History and Memory
In contrast to documented evidence, personal history or memory inevitably reflects a one sided biased view of history. Evaluate the proposition in relation to your prescribed text and at least one related text. Personal history or memory inevitably reflects a one sided biased view of history. However through an analysis of multiple texts it can be seen that neither documented evidence (history) or personal memories are completely reliable.
Despite this, a study of the poems “In Thai Binh (Peace) Province” and “A Letter To Marek about a Photograph” by Denise Levertov and the non-fiction book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat” by Oliver Sacks it is clear that when taken together history and memory provide an enhanced approximation of past events. History has been traditionally viewed as a rational and verifiable documentation of events which have been through “academic evaluation and reflection”. However a study of the aforementioned texts reveals the fallible nature of historical evidence.
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The persona in “In Thai Binh (Peace) Province” is Levertov herself, she writes about her trip to Vietnam during the war and describes the photographs she captured there. The first stanza speaks of the “bombed hospitals – bombed village schools” and the “bombed silk factory” she photographed. Photographs are traditionally viewed as a reliable and historically accurate form of evidence. However the use repetition, onomatopoeia and strong imagery highlight the hardships of wartime hence creating a subjective view of this event.
Levertov only documented what she deemed as significant events, this reflects the subjective and selective nature of history in which the omission of certain events creates an incomplete portrayal of the past. This can also be seen in the book “The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat”, Sacks only writes about medical cases that he judges to be memorable and intriguing and utilizes an anecdotal approach to share these stories much like Levertov. His use of first person and colloquial language in phrases like “I feared”, “I wondered” and “I wish I could” further exemplifies the subjective view of “documented evidence”.
Interpretations of historical evidence can differ as seen in “A Letter To Marek about a Photograph”. Levertov lists the many possibilities and stories behind a photograph of a male saying it could have been the “face of (Marek’s) father”, “brother” even suggesting that “it could be the face of a woman”. The use of listing and enjambment shows how history can be viewed from different perspectives and based upon many assumptions hence it is not entirely reliable. Therefore the three texts reveal that historical evidence is not completely reliable.
This is also the case for personal history or memory; all the texts display the personal, emotional and fallible aspects which are at the core of a memory. The selective nature of memory is seen in the poem “In Thai Binh (Peace) Province” as Levertov is insistent up remembering the scenes of “a boy and a small bird both perched – relaxed” and the “warm shaft of afternoon light… on the brown, swift, wide river”. She uses peaceful imagery and positive diction, this juxtaposition to the descriptions of multiple bombings emphasises the selective nature of memory.
The fragile nature of our memories is also seen through the summation “child, river, light”, this phrase is highlighted using gaps to show the persona’s determination to remember these images. Sacks describes one of his past patients Dr. P, he uses a computer as an analogy for Dr. P’s mind. Unlike normal minds Dr. P’s was solely a “classifying and categorising” “machine” deprived of an ability to “judge and feel” any given situation. Through this anomaly we can conclude that normal memories are subjective because they have been processed through personal judgment and feeling.
In “A Letter To Marek” the fluidity of memory is also displayed. First Levertov uses personification to describe the house as a “brooding face of anxiety” but then switches to a more positive tone while she speaks about “fronting the weather”. This swaying of emotions and perspectives reflects the unreliable nature of memory. Therefore history or memory inevitably reflects a one sided biased view of history, the nature of memory is fluid and fragile. History and memory are therefore both unreliable but when taken together they can provide an enhanced approximation of past events.
Letter to Marek – Polish name, guy has experience, part of his culture’s history, something you cannot gain from reading. – “would touch with probing finger the concealed wounds” personification of painful memories -Marek can use his memory to enhance our understanding of this part of history. (migration) There are so many stories and parts left out of this “documented evidence”. – “those who built ,those who dwelt, those who moved on or died here” repetition of “those who” shows how much is missing from the picture.
Oliver Sacks -only documented evidence about Jimmie is “helpless ,demented, confused and disoriented” – Jimmie was sent from Bellevue Hospital with this report in the 1970’s – He has Korsakov’s syndrome. a severe form of memory impairment in which memories are only retained for a matter of minutes. – “charming, intelligent” “with a penchant for maths and science” – juxtaposition of the two descriptions of Jimmie, shows history always records negative but not positive. -meeting Jimmie helped Sacks to understand him as a person. asking his brother found out Jimmie “never settled down” and because he lost a “habitual structure” after the war ended in 1945 he began to “drink heavily” he did not have a good relationship with his brother, these things were not recorded but were very important in understanding Jimmie’s past and thus his sickness. “But his drinking grew heavier in 1970” short sentence implies that this is the cause of his sickness. -we understand Jimmie’s motivations, all this stuff is based on emotions and biased judgements and cannot be ruled out of personal history.