Short Response “Two features of the art of memory should be emphasized here. One is that it depends essentially upon a stable system of places. The other is that remembering relates implicitly to the human body and that acts of memory are envisaged as taking place on a human scale; some practitioners of the art speak of the rhetorician as walking around his memory-building as he seeks to imprint upon his mind the long sequences of thought which he wishes to remember. These two features of the art of memory give us vital clues, I believe, for understanding the type of forgetting which is characteristic of modernity. A major source of forgetting, I want to argue, is associated with processes that separate social life from locality and from human dimensions: superhuman speed, megacities, that are so enormous as to be unmemorable, consumerism disconnected from labour process, the short lifespan of urban architecture, the disappearance of walkable cities. What is being forgotten in modernity is profound, the human-scale-ness of life, the experience of living and working in a world of social relationships that are known. There is some kind of deep transformation in what might be described as the meaning of life based on shared memories, and that meaning is eroded by a structural transformation in the life-spaces of modernity.”
—Paul Connerton, How Modernity Forgets (2009)
The memoir is a literary genre characteristic of our contemporary moment’s fascination with the self and with the personal. In Brain on Fire, Susannah Cahalan attempts to piece together a self gone missing—to paraphrase Anne Carson’s words in Eros the Bittersweet—using the tools of language, narrative, and writing. Cahalan’s partakes in the “art of memory” that Paul Connerton describes above as she writes despite what she has forgotten due to her illness. Her memory has been literally compromised by disease. However, we know from Carson that language, in and of itself, is a compromised tool—there is always some element of distance that exists between our inner lives of thoughts, emotions, and memories and the words we have to communicate. In other words, in language, a part of our selves is always missing.
In this short response of roughly 500 words, consider Cahalan’s approach to reconstructing her past through narrative. What are some of the practices and techniques that she uses throughout her book to tell her story? Where is her language and style most revealing of her relationship to her self gone missing, so to speak? Point to 2-3 specific moments in the text (use quotes and citations) in order to back up your claims. You may also reference any other concepts or readings we have encountered in class in order to craft your response.