Blog # 30: Auster thoughts

Today’s blog is composed under the influence of Paul Auster’s The Invention of Solitude. I’m rereading the second half of the book, and it occurs to me that the title does not mean inventing solitude so much as it means that which is invented by solitude. The first half of the book invents the father. The second half tries to invent meaning. Coincidences and scraps of memory are twisted and teased in the search. The two halves taken together are an attempt to invent self. Solitude is the precondition of self. The self alone contemplates elements of fact. Facts which connect to the self are seen as meaningful, simply because they connect to the self. Facts which reinforce themselves by coincidence produce an even greater illusion of meaning. Where Elliot shored fragments up against his ruins, Auster holds facts up against his solitude. The father retrieved from facts in the first half of the book is there as a massive counterweight to the subjective craning of the self in the second half. In solitude, or through solitude, the self–if self there is?–is created by playing with facts.

Auster invents a “Book of Memory” to give an illusion of coherence to his ruminations. His thoughts on memory lead me to thoughts of my own. The workings of memory are as obscure as its origins. Never mind that to the Greeks memory was female and mother to the Muses, memory may also be the father of all thoughts. As I think these thoughts, as I retrieve the words with which to shape them, strange things must be happening inside of my head, Under the controlling influence of what we call mind, electrons or atoms or molecules must be moving. That last sentence already complicates the search for memory. Where is the division between mind and memory? Mind as I just used it, is a volitional impulse, a drive towards action. Is it a propulsive force, or a controlling, steering force? What comes first, mind or memory?

Thoughts for another moment. Back to the electrons, atoms, or molecules. Somehow in our heads there are particles which we can retrieve somehow. These particles code for words which, in turn, code for objects. As we retrieve these words, we string them together to form sentences and thoughts. Perhaps, though, the reverse is true. Perhaps, thoughts guide the retrieval of word electrons, atoms, or molecules. Which comes first, the thought or the word? Remembering means to member again. Is the linking of words, the membering again, what drives thought, or is thought what drives membering? Possibly, there is a pre-thinking stage, a drive toward thought, which plays with words in the caves of memory. It gropes about with groggy purpose, picks up scattered word molecules, examines them, selects those which suit its mood, strings them together, and then moves forward on the back of the resulting thought. My head hurts. Cogito zero sum.

Thinking of sperm, Auster says “Each man, therefore, is the entire world, bearing within his genes a memory of all mankind.” A good thought. DNA molecules coding for physical meaning are certainly are a form of memory. Will neurochemists–elementary Watsons and crooked Cricks of the mind–ever be able to decode the double helices of thought with which we code ourselves into the future?

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