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Nostalgic Memories Entwined with the Soul

It is fascinating to me. In mapping out this journey I had so many different thoughts and ideas regarding the various modern artwork (primarily music, literature, and movies) that I would reference. To try to elevate the tone or mood “Above and Beyond” the inherent content. And yet, in spite of this being one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever written, I included none in my previous blog post. Perhaps I just couldn’t bear any more depth. As in, I reached my own threshold, the summit of my own personal internal catharsis.

But, it does make me think… Perhaps that is progress… to be able to achieve a level of catharsis without the added layers of imitation being included (via any of the plethora of our modern cultural art forms).  Maybe this is what Plato and Socrates were advocating for. That you could hit a point wherein you dig so deep internally, that these layers of imitation of humanity actually detract from the purity that one could reach when attempting to reconcile the tragedy deep within our hearts. To progress is to go beyond, but to simultaneously preserve the purity of the artform itself. 

Then again, maybe I should have inserted some profound artistic references from the current zeitgeist of my cultural upbringing to help strengthen the layers of emotion within my last blog post. Such as the following scene from the movie “Interstellar” (Stay). Or another scene from the movie “Inception” (Time). Both with the incomparable Hans Zimmer.  I feel as though there were aspects of these movies that struck a deeper chord for me. Yet, for some reason, the movie “Blade Runner”and its ending scene (Tears in Rain), resonates most deeply within my soul. Each of these movies not only question the authenticity of humanity as well as imitation of human emotions, but also a different world with an infinite amount of imitations. A world that isn’t perfect or ideal like Plato’s World of Forms, just different. But different in a way that can be individually appealing. That can also tie in more deeply to the various feelings and emotions that we feel at particular times throughout our lives. 

Further still, perhaps any personally sentimental song would’ve done the trick. When I think of the life I’ve lived thus far, “Another Chance,” by Above and Beyond. My children, “Little Something,” by Above and Beyond. My Mother passing away, “Don’t Let It Go,” by Beck. The best times with my wife, “Electric Harmony,” by The Damnwells and “Starlight,” by Muse. Of friends and family lost along the way, “High Hopes,” by Pink Floyd (of course). And, when I think of my perception after experiencing true tragedy, “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore,” by The Smiths (especially the line that reads, “I’ve seen this happen in other people’s lives, now it’s happening in mine”). Each of these songs is more than powerful enough to stir up my emotions, although they are definitely not the only ones.

Nostalgic Existences

Within each of these songs and movies there seems to be a type of inherent genuine personal connection or history, not just from the writer or creator, but also the listener / viewer. Because, just as with the reader, there is an element of hermeneutical interpretation of any medium of art from books to music, to film, to paintings, to other pieces of art. Where there is a horizon merger (Gadamer) seemingly taking place within the fabric of our very being. A moment of transcendence. Wherein a natural euphoric persuasion washes over you and makes us believe, even if just for a brief moment, that it is possible to overcome the tragedy in life. We long for these types of moments. Perhaps they could even be considered to be indications of our very existence. Because when we feel these moments, it’s as if we’ve never felt more alive. On a universal level, a lot of us have either experienced or can envision a similar personalized moment. 

Yet, to truly understand the uniqueness of the feeling that an individual felt during a particular moment, when the depths of their being was transcended via euphoria (or tragedy) is seemingly entirely elusive. For the individual there is only the memory of this type of moment. It’s a paramount antithesis of change that has occurred within their lives. But, to try to explain the authenticity of this feeling… Sure, one can convey the story that took place. The context in which this moment occurred. 

However, the emotion and feelings within that exact moment could never really be felt by anyone else as only the individual person that experienced the events and the associated emotions will be able to verify the veracity and authenticity of the corresponding stories as well as the depths of the related emotions experienced. 

From here, it does seem logical to point out that, in spite of this, not even the person that experienced emotion on the level of the darkest tragedy or the brightest euphoria may really understand it. They may not be able to fully recount every detail. This would be an astounding feat for anyone. Given this, they may only recollect bits and pieces. And it may come back to them at times when they least expect it.  Hence, how could they ever hope to convey it adequately, let alone completely and entirely true to form so that it could be fully understood by another.   

For example, we may be able to feel similar feelings as the creator of a piece of artwork once did, universally, in terms of the moment when we first perceive it and the moment when they first created it, or even the moment that inspired them to create it. Yet in order for us to understand why that artist felt that particular way when they created it, would take us understanding a number of variables about both their individual personality and history as well as that of the zeitgeist of the times in the exact location where they lived and the world in general. Perhaps we would even need to understand the other people’s feelings that were involved in this memory. 

Pictures of You

If we take the song by The Cure, “Pictures of You,” a hauntingly beautiful piece of music (subjectively for me), there seems to be an inherent melancholy when listening to the instrumental parts alone of this song. Manifesting a somber mood typically felt by most if not all that listen to it. Yet, for me, there is also a continuous hope laced within it. That no matter how solemn we may get, there is always a chance for better days. We may not be aware of it yet, but somewhere inside of us, perhaps subconsciously or unconsciously, it exists. The ability to overcome our own tragedies in life. 

Or maybe that’s just the blend of reverb, delay, and phaser mixed into the lushness of the multilayered guitars playing throughout the song which seems to resonate with my soul. This makes me question whether certain people have particular individual preferences when it comes to certain sounds from certain instruments. Perhaps this is mainly culturally influenced to the point of it becoming innate over hundreds or even thousands of years. Then again, maybe there are particular individual characteristics, either through experience or innate, that have thrust certain sounds to the forefront in terms of preference. Maybe both, maybe there’s more to it than just this, and maybe there’s no way to know for certain…. 

Regardless, this particular song struck me. The guitar has already been established as one of my primary methods for achieving catharsis. But not just any guitar, not metal thrashing, although I do enjoy the early years of Metallica. Not some virtuoso like Al Di Meola or Joe Satriani. Most of you won’t be surprised to know that my favorite guitarist is David Gilmour of Pink Floyd [I also like Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin and John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers]. The Cure may not have the same epic solos of these guys, but they do have a tremendous ability to establish a perpetually driving emotion. Obviously this is supremely subjective, but please bear with me.

In terms of the general structure of this song, there is nothing fancy. It is written in standard tuning [EddieAteDynamiteGoodByeEddie], a regular 4/4 time signature, in the key of A major. What makes the song special is the uniqueness it brings in terms of the richness of sounds on the guitar. Right off the bat you are lulled into a mysterious hypnotic trance by 3 harmoniously layered guitar riffs. Billowing like weightless clouds swirling in Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.” As an individual guitarist playing to ease my own suffering, I may only be able to play these riffs sequentially instead of layered with the other guitars and instruments, but I stillI feel my soul taking flight within these simple yet mesmerizing riffs. The primary chord progression on the guitar of A D A D for the verses and E F#m E F#m in the intro are unpretentious to the point of seeming naturally melodic. Subsequent to all this instrumentation are the lyrics which seem truly genuine, perhaps a testament to the overall persuasiveness of the song itself:

I’ve been looking so long at these pictures of you

That I almost believe that they’re real

I’ve been living so long with my pictures of you

That I almost believe that the pictures are all I can feel

The combination of these instrumental elements with the lyrics makes it quite easy for one to associate pictures with memories. And as the listener, it seems even easier to interpret these memories to be about someone that the songwriter cares about very deeply. Sure, we can search and figure out that the song was supposedly written about a fire in lead singer Robert Smith’s apartment which burned a lot of his possessions and left only minimal things behind, including the pictures of his girlfriend that he references throughout the song. However, if we did not know this, the listener would be nonetheless soothed into an introspective journey wherein mental pictures of emotional moments of their own past seem to swim by effortlessly through the mind. Some listeners may think about their significant other, others about a close friend or a family member, some may even think of a mixture of all these people. Perhaps the person(s) that they’re reminded of died, or maybe they just no longer stay in touch, or maybe they are somehow tragically estranged. Regardless, there does seem to be a subtle stream of suffering and pain flowing within the song that is virtually universal. Wherein it is able to somehow reach in and touch the soul. A place where emotion and memory collide into nostalgia. 

One of the questions that arises out of this seems to be, if we are to truly relate to one another, understand one another, in terms of one listener to another or in any other way, do each of us as individuals need to, hermeneutically or otherwise, be able to accurately interpret one another’s meaning of a song? Do I need to know the background story, such as with Robert Smith and Pictures of You, to confirm that my interpretation of the song is on point? Or should I just be able to hear the song and subconsciously know the general meaning of it?  Because if we can’t even understand the sentimental meaning that a single song carries for someone else, especially someone we care about, how can we ever expect to understand, or be able to accurately interpret the meaning of another person’s tragedy. Given this, how can we ever really hope to have someone else understand our own tragedies in life. Besides, if everyone experiences tragedy, they are probably busy with their own. Right? 

Or, maybe the subconscious universally felt mood of the song is enough to create some type of mutual understanding. [This seems to be the case with Above and Beyond and their concept of “Group Therapy”]. And is this mutual understanding enough? In other words, do we really need to understand everyone’s individual meaning of a song in order for the interpretation to be deemed accurate? Especially when an individual’s interpretation of a single song can change numerous times throughout their lives, especially with the tides of tragedy. 

Perhaps there is a fear lingering within us regarding another’s response to the details of our tragedies, wherein, on one end we fear being judged or misunderstood, and on the other, we fear being overly understood to the point of our tragedy no longer being our own. Instead, it enters into the status quo zeitgeist and becomes just another normalized tragedy… another statistic that is overly validated to the point of being imitated. Our own version of tragedy, tragically dies. Perhaps, given this, some of us would rather be unconsciously misunderstood…

Disintegration of Memories

For me, I remember first hearing the song “Pictures of You” with my Mom. She was a huge fan of The Cure. We were driving in her car, listening to music, and this song played in the background while I stared out the window and let my thoughts just drift aimlessly. Once we arrived at home, she pulled into the garage and told my brother and I that she had something important to tell us. She had just found out that she had somehow got diabetes and wanted to let us know that although this was a serious disease, she would be ok and not to worry (easier said than done). While informing us of this, I still remember hearing the song playing over again in my head. I also remember it was snowing outside at the time and that this was one of the first times I ever recall feeling melancholy. I believe I was 8 at the time.

Then in college, while studying abroad in Italy, I remember having bouts of culture shock wherein I would just feel generally out of place and out of my comfort zone, in a malaise. Not quite depressed because it was also equally exciting, especially since I was there with my future wife, but I definitely felt bouts of melancholy. Like I had the blues, I was Homesick (which would be a great song to learn on the piano:). During this time, not surprisingly, I listened to a lot of music. And for some reason I found myself magnetically drawn to the entire album Disintegration by The Cure, which includes “Pictures of You.” From our little apartment we would first take the train for 25 minutes and then take a bus for an additional 20 minutes to get to campus. During this time I remember listening to a variety of music… none of which was this album. It wasn’t until I got to campus and sat down in the library at my computer and started writing my semester-long graduate thesis paper entitled “The Sleeping Dragon of China,” for a course on international financial systems. Everytime, I would just zone out completely, write and listen to the album in its entirety. The melancholy kept me grounded, centered. I kept this paper. Even though I wanted to name the paper “Untitled.” 

Then I remember going to see The Cure at The Hollywood Bowl, again with my future wife, a few months after returning from Italy. They were amazing. It’s still one of my favorite all-time concerts that I’ve attended, even though our seats were terrible. The moments of me writing my paper did indeed surface, but also the whole study abroad experience. All of the wonderful places we visited and all of the profound intermittent micro moments we shared together. It solidified a whole new “Fascination Street” of memories for me, emboldening me with the strength and perseverance I needed to commit my life to her. 

Fast forward, just 6 years later, right after my Mom passed, I helped to make a picture / video collage of her life with music playing in the background. Everyone picked a handful of songs that reminded them of her. One of the songs I chose was “Pictures of You,” by The Cure. 

Subsequent to this, another 3 years later, I started to learn “Pictures of You” on the guitar and it took on a different meaning. The nostalgia of just listening to it started to fade. It was as if I’d somehow become physically connected… through my senses. I literally could touch the song, from my mind on through to my hands, to my fingers, extending outward to the guitar and pick, which then resonated as an even higher level of truth when my ears heard the notes being played. Sure, it didn’t include the lush simultaneous layering or audio engineering of the guitars, or other brilliantly used instruments, but it’s still enough for me to feel as if I’m alive, in the present moment, even though I’m simultaneously remembering some of these related moments of my past as well as creating new ones. With this, my interpretation of this song, and this album, also now includes the musical theory language aspect of it as well, which seems to strengthen my overall mindfulness and capability to enhance my memories moving forward.

Just two years after this, my daughter first started to have questions about my Mom. What kind of stuff did she like to do before she died? And, what was her favorite music? Bear in mind that my daughter was the light amidst the darkness of my Mom’s celebration of life. Happily playing and smiling, even though everyone around her was heavily grieving. In response to her question, I would say, she liked a lot of different music. The Cure, Bowie, Michael Jackson, Aerosmith, Tom Petty, etc. Then I would play the original recording of the song, “Pictures of You,” have her listen to it, and explain that this was one of her favorite songs and that it still brings me feelings of nostalgia. Given all of these changes in my own interpretation of this one song, how could I ever expect or even hope to be able to accurately convey its personal, sentimental meaning to another person. Even my wife could have difficulty understanding all of these layers of meaning, and she played a giant role within virtually all of these memories. 

Even now, as I write this, it is still changing. I’m with my son, helping him take a bath and I’m playing this song, with all of these different memories flowing through my mind. I simply ask him, do you like this song dude? He replies, yeah, it’s nice Dad. Then he immediately goes back to playing with his bath toys, blowing up an imaginary boat in the water “booooshhh.” [I just made another horizon merger with this word as it is apparently a word used for written sounds to depict an explosion. The process for doing this supposedly derives from the Greek term “onomatopoeia” which means “onoma” (name) and “poiein” (to make)]. Pretty dope:). 

With this I can’t help but think, why is all of this so significant? There is an aspect of me that feels as though I’ve been miraculously saved by my Mom, my wife and my children and even different versions of myself throughout different stages of my life, whether I’ve gone through different tragedies or variations of the same tragedy.

Hence I ask the question: did this one song, and there are many more like it for me, go beyond simply imitation into enhancement? In terms of helping to elevate my perception of the world in some way. To help me capture some sublime truth through my own interpretation of beauty. Sure there is no immediate risk in terms of a life or death situation as was the case with the previous post regarding the sublime. Yet, isn’t this also in line with another part of our being dying. Not the death of us physically, but of our ideas. Wherein we are always on the fringe of losing a piece of ourselves that is our memory. And music, as well as other forms of art, seems to have the capability of helping us to preserve them. Given this, although I appreciate the idea of purity, it does seem that, at least for me, catharsis holds a place within helping me to at least persevere through tragedy, if not at least for temporary and brief moments, believe that I can overcome it. 

Nostalgic Feelings

When we get to this point it’s inevitable to continue the discourse regarding understanding meaning in terms of feelings. Such as which feelings are evoked by the lyrics, by the tonality or pitch, by the sound of certain instruments alone or when they are combined together. From here, in terms of why particular emotions arise instead of others, it seems logical to delve deeper into the arena of human memory which stores the various types of human experiences that have played a huge role in shaping our lives. 

Additionally, whenever we go through extreme moments of adversity in our lives, i.e. tragedies, it seems that there is a strong tendency to tie our grand emotions to the past, whether consciously, subconsciously, or unconsciously, as a means of trying to strengthen our fortitude to persevere through them, perhaps through a version of Aristotle’s process of catharsis wherein reason tames the potential wildfire of emotion and harnesses it into an even more powerful force. And, when we engage in this, there seems to be a type of historical glorification that takes place. This seems to, once again, elucidate nostalgia. 

Wherein our minds revert back to what was perceived to be “good” because the current landscape that we perceive around us seems to be off in some way, perhaps missing or lacking something. This, once again, seems to represent a process of beautification. I envision a painted canvas that includes all of the details contained within the specific memory as well as the current zeitgeist that we live in, with virtually all of the details accounted for except for some missing essence. Depending on the depth of tragedy being experienced, the missing essence could be something arbitrary, or something quite profound. Regardless, it may seem like only a minor flaw within the overview of the entire canvas. However, if we forget even these minor flaws within our perception of “good”, doesn’t our perception of good change, and, is it possible to once again remember them? 

In order to make any perceived progress or preserve anything of perceived value both individually and universally as humans, it seems that we will need to utilize our memory. For without our memory in general as well as the personal memories that we’ve collected throughout our lives, what would we be? Who would we be? What would our lives look like? Let’s first examine some thoughts on this by our good buddies, Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

Innate Memories

Thought experiment time!!! Hahaha:) 

Let’s just say, if we only lived in the moment, and we were incapable of remembering anything beyond our most primal instincts, surely we would be absolved of some of the pain in life. Not the instantaneous pain that we feel when we burn or cut ourselves, but perhaps at least some of the enduring pain of tragedy. Further, and equally at least, we would not be able to hold on to those truly special moments in life, like remembering the day your child was born or the day you first met your significant other. It seems we would be more animalistic in these ways, or in Aristotelian terms, our status as humans would be lowered within the great chain of natural causes. Which if we recall, measured the level of a living being’s souledness. Given this, in essence, for Aristotle, there is an element of the soul that is tied to memory. Hence, at least indirectly memory seems to help us determine and measure what we believe to be progress for Aristotle. Given this then, it also helps us to remember what we perceive to be ‘good,’ and hopefully strive for an even greater level of ‘good,’ even if that definition changes indefinitely. 

For Plato, especially within his dialogues “Meno” and Phaedrus,” memory is essential to both learning and finding the truth. This is because he believes in anamnesis, which is the recollection of innate knowledge being acquired before birth. It is especially important for Plato’s World of Forms in that he believes, once people are able to use the power of mathematics to its fullest extent (at least in his time), they will reveal or unlock the clandestine meaning of The World of Forms and come to find that it is in itself, innate. But not just individually innate, universally innate in that it resides within all humans. 

At a certain point within the dialogue “Meno,” when Socrates and Meno are trying to determine what virtue is and if it can be taught, Plato tries to demonstrate his theory of anamnesis with one of Meno’s attendants through a fundamental walkthrough of basic geometry and arithmetic. At first the attendant seems to follow Socrates’ walkthrough and even produce correct answers when prompted, such as the total perimeter (8) of a square if one side is equal to 2. But, after some point the attendant begins to become confused when Socrates builds up a larger square with sides equal to 4 and then cuts it into diagonal pieces (a diamond within the square) and asks what the relationship of the larger square on the outside is with the smaller square on the inside and how one can tell, by which lines (the diagonal lines).  Here, not only does the attendant answer incorrectly, but he becomes aware that he does not know.

Then, after Socrates guides the attendant through the walkthrough a second time, the attendant gives the correct answer and Socrates explains to Meno, “So the man who does not know has within himself true opinions about the things that he does not know. These opinions have now just been stirred up like a dream, but if he were repeatedly asked about these same things in various ways, you know that in the end, his knowledge about these things would be as accurate as anyone’s. And he will know it without having been taught but only questioned, and find the knowledge within himself. And is not finding knowledge within oneself recollection?”

From here Socrates goes on to say, “Must he not either have at some time acquired the knowledge he now possesses, or else have always possessed it? If he always had it, he would always have known. If he acquired it, he cannot have done so in his present life. Or has someone taught him geometry?” Further, Socrates states, “If he has not acquired them in his present life, is it not clear that he had them and had learned them at some other time? Then that was the time when he was not a human being?” Note, even though assumptions can be found within this section, the logic still seems to flow. Hence, let us continue onward:)

Finally, Socrates says, “If then, during the time he exists and is not a human being he will have true opinions which, when stirred by questioning, become knowledge, will not his soul have learned during all time? For it is clear that during all time he exists either as a man or not. Then if the truth about reality is always in our soul, the soul would be immortal so that you should always confidently try to seek out and recollect what you do not know at present – that is, what you do not recollect. Socrates and Meno agree that these things are correct, and then Socrates goes on to say regarding their search for what virtue is, “I do not insist that my argument is right in all other respects, but I would contend at all costs in both word and deed as far as I could that we will be better men, braver and less idle, if we believe that one must search for the things one does not know, rather than if we believe that it is not possible to find out what we do not know and that we must not look for it.”

In spite of a couple assumptions within Socrates’ dialogue, I still find it quite inspirational in terms of the journey toward finding truth and understanding in life. But before we inquire further into Plato and Aristotle’s definitions of the human soul in relation to memory, let us begin by unpacking some modern conceptions of the human brain, the mind, and memory. This will be in the form of several upcoming blog posts of which I am very excited to share!!! Thanks:)

Thank you for joining me on this philosophic journey!

Onward to Phase IV – Overcoming Tragedy

Next blog post: The Resourceful, Great Hearted Hero

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