The Ruricolist is now available in print.

A Memory of Infancy

I believe that anything can be said. There are always words, if not always the strength to find and use them. Anything that can be experienced can be communicated. Communication from one mind to another cannot be perfect; but it can at least match the imperfect communication by way of memory between yourself then and yourself now.

This is a test case. I have what seems to be a memory of infancy. I do not insist that it is true; it could be a neurological glitch. Nonetheless, it is an interesting problem of expression.

I call it a memory, but I cannot remember it directly: I must remember being 11 remembering being 6 remembering. Eventually this chain must slip away from me; that it another reason to write it down.

I call it a memory because I have access to it by remembering, but it is not like other memories. It is smooth, hard, incapable of subdivision. It contains no data. In itself it is more of a feeling than a memory – as if at that stage the faculty of feeling supports not broad, generic emotions, but discrete pegs of experience. When I remember, the memory is not retrieved; it comes over me, I feel it as if I were feeling an emotion.

The senses are not distinct. They do not blend; there is no cacophony or synesthesia; instead, the senses are one – one unitary sensation that is not processed as sight or hearing or touch or smell, but absorbed as emotion. This one sense subordinates not only the usual five, but also proprioception – awareness of the position of your own body. There is a quality to the memory like marshmallowiness – an association, not a translation – that I think is the best my adult brain can do in rendering an experience recorded by such an alien scheme of proportions and powers.

Something happens – something unpleasant. My best guess is that I am receiving an injection. The memory somewhat resembles the nauseating feeling of a needle under the skin, but magnified until – fleetingly – it becomes my entire experience of the world and myself.

World and self are not distinct. Because no such concept as control yet exists, I have no way to tell what I can control – myself – from what I cannot control – world. I do not experience the world as part of myself; I do not experience self; I just experience. Note that while this is an unpleasant memory, the distinction in an adult between something bad that happens to you (with anger, indignation, or fear) and something bad you do without meaning to (with embarrassment, shame, regret and uncertainty) – this distinction is absent. The simple unpleasantness of something bad happening here compasses both – though, without future, I am without fear or uncertainty.

In this alien being that I was, I recognize only one thing.

Imagine that you have just begun to study something very interesting, but which you know nothing about. You throw yourself into it. You learn fast, getting your bearings, absorbing the terms of art, feeling out the areas of concern. It is like hunger – better, it is like a stomach: a void with agency, asserting its need.

This, infinitely amplified, is what I recognize: the absolute ravenous void where words would be.