Reading this pleasant lil’ piece on New York Shitty about a weird ole advertisement from the past…
…showing up in front of its former home…
But, what it really got me thinking about was memory and our collective lack of it.
I think it was Hakim Bey (though by no means quote him/me on this, as I kinda forget) who was talking to me once about how everything from writing to the internet serves mostly to destroy our ability to remember things. Phone numbers, addresses, people’s last names, ideas, songs, thoughts, memories, all are “stored” (made into a store?) for ready retrieval. Whereas in the past we would have had to remember all that was important and necessary to us—which three-mile twisty path might lead to a watering hole, for example—today there is virtually no need to remember anything, since most of what we need to know is stored in or accessible through our little “smart” phones.
I wonder how this affects what we deem to be important, ultimately altering completely our natural proclivity toward simplicity.
I like to think that in the past—in my pre-civilized hunter-gatherer self—that which was important to me resided only in what I could actually remember to deem important. The location of a loving mate’s slumber, the berry bush and when it produces fruit, the reasons I might tell stories at night, the stories themselves, all and nothing more might have been of only importance had I only the heart and mind to remind me.
We can see how important memory was in the past by taking a peek there.
Even the prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was given the noble task of remembering, and not writing down, what Allah was telling him. But almost more importantly was his being blessed with forgetfulness. When the Qur’an was “coming down,” there were times that even he, the prophet, might forget what he had learned from Allah. The Qur’an states,
“By degrees shall we teach thee (Muhammad) to declare (the message), so thou shalt not forget, except as God wills…” (Sura 87:6-7, Yusuf Ali). [emphasis mine]
This no doubt comforted Muhammad who would have been troubled by forgetting anything God had directly told him. But it is shown that Muhammad took it in stride as the hadith (accounts of Muhammad’s life) state,
‘A’isha reported that the Apostle of Allah (may peace be upon him) listened to the recitation of the Qur’an by a man in the mosque. Thereupon he said: May Allah have mercy upon him; he reminded me of the verse which I had been made to forget. (Muslim: book 4, number 1721, Siddique) [emphasis mine]
Narrated ‘Abdullah: … (Muhammad said) I am a human being like you and liable to forget like you. So if I forget, remind me … (Bukhari: volume 1, book 8, number 394, Khan)
With that in mind, I am looking at the advertisement placed outside 201 Montrose Ave., in Bushwick, Brooklyn as a kind of poetic act of “memory activism,” a rebellious action that calls us to remember. Left by an angel in human form, the found object works as a sigil—a symbol-sign-signifier—that begs us to keep in mind only what is of importance.
Store nothing, for there is nothing that should be sold.