John Crowley: Little, Big

I don’t know if any of you have read this brilliant novel, but there is a character in it, named Ariel Hawksquill, who is supposed to be the greatest modern master of the art of memory (meaning an elaborate memory palace system). I’ll just share with you a long paragraph that lays out, for purposes of the novel, what’s meant by “the art of memory”:

“The Art of Memory, as it is described by ancient writers, is a method by which the Natural Memory we are born with can be improved tremendously, beyond recognition in fact. The ancients agreed that vivid pictures in a strict order were the most easily remembered. Therefore, in order to construct an Artificial Memory of great power, the first step (Quintilian and other authorities agree on this, though they diverge at other points) is to choose a Place: a temple, for instance, or a city street of shops and doorways, or the interior of a house — any place that has parts which occur in a regular order. This Place is committed to memory carefully and well, so well that the rememberer can scurry around it backwards, forwards, any which way at will. The next step is to create vivid symbols or images for the things one wishes to remember — the more shocking and highly-colored the better, according to the experts: a ravished nun, say, for the idea of Sacrilege, or a cloaked figure with a bomb for Revolution. These symbols are then cast onto the various parts of the memory Place, its doors, niches, forecourts, windows, closets, and other spaces; and then the rememberer has simply to go around his memory Place, in any order he wishes, and take from each spot the Thing which symbolizes the Notion which he wishes to remember. The more one wishes to remember, of course, the larger the house of memory must be; it usually ceases to be an actual place, as actual places tend to be too plain and incommodious, and becomes an imaginary place, as large and varied as the rememberer can make it. Wings can be added at will (and with practice); architectural styles can vary with the subject-matter they are meant to contain. There were even refinements of the system whereby not Notions but actual words were to be remembered by complex symbols, and finally individual letters: so that a collection of sickle, millstone, and hacksaw instantly brings the word God to mind when gathered from the appropriate mental nook. The whole process was immensely complicated and tedious and was for the most part rendered obsolete by the invention of the filing-cabinet.”

Looks interesting. I’ll check it out when I get back…

Great post mate. I find characters such as these very fascinating. Memory isn’t just a natural gift but can be learnt !!!

Shanu, not sure why this post is here but a rug, piece of rubber, even a blanket etc under it will help.

I started thinking more of this topic and was wondering if anyone uses an actual palace for their mnemonics?

Example: Acquired pictures from the internet of a palace then used them as a loci or even visited a palace somewhere in RL.

Sorry about Shanu – he was a spammer and I banned him.

Not quite a palace, but: