On memory

I recall him (though I have no right to speak that sacred verb—only one man on earth did, and that man is dead) holding a dark passionflower in his hand, seeing it as it had never been seen, even had it been stared at from the first light of dawn till the last light of evening for an entire lifetime.

Borges, Collected Fictions, “Funes, His Memory,” page 131

In Borges’ telling, Funes is a young man of eighteen or nineteen years when he is thrown from a horse and crippled. His physical immobility is coupled with a strange kind of mental stasis: where before he forgot things easily (as we all do), now he remembers everything in the most exacting detail. He can recreate in his mind every moment that he’s ever experienced, down to the temperature of the air, the exact clouds in the sky, the slightest twitch on someone’s face. With so much to recall, he can no longer live. After a few years spent lost in his own encyclopedic mind, he dies.

A huge amount of information is transferred to the brain through the sensory organs, yet our interpretations of the world are not based on new information alone, but on the collation of new information with copious memory.

Hara, Designing Design, page 103

As we live, each new potential memory is weighed against the memories that came before. The mind is its own editor, choosing which memories to keep and which to discard. Without this editorial skill, we would all be as crazy and reclusive as Ireneo Funes; with it, we have the capacity to learn.

Metaphor is the lifeblood of art, if it is not art itself. Metaphor is our vocabulary for connecting what we’re experiencing now with what we have experienced before.

Tharp, The Creative Habit, page 64

We spend most of our lives looking back, with only the occasional, furtive glance ahead. We are expert historians, but only armchair astrologers; we leave predictions of the future to the gods or the insane. And well enough: if we could look forward as well as we look back, it would be as crippling as a break to the spine.

Related books

The Creative Habit

Twyla Tharp

Tharp’s treatise on creativity applies as well to writing or design as it does to dance.

Collected Fictions

Jorge Luis Borges

Short, surreal little tales that experiment with the form of the story and often take the library as their subject.