Down Memory Lane

While you might wish to read the short novel to which this New York Times article refers, the book I’d much rather invite you to read is Frances Yates’s fine study from long ago, The Art of Memory.

The difference between Simon Critchley’s fiction and Yates’s pathbreaking study is that Yates shows us how memory palaces and other aids to recollection actually worked in the centuries before the invention of the printing press and the consequent discovery of how to make the data of life durable and reliably transmissible.

We’ve lived so long with printed texts that we have largely lost the ability to imagine what the world was like without them.  Yeats’s book, a classic of Renaissance scholarship, written by a woman who boldly went her own way as an intellectual, helps us recover that ability to a great extent.  Her book belongs on the shelf right next to A. Roger Ekirch’s equally-readable look at what the world was like before the invention of artificial light, At Day’s Close.

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