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The Persistence of Memory -- and Time

Posted: September 22, 2010 12:09 p.m.
Updated: September 22, 2010 12:06 p.m.

“The Persistence of Memory”, the 1931 painting by Salvador Dali, is a personal favorite.

On more than one occasion I have misspoke, calling this piece “The Persistence of Time”, an honest mistake given the three drooping clocks placed prominently in the frame.

The work is bizarre and beautiful, not unlike its creator, and not unlike most of his art. You don’t have to know anything about the painting’s history or purpose to stare at it and feel an entrancing sensation. My reading of “Persistence” is simple – time has the capacity to wear on you; there may be days, months – hopefully not years – where you feel as though you’re “going through the motions.”

This can be OK in that you may be handling significant responsibilities – whether it’s parenthood, professional or in commitments to relationships.

But it can also be, and often is, sad. It’s tragic in the sense you might not be experiencing any elation in your daily life; you’re wafting along in a haze of obligations, finding no fulfillment for yourself.

As we humans build up our years, we realize the passing of time is inevitable, and as we mature, it seems most of us stop fighting our aging. I’m all for the philosophy “better with age” -- in my two decades plus, it’s turned out to be true.

A common adage for those who fret over the passing of time and their growing old is to “live in the present.” This, too, has proved beneficial in my life. I hesitate usually to talk much about my personal life, but if you know me, you know my life epitomizes living in the present. I don’t own a house, and don’t know that I ever will. The word mortgage makes me cringe. I don’t endeavor to be part of a committed relationship at the moment. I have a habit of checking things off my life’s to-do list as soon as I can, because there’s always something fresh and exciting around the bend.

Memory and time are interconnected to the point it’s nearly impossible to discuss one and not make note of the other. Memory, of course, fades with time – although most people have images and sensations they’ll never forget. Time can test whether a memory is sturdy or whether it’s mist.

“The Persistence of Memory” is widely known as a symbol for the irrelevance of time, which I can’t say I agree with – how is time irrelevant? I’ve always found timing to be everything. But remember, we’re talking about the same eccentric artist who observed, “The desire to survive and the fear of death are artistic sentiments.”

The fact this painting is called “The Persistence of Memory” rather than “The Persistence of Time” is crucial, however. Time is going to happen regardless of what you do. What remains in your memory, though, depends solely upon you.

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