Tag Archives: Memory

Memory

“Cranes keep landing as night falls.”

So begins The Echo Maker, Richard Power’s book about Capgras Syndrome. And so marks the end of my attempt to read Galatea 2.2.

Maybe it’s telling that I have been unable to finish both of the novel-length books I’ve started this year. Perhaps it’s implicates that I no longer have the patience for reading material that I don’t enjoy.  But I fear that my tastes and tolerance have narrowed as I’ve gotten older. I’ve stop dabbling and started honing in my preferences becoming less maleable and more certain of what I do and do not like.

I’ve always been proud of my electic and unconventional taste in reading material. But now I wonder if I give up on books because I’ve lost the broad-minded, willing-to-explore attitude of my youth. In my defense, I found  Galatea 2.2 clinical and lacking in emotional impact.  It is not Power’s best work (whatever best work may mean). And it’s time to read something that I am motivated to pick up and finish.

The Echo Maker, another Richard Power novel, is about a man who has a near fatal accident on a lonely stretch of road deep in the heartland of Nebraska. While he survives, he is no longer able to recognize the closest person in his life believing her to be an imposter. Capgras syndrome as Wikipedia defines it, “is a disorder in which a person holds a delusion that a friend, spouse, parent, or other close family member has been replaced by an identical-looking impostor.”

The Echo Maker gives a better explanation.  The brain recognizes the loved one but can no longer emotionally connect to them. Because of recognition but lack of connection, the brain convinces itself  that the loved one is an impostor.

I’ve always been fascinated by disorders of the brain, especially those dealing with disorders of memory. Memory has been the obsession of my adulthood. It’s the reason I’m snap-happy with the camera.  Why any book about memory or forgetting has an immediate hold over me.

When and how did it start? Ever since watching Memento, I’ve developed a low-level curiosity for memory disorders. The Radio Lab program on Memory and Forgetting made me realize just exactly how shaky a structure our memory is. My brief encounters with Philosophy over the years has taught me about the subjective nature of perception and memory. My own personal beliefs about life, reality, and the ability for one’s perceptions to shape one’s life has solidified the importance and inaccuracies of memory in my life.

In the case of Capgras Syndrome, the memory is still there, but the emotions behind those memories are removed. This is so disturbing to the patient that his brain conjures and accepts the explanation of an imposter. He sacrifices logic when the connection of his memories to his emotions are in question. It pinpoints to the importance of memory to human beings.

Memory serves as the vehicle for our emotional connection to places, things, people. Without memory, we lose our connection to the world.

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Galatea 2.2: Grasping for things lost in memory and first lines

Galatea 2.2 is a retelling of the greek myth of Pygamalion.

Pygmalion was a great sculptor. In order to prove his skill, Pygmalion decides to carve a statue so life-like that it would rival the beauty of any real woman. When he is finished, his work is so spectacular, so beautiful, that he promptly falls in love. It is a tragedy to fall in love with your own creation.

George Bernard Shaw wrote a play based on this myth. In the play, two linguist make a bet to turn a flower woman into an elegant duchess. You probably recognize the plot since it was made into a movie called My Fair Lady.

Galatea 2.2 retells this story in the modern age. A group of scientists and an author make a wager to create a machine that can interpret great works of literature in such a way as to fool everyone into thinking it was human.

The story centers around the protagonist, Richard Powers.  In the story, Powers, adrift in a mid-life crisis, believes he is at the end of his writing career. He knows only the first sentence of his next novel.

“Picture a train heading south.”

But this sentence leads him nowhere. He wonders if he has read it before somewhere. He searches in the catacombs of his memory for it’s genesis.

It reminds me of plots that still haunt me; books that I must’ve read as a child but can no remember the titles of no matter how long I search.  Even as I try to access that memory of those books, they slip further into the recesses of my memory, until I’m not sure how much of the plot I’m making up.

One book from my childhood haunts me particularly. It’s ghost-like in quality. I remember yellow paper, some odd drawings. It was about magic…some sort of transformation took place…something haunting or terrible happened…I think. When I try to access memories of this particular plot, I end up pulling in other storylines, plot points, objects from other books I read as a kid. I will have to be resigned to this unsolved mystery.

But Galatea 2.2 has given me an idea, it would be nice to document the first lines of every book I read when I start them. It’d be an interesting exercise.

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