Material musings

This blog is about a combination of  things we can see – objects – and things we cannot see but nevertheless experience – memories.

Of course as well as seeing objects we can touch, taste, smell and hear them. We can feel whether they are hot or cold. Heavy or light. Memories on the other hand are usually regarded as intangible, invisible mental processes. Yet the irony is that we perceive objects via our various senses, which only function because of intangible, invisible mental processes. So objects and memories aren’t all that far apart.

As Proust demonstrated at length, objects can prompt and liberate memories. My research is based on the suggestion that objects are memories.  The exciting thing about objects-as-memories – “material memories” – is that they are visible to anyone who takes the trouble to look for them, unlike the memories in people’s minds. Sadly, those memories, unless they have been fossilised somehow, don’t survive our deaths, and most memories simply vanish, unlike many material memories, which might be buried or eroded or battered or damaged but nevertheless often still survive.

At first we might not be able to make sense (whatever that means) of object memories, but that doesn’t lessen their value. They still exist. And by studying them we might get to understand them a little more, and share them.

I’m going to Portugal in a few weeks’ time to probe the material memories of an inland village that has lost over half its population. I’m also going to be looking at what remains of a Staffordshire WWII army camp that was subsequently used to house displaced Polish families. And I’ll be digging memories out of a 200-year-old Welsh canal. This blog will record those adventures.

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