Essay Work Forgetfulness

Essay Work Forgetfulness-39
In short, our betters will tell us from their experience which books we should be reading—rereading, that is—since our first reading is hardly reading at all.Once the canon is established, then, it is unlikely to change, since who has time to check out the stuff that didn’t make it? Does the whole posture, both Nabokov’s and that of critical orthodoxy, bear any relation to the reality of our reading habits, particularly in a contemporary environment that offers us more and more books and less and less time to read them? Why does he describe our inability to recall the sense impressions of a few seconds before as “forgetting”?

In short, our betters will tell us from their experience which books we should be reading—rereading, that is—since our first reading is hardly reading at all.Once the canon is established, then, it is unlikely to change, since who has time to check out the stuff that didn’t make it? Does the whole posture, both Nabokov’s and that of critical orthodoxy, bear any relation to the reality of our reading habits, particularly in a contemporary environment that offers us more and more books and less and less time to read them? Why does he describe our inability to recall the sense impressions of a few seconds before as “forgetting”?

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Yet even as I write now I am aware of scores of sense impressions.

The position of papers, teacups, pens, phone, and books on the glass surface of my living-room table, which is also reflecting the opposite wall with its shelves and bric-a-brac and, as it happens, fresh white paint; the hum of the fridge and a distant siren, a dog barking and the sunlight bouncing off the façade across the street yellowing the cream color of my curtains.

Of course one reason I won’t be able to recall all my impressions is that they will have been substituted by others, equally rich, plus the fact that having written down a few elements of the here and now, any memory of it I might have mustered will be colored if not hijacked by that account.

In dismissing the myth of total recall, Draaisma reminds us that the memories we do retain are largely fabrications, re-workings, shifting narratives, simplifications, distortions, photos replacing faces, and so on; what’s more, that there is no reason to suppose that the original impression is intact somewhere in our heads.

Caregivers often use intuition to help decide what to do.

No one gives lessons on how to relate to someone with memory loss.

At once we feel we know the novel better, or at least are more aware of its careful construction. Nabokov continues his essay, quoting Flaubert: Comme l’on serait savant si l’on connaissait bien seulement cinq ou sìx livres.

(“What a scholar one might be if one knew well only some half a dozen books.”) The ideal here, it seems, is total knowledge of the book, total and simultaneous awareness of all its contents, total recall.

Knowledge, wisdom even, lies in depth, not extension.

The book, at once complex and endlessly available for revisits, allows the mind to achieve an act of prodigious control.

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