detail from Labels for Hair Ribbons by Manuel Ocampo a delectable selection of oriental appetizers
Saturday, May 25, 2002


: . Home and Memory, Three Versions:

Mnemosyne

Toni Morrison, from The Site of Memory:
    The act of imagination is bound up with memory. You know, they straightened out the Mississippi River in places, to make room for houses and livable acreage. Occasionally the river floods these places. ‘Floods’ is the word they use, but in fact it is not flooding; it is remembering. Remembering where it used to be. All water has a perfect memory and is forever trying to get back to where it was. Writers are like that: remembering where we were, what valley we ran through, what the banks were like, the light that was there and the route back to our original place. It is emotional memory – what the nerves and the skin remember as well as how it appeared. And the rush of imagination is our ‘flooding.’

Milan Kundera, from The Great Return:
    The Greek word for ‘return’ is nostos. Algos means ‘suffering.’ So nostalgia is the suffering caused by the unappeased yearning to return. To express that fundamental notion most Europeans can utilize a word from the Greek (nostalgia, nostalgie) as well as other words with roots in their national languages: añoranza, say the Spaniards; saudade, say the Portuguese. In each language these words have a different semantic nuance. Often they mean only the sadness caused by the impossibility of returning to one’s country: a longing for country, for home. What in English is called ‘homesickness.’ Or in German: Heimweh. In Dutch: heimwee. But this reduces that great notion to just its spatial element. One of the oldest European languages, Icelandic (like English) makes a distinction between two terms: söknudur: nostalgia in its general sense; and heimprá: longing for the homeland. Czechs have the Greek-derived nostalgie as well as their own noun, stesk, and their own verb; the most moving Czech expression of love: Styska se mi po tabe (‘I yearn for you,’ ‘I’m nostalgic for you’; ‘I cannot bear the pain of your absence’). In Spanish añoranza comes from the verb añorar (to feel nostalgia), which comes from the Catalan enyorar, itself derived from the Latin word ignorare (to be unaware of, not know, not experience; to lack or miss). In that etymological light nostalgia seems something like the pain of ignorance, of not knowing. You are far away, and I don’t know what has become of you. My country is far away, and I don’t know what is happening there. Certain languages have problems with nostalgia: the French can only express it by the noun from the Greek root, and have no verb for it; they can say Je m’ennuie de toi (I miss you), but the word s’ennuyer is weak, cold – anyhow too light for so grave a feeling. The Germans rarely use the Greek-derived term Nostalgie, and tend to say Sehnsucht in speaking of the desire for an absent thing. But Sehnsucht can refer both to something that has existed and to something that has never existed (a new adventure), and therefore it does not necessarily imply the nostos idea; to include in Sehnsucht the obsession with returning would require adding a complementary phrase: Sehnsucht nach der Vergangenheit, nach der verlorenen Kindheit, nach der ersten Liebe (longing for the past, for lost childhood, for a first love).

Jose Rizal, from Noli Me Tangere:
    Can I forget you? Your memory has always kept me company; it has saved me from dangers along the way; it has been my comfort in the solitude of my soul in foreign countries; your memory has negated the effect of the European lotus of forgetfulness, which effaces from the remembrances of many of our countrymen the hopes and the sorrows of the Motherland.
    In my dreams I saw you standing by the shores of Manila gazing at the distant horizon, wrapped in the warm light of early dawn; I listened to the languid and melancholic song which aroused in me slumbering feelings, and evoked in my heart’s memory the first years of my childhood, our joys, our games, all the happy past which you enlivened while you were in town.
    You seemed to me the nymph, the spirit, the poetic incarnation of my country: lovely, simple, amiable, full of candor, daughter of the Philippines, of this beautiful country which unites with the great virtues of Mother Spain the lovely qualities of a young nation – just as all that is lovely and fair and adorns both races is united in your being. Hence my love for you and that which I profess for my Motherland are blended into a single love.
    Can I forget you? Many times I seemed to hear the sound of your piano, and the accents of your voice. Always in Germany in the late afternoon when I roamed through the thick forests peopled with the fantastic creations of her poets and the mysterious legends of her past generations, I recalled your name, and seemed to see you in the mists arising from the bottom of the valley; seemed to hear your voice in the murmur of the leaves; and when the villagers, returning from the fields in the distance, would sing their popular songs, to me they seemed to harmonize with my inner voices singing for you and giving reality and substance to my illusions and dreams…
    Yes, I have thought of you. The ardor of your love not only enlightened my sight to see through fog, and set ice on fire. Italy’s lovely skies spoke to me of your eyes in their limpid depths; its smiling landscapes, of your smile, just as the landscape of Andalucia with its fragrant air, populated with Oriental reminiscences, full of poetry and color told me of your love. Cruising on the Rhine on evenings lit by a slumbering moon, I asked myself if perhaps your were deceiving my fantasies, so that I saw you between the elms on the river bank, on the rock of the Lorelei, or amidst the water ripples, singing in the silence of the night, like the young fairy of consolation, in order to enliven the solitude and sadness of those ruined castles.

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