The Unfamiliar Subjunctive

Monday, July 1, 2013

About two years ago, Neil Young released an album of live performances from the mid-1980s. During an interview that addressed the long delay in making this material available at a better quality than whatever bootlegs might be floating around, Young commented, “The only thing I can do is go forward. It’s the only place that doesn’t have any ghosts and shadows from the past.”

I’m less confident about the vacancy of the future. In fact, creativity can find a renewal in the ways that “ghosts and shadows from the past” reiterate their claims. “Remorse is memory awake,” Emily Dickinson wrote. In that spirit, my response to Neil Young would be that the future’s where the unfinished grievances have to hide in places as unfamiliar to them as it is to me. The imagination is most comfortable – and can be most comforting – when that which haunts us has to struggle with an unfamiliar terrain. Enter, stage left, the subjunctive.