Thursday, June 02, 2005


I write little notes all the time - on my laptop, on scraps of paper, or as remembered things, cued off a mnemonic. Sometimes I develop these notes into fuller thoughts or into short essays. But most often they remain nothing more than short hints or observations.

These are my index cards to life. I've made thousands of them over the years. I've lost hundreds. Most are uncategorized. Some, I have sorted into categories such as:

Broken Mirror
Frozen Time
Truth as Narrative
Cultural Horizons
Love, Love, Love
Levels of Consciousness
The Land of Stepping Stones
Truth is Beauty
The Puzzle-Solvers
and so on...

The following ones are a few categorized under: The Labyrinth of Memory

Funes, the Memorious

We, in a glance, perceive three wine glasses on the table; Funes saw all the shoots, clusters, and grapes of the vine. He remembered the shapes of the clouds in the south at dawn on the 30th of April of 1882, and he could compare them in his recollection with the marbled grain in the design of a leather-bound book which he had seen only once, and with the lines in the spray which an oar raised in the Rio Negro on the eve of the battle of the Quebracho. These recollections were not simple; each visual image was linked to muscular sensations, thermal sensations, etc. He could reconstruct all his dreams, all his fancies. Two or three times he had reconstructed an entire day. He told me: I have more memories in myself alone than all men have had since the world was a world. And again: My dreams are like your vigils.

-Borges, Funes the Memorious

The Art of Memory

I've written before that I see the world as it is seen by a cartographer. Words, ideas, and especially numbers are concrete things which inhabit a space in my mind. All sequences curl up into spirals (this is true of both the numbers and the alphabet) and both wind and unwind as I view them, rearranging and twisting into angles I can view. Old memories are disconnected islands. Hazy memories are dissolving substances; I try to rebuild them by pasting other memories on them, the way one might slap clay onto clay. Thin, electric lines (of experience?) weave these disjointed spaces together.

The Elaborate Art of Memory Palaces

It was Matteo Ricci, that wandering Jesuit, who introduced the art of memory palaces to Eastern civilization. A memory palace is a method for visualizing all of your memories, an internal architecture which may start as a small house and then expand to include several floors, balconies, hidden chambers. Later, you may add closets or an extra garden, each new space appearing as a repository, a storehouse for your memories. The place should also be fictive, a new creation, so as to flexibly accomodate the unpredictable accumulation of memories.

Jonathon Spence, in his book on Ricci adds:

"Therefore the Chinese should struggle with the difficult task of creating fictive places, or mixing the fictive with the real, fixing them permanently in their minds by constant practice and review so that at last the fictive spaces become "as if real, and can never be erased."

Sacred land

In the same trip to France in which I encountered the dead man, I also visited Mont St. Michel.

We arrived late at the night and that is the best time to arrive. The tourists have all gone back to their hotels but the stone corridors of the Mount are open, the recessed lights cast their glow like torches and, even if briefly, you feel as if you have stepped out of the river of time.

The next day we ran up to the top where the small church at the pinnacle was beginning a Mass. The windows were all open, with their wide views of the muddy plain below. We all had on layers of jackets, huddling from the bitter winds of the French winter. The morning sun lit up the church, cast its rays upon the stone walls and reflected off the swinging thurible which threw out its own incense curls. We sang and then prayed softly, the air disturbed now only by the exhales of frosted breath.

Dreaming tracks

"It was during his time as a school-teacher that Arkady learned of the labyrinth of invisible pathways which meander all over Australia and are known to Europeans as 'Dreaming-tracks' or 'Songlines'; to the Aboriginals as the 'Footprints of the Ancestors' or the 'Way of the Law'.
Aboriginal creation myths tell of the legendary totemic beings who had wandered over the continent in the Dreamtime, singing out the name of everything that crossed their path - birds, animals, plants, rocks, waterholes - and so singing the world into existence"

-from Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines

If memory palaces are a scheme which invents a landscape to accomodate memories then the Australian songlines are the inverse: Invented memories or songs which are used to create an internal map of an existing physical landscape. Each architectural is named and placed within a story. The narrative develops along with the path on the landscape. A particular tale also marks a pathway.

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