May 6: all understandings are misunderstandings

Many years ago I gave a girlfriend a copy of a second-hand translation into French of David Copperfield. When she read it she said she liked it and cited the scene where as a boy David returns to the village where he had lived as a small child with his now dead mother and sleeps on her grave. I remember her saying she loved this moment. I knew that she had lost her own mother as a child and that her mother had in fact committed suicide, so I could see why. Forever after that I would always refer to the scene where David sleeps on his mother’s grave to other people as an example of a wonderful scene in what I think is my favourite Dickens novel. Recently, I thought I’d try and find the passage, but until now I have been unable to locate it. I have not reread the book from cover to cover but have tracked back and forth around the relevant area of the novel. Could it be that no such scene exists?

Reading and the recollection of reading bring forth all kind of fissures and fault lines, moments when our attention strayed and we lost the plot, misrememberings. There is the section in one of Stendhal’s texts – I think it is in his Italian voyages – where he recounts how it was when he was marching with Napolean’s army after the battle of Borodino, only to suddenly realize that what he was recalling was actually  his memory of an engraving of this event he had on his wall. Our life slides over the things we read and write and remember and foggs them, replaces them, rewrites them. We know, of course, that this happens in life. Most arguments I have are to do with flawed memories of what was said when. Did I say we would go out on Wednesday after you said you said you had to stay in to do some work or before? And when the dispute subsides we trace back and try and remember how the misunderstanding arose. Mostly, we are investigating our memory and concentration lapses and those moments when the mind has got confused.

All readings are false readings. All understandings are misunderstandings.



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