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  • Christopher Kostopoulos

On Memory

Written By: Christopher Kostopoulos

Recently, a professor of mine described memory as “proof that the past really happened.” It shook me a little, and it’s not left me since I first heard it. Trying to write about a subject as broad or seemingly nebulous as this without getting too metaphysical or too confessional is challenging.

Still, after seeing near-finalized versions of this first issue of Hysteria, it almost felt like writing about anything without-- in some form-- even alluding to memory would be impossible. Childhood memories-- wounds and warts and all-- were front and center for this issue, intersecting with experiences from the internet and the ways in which something that tangibly does not exist has drastically altered our lived experiences, something applicable on an intimate and cultural level alike.

To share a memory with someone is to leave them a souvenir, to share a memory with a people is to erect a monument. Oftentimes, our intimate memories of the past feel like neither; it’s hard to rejoice in proof of our suffering when it feels as if that very suffering all but dictates the present. But part of the gift memory imparts to us lies in the fact that it is intimately ours, serving as the source of our vitality, compassion, and vulnerability. As thinking, loving, moral beings, we carry a wellspring of distilled time within us, from which we are free to draw the values and feelings that color the streams of the present as it flows between our fingers.

In a way, memory allows us to celebrate the present through its capacity to deliver us truth in the most intimately experienced means possible. Take grief, for example; grief mines joy from an ore of loss; it asks memory for proof that the object of our sorrow-- whether it be a time, place, person, or feeling-- was not always so and that it will not go on to be so forever. Grief is the mediator between us and those who have left our lives forever, as even in their absence, every exchange, glance, caress, argument, and embrace we once shared continues on within us.

On a cultural level, few are so privileged as to need reminders that historical moments aren’t abstract plot points but shared moments of grief, wonder, horror, and everything in between.

Our collective capacity for sharing in the vulnerability that memory withdraws from us is intimately intertwined with our capacity for transforming the material conditions of our lives and the lives of those we care for, as well as strengthening our ideas of beauty and merit in the art we produce. It is no coincidence that children of the 2008 recession are so electrified by indie sleaze-- an aesthetic born of a yearning for life and spontaneity among the crumbling ruins of industrial waste-- at a time when impending economic collapse threatens to repeat itself and rob that same generation of the experiences we typically associate with young adulthood.

Memory’s fluid and subjective nature is intrinsic and deeply intertwined with the profound and often transformative impressions it leaves within us. To try and sever our bond with our memories is to condemn ourselves to a fundamental unreality where love, redemption, growth, and joy are all but impossible; a flattened and fleeting existence, flailing among shadows and illusions with no real semblance of reality to grasp onto. 

Once we’ve passed on, the only proof of our existence-- the only proof of the places we’d been; of the people we’d loved; that our bodies were once sites of sorrow, ecstasy, jubilation, and more-- lies in the souvenirs of time we’ve left with those we once knew. 


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