Thursday, August 5, 2010

memory and the Pergamon

How does memory function? Christa Wolf writes about electrical impulses and neurones, but also describes memory as though it were a kind of awesome organism, a thing with a mind of its own. Memory's often described as a palimpsest, with new memories inscribed over old ones and the beautiful script of a life all entwined, inbetween blossoming and fading, to become the crumpled loops and lumps of a life well written.

I think memory's more fickle than that; the most recently written moments can sometimes be the most quickly forgotten. It's not all totally chronological, as a palimpsest is, with the oldest script fading fastest. Ancient, instinctive, primeval memories - of fear, love, of mother and father - are the oldest ones, yet they are also the ones that stick the strongest. The most easily legible memory in our brains can sometimes be the one that was written long ago.

Perhaps here, in the Pergamon museum in Berlin - a place brimming with relics of the past, with memory made literal - I can find a better metaphor for memory, a blueprint of how and why we remember what we do.

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