we grow more into the contemporary, the reasons for remembering other times grow, while the ability to recall them weakens. Memory straddles this paradox. We could say that the ethics of memory have something to do with the urgent negotiation between having to remember (which sometimes includes the obligation to mourn), and the requirement to move on (which sometimes includes the need to forget). Both are necessary, and each is notionally contingent on the abdication of the other, but life is not led by the easy rhythm of regularly alternating episodes of memory and forgetting, canceling each other out in a neat equation that resolves itself and attains equilibrium.
Forgetting: the true vanity of contemporaneity
Amnesia: a state of forgetfulness unaware of both itself and its own deficiency.
“Nowhere, unless perhaps in dreams, can the phenomenon of the boundary be experienced in a more originally way than in cities.”
(speaking of Kowloon Walled City, Hong Kong) … what it means to leave in a city that distills its contemporaneity into a refined amnesia.
It is not just a border in space; it also marks a border in time – a temporary suspension of linear time by which the visitor agrees to terms of a compact laid out by current shape of the territory, a walled compound where a delicate game between memory and amnesia can be played out, apparently till eternity. This is the frontier where reality begins to cross over into an image.
If we think of this space as a repository of memories, it would be the most haunted place on earth.
Why do such spaces – sometimes crowded, sometimes empty (but apparently crowded with ghosts) – appear in a manner that is almost viral, such that the trope of empty but haunted streets, set in the near future of global cities, begins to show the first signs of a cinematic epidemic of our times?
What does it mean to “haunt the record”? When does a presence or a trace becomes deeply etched into a surface that it merits a claim to durability simply for being difficult to repress, resolve, deal with, and put away?
(speaking of the disappearing neighborhoods of Paris) … “it is only today, when the pickaxe menaces them, that they have at last become the true sanctuary of the cult of the ephemeral… Places that were incomprehensible yesterday, and that tomorrow will never know.”
A space of disappearance challenges historical representation in a special way, in that it is difficult to describe precisely because it can adapt so easily to any description. It is a space that engenders images so quickly that it becomes nondescript… we can think about a nondescript space as that strange thing: an ordinary, everyday space that has somehow lost its usual system of interconnectedness, a deregulated space. Such a space defeats description not because it is illegible and none of the categories fit, but because it is hyperlegible and all the categories seem to fit, whether they are the categories of social sciences, cultural criticism, or of fiction. Any description then that tries to capture the features of the city will have to be, to some extend at least, stretched between fact and fiction…
If this is the case, then there can be no single-minded pursuit of the signs that finishes with a systematic reading of the city, only a compendium of indices of disappearance (like the nondescript) that takes into account the city’s errancy and that addresses the city through its heterogeneity and parapraxis.
Now and Elsewhere by Raqs Media Collective in E-flux journal: What is Contemporary Art?
image from the streets of Athens, Greece