The starting point is George Perec’s Je Me Souviens (1978) which I instantly fell in love with on a visit to Paris. I literally stumbled across it in a small bookshop, in the 7th arrondissement. Books were stacked and littered on every available surface, including the floor. An ill placed foot brought one of the teetering towers tumbling down, and as I got down on hands and knees, muttering apologies in my pathetic French, this was the last book to go on the hastily reconstructed pile.
Each entry begins: “Je me souviens…” (“I remember…”) followed by a snapshot of memory from Perec’s everyday life. A sublime juxtaposition of the most casual banalities and epigramatic utterances. I subsequently read that Perec forced himself ‘to remember’ as a type of (anti) intellectual exercise and it is a book that makes you ponder on the small and seemingly inconsequential memories that give more resonance and ballast to existence than the dreary chronology of events that can reduce a life to a CV.
I later found out that Perec had adapted Je me souviens from Joe Brainard’s book I Remember (1970). Brainard (1941 – 1994) was a prolific visual artist and writer associated with the New York School poets. Friend of Frank O’Hara, Larry Rivers, Jasper Johns and Andy Warhol. Paul Auster considers I Remember as “a masterpiece… one of the few totally original books I have ever read,” whilst John Ashbery wrote that Brainard “proves that beauty is really interesting after all.”
The idea behind Je me Souviens/I Remember is simple and so in the spirit, of Perec and Brainard here are a few:
I remember we lived for a short time in Victoria Avenue Milnathort, whilst we waited for our house in the New Town of Glenrothes to be ‘finished’. I was out with my sister, walking hand in hand, to the little shop at the end of the street. I must have been three or four years old. It was very dark and as we swooped our torch around – there it was. Cowering against the side of the wall, a green budgie.
I remember being taken to see my Auntie Gertie. Hair scraped back, pencilled eyebrows, fur coat, smoking cigarettes and her thick German accent. I remember being told the story of how my Uncle Wullie met Gertie. He tripped over her dog coming out of a pub in Berlin: “What a braw wee dug”.
I remember a particular room in my gran and granda’s house. A musty old smell, a stuffed badger with menacing teeth. War medals. A copy of Kidnapped with colour plates which I liked to look at. A light that gave the illusion of water flowing when it was switched on.
I remember moving house from Milnathort to Glenrothes – the van broke down near Scotlandwell.
I remember running around outside carrying a milk bottle. I fell and the bottle shattered with a lot of glass ending up in my hand. The doctor pulled it out with tweezers. I remember a shard coming out four years later when I was eight years old. It had travelled an inch and part of it was resting against a tendon in my wrist. “It’s been in there for half your life the doctor said”. That evening, I remember watching a TV programme which had a rogue tiger pacing through rice fields, attacking and terrifying the local village.
I remember running away from home. I gathered up some things in a plastic carrier bag and matter of factly, told my parents I was running away. I went out the back door, no doubt being followed. I walked around the block and came in the front door, quite satisfied with my liberating adventure.
I remember the day my brother was brought home from the hospital after being born. I got a Man from Uncle car. You pressed a button on the roof and Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin would come of the window as if shooting their guns.
Now playing: Hallock Hill – The Union