sulle note
September 24, 2015

it's supposed to be fairly straightforward, the process of taking notes to remember what i read. my memory is fragile. it can never recall the words it wants, nor the names nor, god forgive, the dates. to insure my mind, broken from the beginning, against the future, to stimulate my memory when it lazes -- there are notes.

i have been reading a world history textbook, to refurnish some of the rooms in my head, in some style that differs from contemporaneity's desperate pleas for attention. halfway through the rise of islam, i wondered why i was recording the names of the three most prominent rulers in the Abbasid dynasty --

wondering 'why' at this juncture has distracted me sufficiently from history to write a trite something about the other rooms that decorate my thought, a thematic trend in my conflict with words.

-- provided the world of data persists, these names will be virtually at hand in the open hood of an internet connection. is the taking of a note, the 'download to desktop', a significant transaction? lusting for the mindless literary absorption of proper youth1, i doubt academic diligence is necessary. although, history's names are important to know from paper and screen.

this confusion applies elsewhere, too, with my kindle. in the intervening trams, between office and office (my home i carry with me), i take breaks from watching people pass in anna karenina and emerson. it is logistically unsavory to both read, and take notes while standing in the bustle of daily rome. my absorption is left to its labour, in the case of tolstoy. forgetting to transcribe its acknowledgement in fitted wallpaper. preferring instead a mess of household items on the floor. this literature is not history.

the more confused comes with software. in the land where i come across computers, knowledge is etched in experiments and practice, as the written records are notoriously incomplete and difficult to read. the notes are a reference and no guide. (it is dante who takes vergil to hell; most of us are only given satan.) i don't take notes for my software, because computers have rid me of the need. they store every information in an abstract symbol table, and i no longer have need of paper's space. only excessive associations.

walter ong's 'orality and literacy' proves the mind is capable of adequate memory, in exchange for the textual trinkets of modern expression. right now, though, this style of mind does not seem to be in vogue. it has no memory of darwin's adaptive injunction, for example, and also must be prepared to consistently admit; it does not know everything. i think it has a certain sex appeal at parties. it can be both the subject and object of gendered domination. no romance languages that i know (though i have never really known any) accomodate this flexibility. there is little sexier to me than a concept that does not need words2.

i am not sure which mind mine is. ideally, of course, i would have a room for everything. but i have never been quite able to trust plato's sense of things, meaning that i have never quite been able to clean the mess and keep my mind in reasoned, ethical order. i came across a 16th century map of the world where north and south were inverted. my italy, greece and china changed. on the contrary, without my foreknowledge an italian lady cleaned and folded the relatively messy room i call mine at my homestay this yesterday, and i enjoyed the folded clothes. i didn't want to mention they were on the floor because they were used. it seemed cruel to undo her work's intent. the notes i take when reading are more often a beer coaster where i can spill distractions than they are a clean meal consumed with candid cutlery. despite, my habit harks to hold them to the former.

my memory is fragile. i read this text back over to see why i started writing. repetition does good things to bring me back, and my notes are useful for this kind of reflective future. one something that developed from islam (i remember without having to turn anywhere) is sufism. the overview in writing was very brief, but the claim is that love is greater than intellect. i take this to mean that we find unexpected futures more enlightening than recollected pasts. the mind where i find myself forgetful is in ... present.


  1. i recommend 'The Redemption of Althalus' by David and Leigh Eddings.

  2. i am no universal phenomenon !! people may keep their preferences.',

author Lachlan Kermode

Written by Lachlan Kermode who lives and works in Princeton. You should check out his Resume, GitHub, or Twitter.