An Artist's Impression
It takes a good imagination
to dress the bones of the past
and have them looking good.
Memory has little to do with it.
28 July 1989
Cognitive Neuroscience a few years back suggested that imagination is functionally distinct from related processes such as memory; it hides in a different part of the brain. Fine, I’ll buy that but that doesn’t mean they can’t pool resources; we fill in the blanks; we extrapolate. As Greg Nirshberg put it in an article in the same journal a couple of years earlier:
Every time you ‘remember’ a past experience you are not accessing some sort of stored ‘thing’ in your brain. You are constructing an entirely new experience in something akin to the imaginative process, and while what you construct this experience out of will have some sort of causal connection to synaptic changes made at the time of the original experience, and while there are ways to ensure that this imaginative construction is more justifiably in correspondence with the original event, that original event is gone forever; all that exists is your imagining in the moment. Let’s not be too tied to calling this experience a memory, without at least being cognizant of in how many ways this experience fails to fit that role.
As I look at each of the poems I’ve been publishing of late I have to say, hand on heart, that I’ve mostly been imagining the past and not remembering it. I don’t remember most of it. There’re huge, cavernous holes. This is one reason why I’ve never seriously thought to write any kind of memoir. I know even with the best will in the world it’d be fictionalised. Instead I incorporate the odd bit of fact into my fiction but don’t make too much of them, don’t attribute meaning that’s not there. How many times when you’ve wanted to describe a room have you cast your eyes around the very room you’re sitting in and relocated something? It’s not meaningful; it’s simply easier. The flat in The More Things Change is the one I lived in in Jordanhill; it was the flat I wrote most of the book in. The flat in Left is the one I’m living in just now minus Carrie’s office. The flat in Living with the Truth was, however, completely fictional and to be honest I don’t even have a floorplan of it in my head.