Brother Dan had company today, so when I stopped by to say hello, I stayed for just a few minutes. He has to go in for an echocardiogram on the 22nd of this month. At that time, the doctors will decide exactly what to do with the good carotid, and then they will do it.
I asked him how he has been, how he has felt over this time. He says he doesn’t know. I don’t think this is an evasion or that he is repressing something. Sometimes when he is trying to express something, he uses his hands in a funny way. He measures something in the air, in the way a person might do telling a fish story. This time he made a big measure when he tried to recollect the first month after the stroke. He said it was like nowhere, this space between his hands. And I said, did he mean he had forgotten it. He seemed to indicate no, more like there had just been a blank.
I think what he is experiencing really is beyond his comprehension.
Freud was probably wrong about infantile amnesia representing the repression of polymorphous perversity and all sorts of other nasty sexual stuff. Well, he was not wrong either, but repression is not the whole story. Representation is. And thinking about Dan and infantile amnesia I have to wonder how much language is necessary to have a sense of having any kind of experience at all. Dan’s language powers were affected by the stroke. He did not have the words for it and I do not mean this in the sense that he lacked the philosophic depth to experience what he felt. Or that he had bumped up against some profound existential emptiness. Rather he lacked words like “needle,” “bed,” “red light.”
Without being conscious of it, or needing to be conscious of it, we are always moving among named things. Like cars, or trees, or bushes or under sky. And as we do move among these named things a potential at least for an experience is present. We don’t always have to have an experience; maybe nothing really happens. But if something did, we would have in retrospect the materials (those named things) for the construction of a narrative or the sketchy outlines of an experience.
Car. Red light. Freeway on Ramp. Freeway. Stop
You could make a narrative out of that. In fact I did just that after speaking with Brother
Dan and thinking about aphasia. I stopped at a red light located directly in front of the on ramp leading to the freeway on which I could see many cars passing by.
But this little narrative would not be available to me without the words to weave the experience together. But what if, like an infant, one had no words. Or no causal connections like: red light means stop. I doubt one would remember much of anything…since the potential for memory would not exist.
Indeed some aphasia victims forget (actually that is not the right word) rather cease to grasp the connection between red light and stop.