Memento mori


All photographs are memento mori. To take a photograph is to participate in another person’s (or thing’s) mortality, vulnerability, mutability. Precisely by slicing out this moment and freezing it, all photographs testify to time’s relentless melt.
Susan Sontag

I came across this quote earlier today at a exhibit of Binh Danh‘s beautiful photos.

A photography is always about the past, something that is already gone. It is a reminder of the ephemeral nature of any situation, experience and life. This situation, experience and life will be gone too, and so will eventually all of humanity.

In the same way, I find that thoughts are always about the past. They are either obviously about the past, apparently about the present – yet really about something that is already gone, or apparently about the future – but always projections based on the past. All thoughts are memento mori as well.

I can explore this through stories, reflect on how ephemeral my experiences and life is, find a new sense of urgency and appreciation that way, and a help in reorganizing my priorities in life.

And I can explore the ephemeral nature of everything in immediacy, as it happens here now. I can expore it through the sense fields, one field at a time. When I bring attention to the sounds, what do I find? Do any sound hang around? If a sound seems to last for a while, does it really? Can I notice how stories about past, current and possible future sounds create a sense of continuity? Can I find continuity outside of those stories? Can I notice how a story tells me a sound is similar to or the same as a previous sound? Is it really the same?

If a story comes up and looks the same as a story from the past, is that story really the same? If a sensation is here and I tell myself that it is the same as a past sensation, is that sensation really the same? Can I find anything that stays? Can I find anything that is the same as something that (stories tells me) happened in the past?

I can bring attention to that which appears the most as what I am. What is it? How does it appear in each sense field? When I explore it through each sense field, one at a time, does it stay the same in any of them? Is it content of experience? How is it similar to other content of experience? Is it really different from any other content of experience, apart from the story telling me it is what I am? Is it what I really am?


Initial outline…..

  • susan sontag, photos = memento mori
    • photos, always of what was, reminder of the ephemeral nature of any situation, experience and life (I will be gone too, and eventually all of humanity)
    • also, photos reflect thoughts, both about the past, about what is already gone

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