Writing the Past in the Present


This paper draws upon aspects of my autobiography to help understand the ways in which the recollection of childhood experiences may ignite earlier memories inherited from past generations. Where should I begin? Perhaps on the quayside in Rotterdam in late autumn 1948. The port has been bombed by the Allies. My mother has gone to sort out some paperwork and left me sitting on the luggage. A lady comes over to me, speaking a language I do not understand. It may have been Dutch or perhaps English. She has a kindly, concerned look on her face, but I do not trust her. I am four-anda-half years old, and I spread myself in the shape of an X over our luggage. I try to appear larger than I am. As I tighten my grip on the luggage, she walks away. Did my behaviour arise out of the moment, or did it bear some relationship to earlier atavistic memories of more perilous journeys? Perhaps I was influenced by accounts of train journeys through typhoid-ridden Siberia. Perhaps fragments of my grandmother’s stories influenced my reaction. Faded images and dormant memories may surprise us by the speed with which they are resurrected in apposite circumstances. I am giving a conference paper in London and have been put up at the Grand Russell Hotel. The receptionist asks me if I have stayed at the hotel before. ‘I have’, I answer without giving her further details. Indeed, my first night in England in November 1948 was spent at this hotel courtesy of UNRRA. It was bitterly cold then. And as if by some trick of fate, the electricity fails on this much later visit and I experience the same cold. Thus, this paper addresses the way in which far-removed times and places are given character and united through memory.

Nov 29, 2018 — Dec 1, 2018
Tartu (Igaunija)

Konference On the Move