Remembrance of things past

I went to a lecture today by Slavoj Žižek. He said many fascinating and thought provoking things, about economics, culture, politics and philosophy. But one thing in particular really stayed with me.

He pointed out that the things we value from our past, the things that we have lost, are often valuable precisely because we have lost them. It is the loss itself that creates much of the sense of value in our memory.

I think we can all agree, when we reflect back on our own remembrance of things past, that this is quite true.

There seems to be something tragic about this quality of human nature. Joni Mitchell said it in a somewhat different way: “We don’t know what we’ve got till it’s gone.”

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could have a crystal ball that tells us “This experience — this day walking with a friend, this sunlit morning waking up with a lover, this moment in time that you so blithely take for granted — one day this simple moment will be remembered in your mind as a paradise lost.”

And knowing this, perhaps we will know not to take it for granted.

5 thoughts on “Remembrance of things past”

  1. Hmm, this reminds me of your Famous Blue Raincoat post (your blog software is not letting me post the link here—maybe you can edit it in), except here you take it a step further. The pain is not just a measure of the value now, but it actually creates the value.

    Still not sure I agree with either, but I have noticed that the pain stays with me so much more strongly than the happiness, even if I was very conscious of the happiness and specialness of the moment as it happened. Maybe that’s because the happiness was fleeting, while the loss is ongoing.

  2. Žižek was surely channeling Baudelaire? Moesta et errabunda or À une passante come to mind. Of course the romantics would argue that it is not knowing that makes it so bittersweet.

  3. In my mind, knowing the specialness of the moment in the moment makes it more bittersweet. It tinges the happiness of now with the anticipated pain of loss at the same time that it focuses the mind on the happiness.

  4. Somewhere C. S. Lewis makes a remark to the effect that much evil consists of trying to hold on to a previous good.

  5. Thankfully the opposite is true as well. We value things that are gained precisely because we did not have them before. It’s the comparison that helps the sense of value.

    Or to put it yet another way, toxic real estate had no value precisely because they were not traded :p

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