We flatter ourselves that our lives are as continuous and coherent as a film, and that we can display any part of it on our inner cinema screen whenever we like simply by pressing the rewind button in our mind. This is not so, or at least not so in my case. I am very far indeed from the man studied by the great Russian psychologist A.R. Luria and described in his book The Mind of a Mnemonist. The subject of that book was a man who could forget nothing. His hypermnesia, far from being a useful accomplishment, was a severe handicap, almost as bad in its way as that of being able to remember nothing.
I have forgotten great swathes of my life. By my desk is a table piled with notebooks in which, over decades, I have scribbled things down for various purposes, and when I look in them I realize that both the things written and the reason for which they were written are often as unknown to me as if they had been written by someone else entirely. The past, our own included, is another country, and if one were to write a continuous record of one’s life, it would require almost as much research as writing the biography of someone else.
The Mind of a Mnemonis…
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The curious thing is that much of what was said to me and that I noted down was (one might have thought) memorable, or even indelible. Yet I have forgotten who it was who said to me, and in what circumstances, “I put a sponge in me and I can’t get it out,” “That was the man who cut up our cat to teach us a lesson,” “No one wants an arsonist,” “I wanted to kill a Hindu girl, a gun would probably be best,” “Her baby was bribed with forty cigarettes to go to her funeral,” “The…