All that you touch, All that you see, All that you taste, All you feel, All that you love, All that you hate
All you distrust, All you save, All that you give, All that you deal, All that you buy, beg, borrow or steal.
All you create, All you destroy, All that you do, All that you say. All that you eat, And everyone you meet
All that you slight, And everyone you fight, All that is now, All that is gone, All that’s to come…
Eclipse, Pink Floyd
Dance, dance don’t stint with the shoes
’cause these get their rest while you snooze
This earth will take us in, stomp it with your pin
Stomp it with your pin, this earth will take us in
Memory is our basis. Without memories we are but shadows, creatures that wander aimlessly in the present. Alive for sure, with senses, feelings, urges and all, but lost.
Memory is identity.
Collective memory, historical memory, personal memory.
“Still Alice”. A woman is diagnosed with early Alzheimer’s. She is a scientist, mother, wife, friend and she makes pudding, too.
Her name is Alice; and she begins to lose herself.
Vasilis Chatzopoulos was a man of short stature. All smiling and jolly, like an illustration of a dwarf for children’s stories. But when he grabbed his lute, he was becoming older unexpectedly. His voice was disproportionately strong for his body. I was looking at him and couldn’t help but wonder how such strength was crammed into this body.
I stumbled upon Iris Murdoch’s first book “Under the net” at the public library, without having a clue about the writer. The hero of the book is a man. Every now and then I kept taking a look at the ear of the book where Iris’ photo and bio were, just to make sure that the author was a woman.
I could hardly believe that a woman could be so manlike, as if she was Tiresias who had gone through both sexes.
Dance, dance enjoy your springtime life
cause in this lifetime never comes twice
On this earth we tread, everybody will be dead
Everybody will be dead, on this earth we tread.
It is weird. You remember yourself as a child and you think that your recollections are real. Then you learn that this memory is edited. You’ve never been to that beach, you never fell off the swing, you were never attacked by a rabid dog.
We reconstruct our memories, each time we retrieve them from the depths of time and our mind.
We remember according to our current feelings, knowledge, experience and beliefs.
We invent our memories – once we choose what we prefer to remember.
A video plays over and over again. A young Alice along with her daughter, who is still a child, run on the beach. She knows that she won’t experience anything like that ever again. Soon, she won’t be able to remember even her daughter, she won’t be able to remember even herself.
She is still at the early stages of the disease. She leaves a video message on the computer, with suicidal directions.
When you’ve reached the point where you can no longer answer any of these questions (what is the name of your older daughter, what street do you live in, what month is your birthday) in your bedroom there’s a dresser, open the top drawer and there’s a bottle with pills in it that says, “Take all pills with water”, it’s very important that you swallow them all.
Alice, with advanced-stage Alzheimer’s, finds the message. She strives to figure out who is this person that speaks to her from the screen.
Alice has fallen into the rabbit hole.
Old-Vasilis was a poor child. He shepherded the sheep and he wore shoes made out of car tires and clothes out of the skin of a goat. A violinist saw him dancing at a festival and understood that he could become a good lutist.
Vasilis’ father didn’t see eye to eye with this. A musician is destitute most of the time.
He insisted, he learned to play the lute and performed in every festival on Naxos island.
Iris studied philosophy in Oxford and taught in Cambridge. She was a personal friend of Jean-Paul Sartre and conversed with every contemporary philosopher, even with the quirky Wittgenstein.
Someone said that Murdoch was post-war England’s most bright mind.
Her every word is well-placed, nowhere else would function just as good.
The words. Until she began losing her touch with them, until she became unable to write, to speak or think once Alzheimer’s took her mind.
Rejoice youths, rejoice lads
For I put Death’s legs in cuffs
Dance to your content, ’cause our life will finally spent
Our life will finally spent, dance to your content
Past does not exist.
Whatever has passed, is dead. Our memories are but edits of our mind.
Everything we know, everything we believe in, everything we love, everything we think of and everything we are afraid of, everything is destined to vanish along with us.
What is left behind then? What makes this strange dance count?
Alice talks to her husband.
“Let’s leave this place”, she tells him. “Let us drive around the country in an RV for a year, as long as I’m still Alice”.
“I can’t pass up this chance”, he replies. “They wait for me at this new hospital. It’s an important job”.
He thinks about the future, the new job. He has a future. Alice has one year, at the most.
Let’s do it. As long as I’m still Alice, she pleads him.
Chatzopoulos became the “lutist of the Aegean”. He performed on every island, in Athens, in Israel, in Italy, in New York.
“What life leaves behind?” I asked him. “Children, grandchildren, friends, memories?”
“And the songs! My songs!” he answered me, mystified by my omission.
Sea, everywhere. A writer, a middle-aged man shuts himself off somewhere close to the sea to take him out of himself. But life won’t let him find peace, not while he is alive. He has still many dances to dance.
This novel by Murdoch is probably her crowning achievement. She was awarded the Booker Prize for this one in 1978.
Her book was named after the descent of the Myriads.
Thalatta, thalatta. The sea, the sea.
Those who have a good heart and frequently have fun
Only them will have this fake world undone.
Beneath the earth’s grass, youths amass
Youth amass, beneath the earth’s grass
What are you talking about? Your songs will be left behind? Death asks the poet, before he takes him with him.
I don’t know, he replies. But there is one thing I do know: Sometimes, as I was singing I found eternity.
Alice failed to commit suicide. The movie is bookended before she was landed in a clinic together with other lost people, who live without a self, without an identity.
What is left of Alice in this body, in this mind that no longer recognizes her children? Is she still Alice?
What is left of Alice?
“He gets lost on his way, he doesn’t know where and who he is”, the daughter of old-Vasilis had told me.
The other day, when I began writing this text, I did a research on the internet. I found out that the lutist of the Aegean had left this “fake world” a month before.
His children, his grandchildren and his friends were left behind. And his songs, too.
The song that is copyrighted as traditional, this famous “dance, dance” is one of his. He put together the first lyrics, he played them for the first time and later on others added new verses, they changed it, improved it, they sang it.
Iris Murdoch had forgotten all of the words when she died in 1999. Her last resort was the sea, the seaside.
She was sitting on the shores of Atlantic staring at the waves, demented, the woman who achieved immortality with her songs.
…and everything under the sun is in tune but the sun is eclipsed by the moon.
Perla the dog prods me with her snout as I write these words, and looks at me with her scleraless eyes in order to stroke her and take her for a walk.
Let’s go, while I’m still Perla, she tells me.
It’s raining, the world is heavy with war and blood. But while there are still people who keep on dancing. singing, falling in love, creating, fighting, looking up…
OK Perla, I’m done. Let’s go, while I’m still me.
There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of fact it’s all dark.