Tuesday, August 7, 2007

I don't remember

It feels as though I have about a million blogs to write, and nowhere near the time to do so these days. My drafts folder is filled with half-started thoughts that get put to the side when cleaning, *academic* writing, and, okay, Harry Potter, get in the way. It is actually a little frustrating to have one's musings feel a bit backlogged.

This particular stream of consciousness began last night, and then became delayed for a more enjoyable reason- a fascinating, involving conversation on the topic that helped put me back into last year when I was falling for a certain fellow through coffee shop discussions that seemed to span an entire evening. I decided to take my lunch break to finish it off over some of my kick-ass potato salad.

I'm also frustrated at my seeming inability to catch up on all my fellow bloggers- I feel like I need a coffee shop date with all of you to be able to really reimmerse myself!


As a part of our seemingly new ritual, the Duke and I have just finished watching yet another documentary film in my superb clawfoot bathtub.

Many times, new ideas are sprung from these films that have become my odd little escape from reality (yet, escape into reality...), but I often try to stifle them a little, as I find my mind getting overcome with facts and tangents, which then distract me from immersing myself in the film.

However, this most recent film has stimulated the brain cells so much that I am writing whilst wrapped in a towel.

In a recent post, I talked about my revelation, as Eve so nicely put it, that home isn't necessarily a place, and how reassuring a genuine sense of self can be. I just watched a film that made me question where that sense of self exists, and what would happen if its essence were to suddenly vanish.

Unknown White Male is a documentary film about the experiences of Doug Bruce, a 35-year old living in New York, who mysteriously and with no apparent explanation, found himself on a New York subway one day with no recollection of who he was or any aspects of his past. Although there is some debate to the veracity of his claims, this film documented his reconnection with friends and family members, and his attempts to rediscover and redefine who he is.

Perhaps most intriguing about this character study was the fact that Doug did not seem to have any desire to remember. Outside of some moments of fear and confusion while sitting in a hospital with no identity or knowledge of where home may be or what it may entail, he really engages in little deliberate reflection about what he used to be like. It's especially odd, because everyone else in the film seems to endorse the notion that they would be trying desperately to remember in such a situation, whereas he is content discovering things anew, with apparently no expectations. His sister comments early in the film that he never asked her anything about their childhood. This is what lead people to assume that he might be lying-- the seemingly forced distance between new Doug and old Doug. It is a funny thing that our society that we may not be, in a sense, really permitted to start fresh, and it is only through such a severe turn of events that someone is really allowed to start from scratch and re-create who they want to be. And, by all accounts, he is a very different person- it is even evident to the viewer through comparing the man being interviewed to brief homevideo clips.

Which leads me to thinking about to what extent one's experiences, rather than some vital essence or core, make up who one is. As people, we seem to cling onto the notion of a stable personality, a consistency that remains true no matter what situation we find ourselves in. However, Douglas Bruce went from a man completely consistent with his upper class upbringing- slightly arrogant, cynical, outgoing- to a quiet, reflective, observant individual once concrete evidence of this upbringing erased from his mind. His memories shaped who he was to such an extreme extent.

At contrast with the sense of peace he had with his new self and his gradual rediscovery, with fewer boundaries and expectations, of what his "new" self was to be, was the reactions of people around him. One of the most striking moments was when he had a video camera filming the airport as he was about to be reconnected with his father and sister-- and you realize that you, as a viewer, have as much of a sense as he does which of these masses of people are his core family.
His ex-girlfriend reflects, in one scene, of how him being such a different person challenges her sense of the veracity of their past together-- it is almost akin to his death, how she feels as though because the Doug she loved no longer exists, suddenly their past is less real.

At one point in the film, he returns to London to reunite with friends who've known him for over twenty years. They are all desperately looking for something to link them to the Doug they used to know. One friend just clung to him and wouldn't let go. It all seemed so un-reciprocal, and almost selfish- these people were utter strangers to him, yet they needed so intensely to feel like the connection remained.

His words on these people who loved him with such fervour seemed so hollow. They would be crying their eyes out after seeing him again, and his reaction would be "Well, they seem with very nice fellows. I wouldn't be opposed to visiting with them again." He willingly admitted that he lacked this bond to some of these people who held onto it so strongly, and he knew it was hard for them. The other funny thing about his speech pattern was how concrete and literal it was. He used no metaphors, seemingly because he had nothing to compare his experiences to.

These are only a smidgen of the thoughts that came to mind in watching this film. Although it does occasionally resemble a hodge-podge of art film stock footage, in an attempt of the director to make it creative, I challenge anyone not to watch the film and seriously ponder what they would be like if they, too, suddenly could no longer remember.


All Mod Cons said...

I HAVE to see this, purely based on this post. Nice write-up.

I'd like to try that sort of memory loss for a while, just to "see". Actually, I think I might give it a go on Sunday morning...right after I've been out on Saturday night..

Eve said...

Wow, I'm putting it on my Netflix list, too.

But that seems so strange. (In a lot of ways.) So basically it means that any connections that we've forged are based solely on shared experiences? Yikes.

Beth said...

A single event can alter your perception of the past - make you question who you are. So much of what we believe ourselves to be is based upon our connections with others. Take that connection away (via death or other means of loss) and we must redefine ourselves. We do this throughout our entire lives.
But complete memory loss and total dis-connection? That would require complete and total reinvention. Somewhat scary - but fascinating - to contemplate.

Jeff said...

Very interesting. I'll have to check it out.

Dorky Dad said...

That sounds like a very interesting film.

There was a movie once with Harrison Ford about a wealthy guy who got shot, lost his memory, then realized that he was a complete jerk before the robbery and then decided that he didn't like his old self. Oh yeah, Regarding Henry. That's it.

Airam said...

That's a pretty wild experience to not remember anything from your life. I often fantasized that one day I'd wake up with amnesia.

Lord Chimmy said...

I have seen real clinical interview videos of people who have suffered from Dissociative Fugue...formerly psychogenic fugue. It is a truly fascinating psychological illness which usually is the result of a stress breakdown. Pretty interesting stuff...

Drama Div@ said...

memory disturbed?

"knock on wood"

eric313 said...

Self is so important, but the debate is good, because what can get accomplished without a sense of security? Both are imortant.

I totally have to go with self, if forced to choose--I have a sense of it, even if I'll never know who I trully am, at least in the sense that such knowledge changes who you are, so it reall will never end, logically.

You did a great write up, I agree. And don't feel bad, the biggest theme I have seen this week is the trouble with posting. Everyone is having it. Accept the hippies. They're going strong as ever and its amazing.

Ant said...


I seem to recall something about this when it was briefly in the news - is this the "piano-man" chap, found in a tuxedo in NY?

Your write-up is brilliant - I wonder about this stuff a lot. When I first started blogging I wondered if people could deliberately try and create a new sense of self in the online world. It became apparent to me really quickly that anyone that did, would find their own personality coming through, no matter how hard they tried to change it.

But I think your arguments about experience are dead on. It's so logical: we could take the same genes and empirical facets of our mind/soul/body/whatever, but subject them to, say, a poor or violent upbringing and of course the person is going to be different.

From a philosophical point of view I like the idea that starting afresh he seemed to be more at peace and "nicer". Plus I think his friends need to reconnect with him, may say more about their own need for support than his reaction...

Sorry, long comment, but your towel-wrapped ruminations deserve such a discussion! :o)

captain corky said...

It sounds very interesting. I'm going to have to check it out.

I don't know about you but I could use about 5 more hours a day. There's never enough time.

Yoda said...

Watching movies in a clawfoot bathtub together sounds so romantic! I would totally like to do that some day. Sometimes I get queasy staying naked for 2 hrs, though.

Tonya said...

Very good blog. It's almost like detatching from your ego...your sense of worth based on what you own, who you know, your job, etc. Our sense of self gets too wrapped up into that I think and this guy, whether real or fake was removed from his ego. I guess you kind of have to develop another one, but maybe it will be a kinder, gentler ego. But no matter what it would be hard on friends and family. It would in a way seem like you "died."

Indiana James said...

I'd hate it. I am biased too as I've just recently gone through so many experiences which have affected me so deeply. I'd be scared too in case I ended up being a real jackass after I forgot who I used to be. :P

Heart Of Darkness said...

I've got a great memory! Too bad it's so short... haha

Princess of the Universe said...

That sounds so interesting - I will have to check that out!

Jocelyn said...

I'm a complete whore for a good documentary, and I've been casting about for one lately.

I cast no more. I'm set.