‘Remembering’ what we don’t remember

I agree with Freud and many other psychologists that our memories of being a baby and a very young infant hardly exist consciously but do shape us subconsciously. Investigating as far as possible into my own memory, there are things . . . that take me aback. I met an elderly lady who had known my grandparents, and she said how fond I’d been of my grandmother. I couldn’t remember. I had memories of her, but I didn’t remember a very great fondness. But she said that whenever I quarrelled with my mother, I would run away to my grandmother’s house. And that after my grandmother died, I was found outside the back door, banging and crying . . . I thought, How very touching. What a Dickensian detail. But I don’t remember anything like that, you know. . . .

. . when I was having my bad asthma attacks, my father said he wondered if it didn’t have anything to do with me having been chastised so often in infancy, and he reminded me of my defiance over food and how, when he came back from work, he would have to spank me for not eating the meals. He hated doing it, but he felt he had to. And then, since this did not calm me down, I would go into hysterics and start banging my head against the wall. To quiet the hysterics, they would fill the bath with cold water and plunge me into it. Which quieted my hysterics right away. I’d be put to bed. One thing was that we were given a good-night kiss. Being put into bed, I would think, I’m not going to let her kiss me tonight. But I could never refuse it, somehow. I’m quite glad, because I think it did shape my character.

And see, this is the thing — I didn’t remember any of it. I only remember it because my father reminded me.

Alasdair Gray , The Art of Fiction, no. 232. interviewer: Valerie Stivers, The Paris Review 2016

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