If I lose you
Who am I?
Do I create as I speak
Or do I describe
After the fact?
Always running to catch up?
Enmeshed, dependent, nonexistent.
If I can’t say what I think
Then have I thought it at all?
Would there be a self
Without the simple vertical stroke
Of the letter ‘I’?
Would we have a sense of community
If language hadn’t put together W and E
To make it bigger than the sum of its parts?
Bigger than you, bigger than me
I is We
Even without telepathic connections
Or genetic mutations
That enable radical empathy.
As a student of language, psychology, and memory, I’ve often wondered whether it might be possible to cope with anxiety by simply switching the default settings of my brain. I’ve found that learning a new language helps, especially in the stages when one is still a beginner, because it limits the kind of thoughts that one can formulate. For instance, if I started learning French a month ago, my dominant thoughts in the language would be to learn how to get directions and introduce myself, not think about the triggers that are causing me anxiety or depression. …
Given the fragmented, often unpredictable nature of human memory, and the equally undefinable, capricious nature of human language, I find it especially fascinating that language (or writing) is seen as an instrument that helps us remember. If there’s a record, it’s said, there’s evidence for something to have happened. However, much as memory can fool us sometimes, deceiving us into remembering things and events that didn’t actually happen, and pushing significant events to our blind spots, it is worth turning a critical eye on the vehicle that we rely on to transmit memories from the past to the present. …
I often reflect on how words change forms, sounds, and connotations over time, sometimes getting elevated in the hierarchy of the ‘formal/educated’ and ‘informal/colloquial’ registers, and how this amelioration/denigration of context can throw up interesting insights into the human psyche. I have found that social prejudices play a huge role in determining which words go from having relatively neutral connotations to downright negative ones: ‘villain’ used to simply mean someone of the village, and from there we get ‘vile’ and ‘villainy’, implying that those who don’t belong to the nobility are necessarily evil.
The interplay between language, memory, and the…
Personally, I’ve always been fascinated by retellings of classical works — often, I find it far more rewarding and interesting to revisit an old text such as Homer’s Odyssey or Iliad from a contemporary perspective than immerse myself in a relatively new universe whose understanding I must construct from scratch.
This has pushed me to understand narrative as enacted memory — often, works critiqued for being ‘too tropey’ are also the works that appeal the most to popular audiences, simply because they evoke a sort of familiarity while simultaneously putting a new spin on old ideas. Beowulf, for instance, has…
As a comment on coming-of-age as well as on the writerly tradition established by women by snatching it from the wolves of patriarchal standards, Carol Ann Duffy’s Little Red Cap serves as a nuanced, adult retelling of the original children’s story. …
The twin themes of oblivion and language form the core of An Unnecessary Woman, which tells the story of Aaliyah, an elderly woman living in Beirut by herself. Every year, she translates one of her favourite novels from French to Arabic, for no reason other than her own intellectual and emotional engagement.
When her manuscripts get damaged, Aaliyah is faced with the loss of her entire life’s work: she had drawn a sense of identity from translating for pleasure, and even though in a material way nothing is lost because she never intended to publish her translations in any case…
Written on the sudden death of her beloved father, Helen McDonald’s H is for Hawk is a memoir — quite literally, a record of her memory of this profound grief and how she coped by moving to a house in the countryside and attempting to train a goshawk, Mabel.
Memory takes centre stage in this creative memoir, as McDonald finds refuge from her pain in the intricacies of the art of training goshawks, and navigates the complicated terrain of loss by experiencing and writing the language of falconry. …
The protagonist of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi grapples with the ever-shifting reality of the house he lives in, which he calls World because of how it structures the entirety of his experience. As per the rules of this world, the longer he stays in the house, the more of his memory he loses, and effectively becomes imprisoned there at the mercy of the mysterious scholar known only as The Other.
Forgetting, power, and language are brought to bear on the principal themes of Piranesi when forgetting is quite literally dramatised as a prison: without his memories, Piranesi does not know where…
Memory, language, and the psychology of friendships between women form the core ideas of the narration of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet.
In the story, as Lenu attempts to reconstruct hers and Lila’s lives, and the extent to which the two were intertwined, it is difficult to escape the role that lived memory plays, especially since towards the end of the quartet, Lila is determined to be forgotten and simultaneously, Lenu must ensure that their friendship is never forgotten. She plays with the ideas of oblivion and the possible psychological motivations that Lila could have had behind orchestrating her own elaborate…