A Memory is Never Finished

(Soundtrack: Sleater-Kinney Call The Doctor)

We saw a sneak preview of Before Sunset last night and then rushed home to revisit its precursor–Before Sunrise–on video. I can sum up the appeal that Linklater’s diptych holds for me in a few words, spoken by Julie Delpy’s character in the first film, which both works live by:

You know, I believe if there’s any kind of God, it wouldn’t be in any of us. Not you, or me… but just this little space in between. If there’s any kind of magic in this world, it must be in the attempt of understanding someone, sharing something… I know, it’s almost impossible to succeed, but… who cares, really? The answer must be in the attempt.

(you can read the whole script here, if you’re in the mood–although I wouldn’t recommend that; in general, it’s not the matter of these conversations which is so compelling, but the manner in which they are conducted–and you’ve gotta watch the film to experience that!)

In keeping with my preference for revisiting the old, rather than scratching vainly at the scab of “absolute originality”, I liked the second film even more than the first. Or perhaps I should say that the second has added lustre to the first. And a third, if made in the same spirit as these two, would undoubtedly have a similarly intensifying effect. This is, of course, why I love corporate comics so much–I truly do believe that, the more you think earnestly about anything you ever loved, the better it gets. These films stake out a philosophic/aesthetic position which is in direct opposition to the one that Charlie Kaufman puts into the mouth of “wise fool” Donald, in Adaptation:

I loved Sarah. It was mine, that love. I owned it.
Even Sarah didn’t have the right to take it away.
I can love whoever I want.
You are what you love, not what loves you.

No way! A memory is never “yours”. It must always be rebuilt through narrative. And a story is always told to someone else–even if that someone else is an idealized projection of your own mind. You aren’t “what you love”, you’re a part of whatever you help bring to light through interaction with others. Implicit in Donald’s statement is the idea that the artist’s task is to nail down the way he/she feels about the world–capturing objects in the treacle of love like flies trapped in amber. I can’t agree with this at all. I prefer to see art as the attempt to create “a soundtrack, magnetized, out of sync, to the filmstrip of the (intersubjective) Sublime”.

Near the beginning of Before Sunset, Delpy asks Hawke why he wrote an entire novel about one night that happened nine years before the events in the sequel. After hemming and hawing his way through a bunch of stock responses, Hawke finally admits that he wrote the book in the hope that she would see it, read it, and show up to discuss it with him. In other words, it was an attempt, as Hawthorne would put it, “to open up an intercourse with the world.” He gets his wish–and the discoveries that these two make about what “really” happened to them in the first film expose the proprietary theory of memory for the sham that it is. Our lives don’t belong to us. We rent them to each other at sympathetic rates.

Good Afternoon Friends!


  1. Hola, Dave!

    Re the quote from Julie Delpy’s character:

    Isn’t there something in the writings of St. Augustine about “god being in the gaps”? This was a point that figured in critically in Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion” tetrology of a few years ago…

    George Guay

  2. Dear Mr. Fiore,

    I was just stumbling around the ‘net tonight when I found your delightful blog. I must say I’m very impressed. As a kindred lit-man and comic fan, I feel you have done what I was always afraid to do and taken up the “Superhero genre as positive” banner.

    In my college days, discussing symbolism, bildungsroman, allegory, etc. I was always assaulted by my own love for the genre and how much that feeling was in opposition to everything my professors, well…professed. The sides seem irreconcilable. Certainly there was a class offered that read Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns but I feared that class, that they would take these straw men and burn them upon the pyre of “adolescent male power fantasy.” In the end, I felt stifled by academia and pursued an elementary teaching career.

    I honor and respect that someone is out there doing what I feared and I look forward to reading your work as much as I can. It must be a lonely road you walk, so I wanted you to know that you walk it walk it for me, as well.

    Good Luck in your future work.


    Benjamin Jacobson, B.A. English

  3. 1. As far as I can remember George, Augustine’s theory was about God filling in the inevitable gaps in our knowledge of the world (i.e. “God is the last piece of the puzzle”), while Delpy’s character is advancing more of a “God is Love/intersubjectivity” argument. Of course, there’s a lot in Augustine that I haven’t read yet, so you may be thinking of an entirely different gap that I’m not aware of! (also–I haven’t read Simmons, but I like his penchant for Keatsian titles!)


    Thank you so much! I hope you’ll make the acquaintance of the others that have made the superheroes-as-objects-of-literary-criticism road very pleasant to walk indeeed–like Peiratikos, Marc Singer, J.W. Hastings, John Commonplacebook, Matt Rossi, Bruce Baugh, etc.–they, and many other fine blogs, are to your left on the sidebar. Also, if you find yourself inspired to write some criticism of your own–the International Journal of Comic Art is the place to submit it. Thanks for reading!


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