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  • Writer's pictureAnca

The dirt on our shoes - a reflection upon memory


shoes next to tree


The day breaks out reluctantly casting the early light on the newspaper. Sitting in his chair, with newspaper in hand, Sherlock Holmes announces to his early company that they are about to receive a visitor. And sure enough, only minutes later, the visitor makes his appearance. The companion of Mr. Holmes takes in the guest in his immediate distress and appearance. Mr. Holmes, however, looking at the person in front, is able to tell who the person is, what he has gone through and the reason of their visit. The person is carrying their life story, from the expression on his face all the way to the dirt on his shoes.


It is characteristic of detectives, and most noticeably of Sherlock Holmes, to be acutely aware of the space that they inhabit, so that he can detect even the most minute anomalies from one instance of time to another. This, coupled with an unshaken trust in causality and logic, allows the detective to hold a perfectly intact image of past and present spaces and translate the anomalies into plausible events. The images he evokes seem a precise piecing of events or characters which through their past actions have irrevocably altered the present universe. In a more romantic sense, the detective is in search of the memory that space holds of past presences. And he does that by carefully inspecting the marks that space leaves on the person as well as the traces that the person leaves on the space they move in.


Detective stories piece together violent and painful pasts. As illusory as the past might be and the bygones be truly bygones, if the past universe did indeed exist, we tend to hold it accountable to our present predicament. Because we do carry dirt on our shoes, and it is the memory of our footsteps that tell the story of us.


In his Portrait of Dorian Grey, Oscar Wilde creates a character that is able to move through life without anything leaving a mark on his person. He consumes beauty and pleasure with such voracity that devastates the mere humans in his path. His person is seemingly unaltered, remaining forever young and charming. It is his portrait which carries the burden of his actions, as well as the people he encounters. For, even if the current universe does not register change, actions need to be accounted for and leak into parallel dimensions.


The psychoanalysts talk of the shadow in relation to this phenomenon which in other words translates to: no one gets away with anything. Even when, for retribution, an entire new universe would need to come into existence or an entire new personality break away.


An intriguing premise, as well as a daring exploration of memory and time is created by V. E. Schwab in The Invisible Life of Addie la Rue. Addie escapes an arranged marriage in medieval France by entering a pact of immortality. She would indeed live forever young and remember everything, but not one person will ever remember her, and be forgotten the moment she is out of sight. This makes an eternity, a mere collection of instant moments. Time does not leave traces, neither on her own being, nor in the memory of the people she encounters but she does remember every moment of her eternal life. Addie is a whisper of a person that exists in the forever here and now. This peculiar situation allows us to reflect how much of our existence is truly validated by the marks we leave on the people we encounter. A person is more than their own memory. To be complete, one needs to see themselves reflected in the memory of the places and people they meet.


If we take this one step further, however fascinating or horrendous we might find the predicament of Addie, isn't her life, our life when we choose to live through daily online anonymous interactions? Instant encounters which regardless of how deep or enjoyable they are in the moment, they are forgotten the moment the screen is shut...


It is the ripples we make in space, the ashes on the carpet, the crumbs on the plate that bare testimony that we were there and did that. The spaces that we move in, the things we do and the encounters we have, leave marks on our person and we carry them with us, like the dirt on our shoes.



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