Monday, 21 January 2013

On having one’s past leap up in one’s face

On the weekend I had a bizarre experience.  Imagine a world where all your experiences, and everyone else’s, can be broadcast worldwide for all to see, where things that happened decades ago can be brought back to life as if they were happening all over again.

Oh, wait, we live in that world.  There’s video and the Internet and …

As I’ve mentioned, I’m studying The Tale of Genji this term, partly because of a developing interest in Asian studies and perhaps because years ago I once attended a public lecture on it.  A Vancouver Institute lecture, offered by that very interesting Vancouver institution which offers free public lectures, sometimes by quite eminent authorities.

It occurred to me to look up that lecture now that I’m taking the Genji course, by which I meant checking to see if the Vancouver Institute had listed it in its history of past lectures – and it certainly had.  There it was, in November 1987.  But more than that, much more than that.  This was a list with links.

I clicked on the link, and suddenly I was back attending the very lecture on the Genji that I’d been at so many years ago.  It turned out that the guest lecturer was a leading figure in the field, someone mentioned on our course syllabus.  I gaped at my computer screen.

And more than that even, there were shots of the crowd, the audience who had come to hear.  I was in that audience.  Never mind the guest lecturer, I thought: show me me.  Where am I in the crowd?

But I didn’t see me.  If only I’d asked a question or something.  Caused a disturbance.   Perhaps that’s what we need to do to be noticed.  But I hadn’t.  Not that I can recall.

And if I had seen myself, what then?  Could I have reached out and spoken to that younger me and said, This is what will happen to you …

How odd.  Who knew that there was a recording that would be made available in another century, a recording that would almost show me myself?  I see a science fiction film in this somehow, but perhaps that’s just because I’ve seen too many movies.

That expert lecturer is dead now.  Perhaps a lot of the audience members too.  And it’s not exactly the same experience, watching it on video.  I wasn’t sitting where the camera was.  I couldn’t zoom in and see the speaker’s face so clearly.  And most of all I am not now what I was then.  You cannot step twice in the same river.

But you can watch the video.

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