Lifting the white veil, I open the old, mysterious drawer. Inside, next to a fairy tale-infused wooden music box and some forgotten Christmas and birthday cards that seem to either yearn for my full attention or yearn to be left alone or be destroyed, I see the charming box where the photographs are stored – those prosthetic memories that seem to have developed a life of their own. Where I currently live, few objects that are explicitly mnemonic tend to survive the memorabilia purge I execute regularly sometimes in my attempts at minimalism and sometimes for the sake of symbolically shedding the past and starting afresh – a peculiar habit, perhaps, for someone fascinated with archives and the archival process and antique stores. Any letter or card would have to be extremely emotional, soul-stirring, and potentially heart-wrenching for some reason (for instance reflecting the cavernously deep feelings of the sender) in order to coexist with me for long periods of time. I’d have to feel like throwing it away would be a blasphemous act. Or alternatively, there should be something within that object that propelled my mind to get spiritually irrational and make up a superstition about it, specifically a superstition of what might happen if I got rid of it, so I just let it rest in some corner instead, where it’s cast into oblivion.
Any physical diaries I have ever had have been burnt – I couldn’t get rid of them in any other way: flames are symbolic. The process is more cathartic than deleting a LiveJournal account, but everything has been digitised and that works for me, despite the supposed deprivation of the haptic pleasure and of the magic of writing with a fountain pen in a beguilingly beautiful notebook. With the amazing texture, designs, and cover art of some notebooks nowadays, I’d probably decay with indecision whilst trying to decide what thoughts were noble enough to be written in such a diary anyway, and if I managed to decide, I’d still curse myself whenever I have to cross out one word and I would embellish the hell out of those noble thoughts to the point where it would be more of an exercise in literary style, imagination, and language rather than one in authenticity, self-awareness, or memory preservation. I suppose I’ll stick to the occasional LiveJournal entries and notes on my phone for that.
I have also deleted many photographs along the years and there are long chapters in my life that only ever still exist, in some vague, distorted form, in my mind. Rather than doing so out of an impulse or lapse in judgement, it was always planned and I have always been at peace with it, which is even more sacrilegious. Freud would be disappointed – he praised the power of photography to act as a reliable mnemonic device, since physical proof of a memory combats the decay the memory would face if it were only stored in one’s mind – hence liable to distortions over time. In his view, diaries, photographs, cards, are all part of a chain of mnemonic devices which free us, helping us unload the burden that we would have to hold if memories were permanently retained in our minds. They are extensions of identity, of your inner life, aiding our capacity to remember, which in turn allows us to absorb new information and conceive fresh thoughts. Eh, anyway, family photos, in particular, lie by omission – in addition to being an enemy to individuality, which is sacrificed in favour of an unreal collective past. Belonging whilst losing one’s self. Not to mention the notion of counter-memory and how trying to retain the past might only bring about its destruction, ultimately alienating you from your past and from life and making you construct false or weirdly altered memories. Photographic self-obliteration as a form of resurrection or metamorphosis. The intersection between the other and the self, photographic depiction and identity: the end of existence.
I open the charming, memory-preserving-or-destroying box. The photo album has an imposing, magnetic presence. As I turn the pages, I remember most of the photos, so they’re hardly nostalgic artefacts. I’m quite desensitised due to this observation and the fact that nothing seems to elicit an emotional response. But then I reach one portrait that I must have seen before, surely, and yet there’s something I haven’t read on her face before. Am I imagining this? It seems uncanny. The girl in the picture, a defying, atemporal doppleganger, an embodiment of a spectral condition, seems to want to tell me “I refuse to exist as an afterthought in this simulacrum”. She wants to step out of the frame and haunt. “I want to smell like Alien, not naphthalene. And this curse of only seeing the light every few years during the holidays…” She reprimands me for forgetting her, for misunderstanding and misconstructing her, for only reanimating her as a “Screen Memory” on rare occasions. I want to hug her. Tell her she is more myself than I am, in a way. Tell her she wouldn’t like it out here. But I remain silent. My expectation of chasing decaying memory traces has turned into an uncanny Blow-Up moment as I catch a glimpse of resignation and almost grief on her face. As I notice this, the door to the unconscious is slightly open, but not enough for her to escape. I know I was supposed to integrate her. But she will be here until next time, feeling trapped. And I will still feel both protective and afraid of her. Perhaps next Christmas it will be different.