Monday, March 14, 2011

The Browning Boys

This month's installment of Commonwealth Curiosities: did you know that the original "Louisville Slugger" Pete Browning and the pioneering Hollywood director Tod Browning (the man who brought us Freaks and the original Bela Lugosi Dracula) were related? And did you know that both these Kentuckians led extremely eccentric lives? Just how eccentric? Pick up the latest copy of Kentucky Monthly and find out!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

DeQuincey on Memory

When I'm not writing, I'm reading. There are a handful of books which, like the Bible, never get old and I can leaf through their secrets again and again and again and never get bored.

One such book is Confessions of an English Opium Eater by Thomas DeQuincey. It's written in a frenzied, disjointed, stream-of-consciousness style that screams wisdom and madness at the same time. Sometimes a run-on sentence will go run the length an entire page without taking a breath. The book was written after Mr. DeQuincey straighted his life out from opium addiction, supposedly. He doesn't sound opiated, that's for sure - just the opposite, he seems downright manic.

But tonight I was struck by this passage from the book, like a bolt of lightning hit me on my head when I read it - because it just happens to echo my own philosophical position based on my own firsthand personal experiences (with memory recall, I mean, not with opium!):

I was once told by a near relative of mine that having in her childhood fallen into a river, and being on the very verge of death but for the assistance which reached her at the last critical moment, she saw in a moment her whole life, clothed in its forgotten incidents, arrayed before her as in a mirror, not successively, but simultaneously; and she had a faculty developed as suddenly for comprehending the whole and every part.

This, from some opium experiences, I can believe; I have, indeed, seen the same thing asserted twice in modern books, and accompanied by a remark which is probably true - viz., that the dread book of account which the Scriptures speak of is, in fact, the mind itself of each individual. Of this, at least, I feel assured, that there is no such thing as ultimate forgetting; traces once impressed upon the memory are indestructible; a thousand accidents may and will interpose a veil between our present consciousness and the secret inscriptions on the mind. Accidents of the same sort will also rend away this veil.

But alike, whether veiled or unveiled, the inscription remains forever; just as the stars seem to withdraw before the common light of day, whereas, in fact, we all know that it is the light which is drawn over them as a veil, and that they are waiting to be revealed whether the obscuring daylight itself shall have withdrawn.