How My Mind Works II
Bill Long 11/20/08
Though I am quite satisfied with this picture of the mind I am developing, I recognize that I am indebted to Shakespeare and Augustine for some of the language that inspired the picture. In Book X of the Confessions, located in that difficult part of the Confessions that almost no one reads, Augustine talks about issues of time and memory. Here are his words, which are incomparably more beautiful in Latin:
"Great is the power of memory. It is a true marvel, O my God, a profound and infinite multiplicity! And this is the mind, and this I myself am. What, then, am I, O my God? Of what nature am I? A life various, and manifold, and exceedingly vast. Behold in the numberless halls and caves, in the innumerable fields and dens and caverns of my memory, full without measure of numberless kinds of things -- present there either through images as all bodies are; or present in the things themselves as are our thoughts; or by some notion or observation as our emotions are, which the memory retains even though the mind feels them no longer, as long as whatever is in the memory is also in the mind -- through all these I run and fly to and fro. I penetrate into them on this side and that as far as I can and yet there is nowhere any end. So great is the power of memory, so great the power of life in man whose life is mortal!" Confessions X.xvii.
Augustine's language is rich, his vision powerful, his passion compelling. Yet, he only floats through his image, as it were, on the way to God. He wants to "pass beyond this power of mine that is called memory." Why? "That I may come to thee, O lovely Light," Ibid. A few sentences later, he says:
"I will also pass beyond this power of mine that is called memory, desiring to reach thee where thou canst be reached, and wishing to cleave to thee where it is possible to cleave to thee."
Memory for Augustine, and the structure of the mind, is only like a flickering image to vault him into the presence of God.
That, indeed, is a provocative idea, but it isn't where I am taking my essay. Rather, I want to stop and develop the concept of the caverns, so to speak, so that they key to my own memory is understood. Indeed, one of my first Billphorisms (# 3) is derived from a humorous encounter I had with the President's secretary at a Kansas college. When we were talking about memory one day and I mentioned some things about how mine worked, she said, "Oh, so you have a photogenic memory?" I spun around, as if showing off the latest fashion, and said, simply, "Yes." Rather than using terms like "photographic" or "eidetic," then, I want to deal with caverns.
Using the word cavern to describe memory is powerful because it suggests something mysterious which we all easily picture. One of the reasons I fell in love with Shakespeare's Othello was because of Othello's first long speech to Desdemona's father about the time she fell in love with Othello. She fell in love with him, among other reasons, because he was a man of adventure, who had travelled the world winning battles and accomplishing deeds of derring-do. He says:
"Her father loved me; oft invited me;
Still question'd me the story of my life,
From year to year, the battles, sieges, fortunes,
That I have passed.
I ran it through, even from my boyish days,
To the very moment that he bade me tell it;
Wherein I spake of most disastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field
Of hair-breadth scapes i' the imminent deadly breach,
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery, of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels' history:
Wherein of antres vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks and hills whose heads touch heaven
It was my hint to speak," Othello I.3.138ff.
The two-word clause "antres vast" stuck with me. An antre is a cave or cavern, a place where he found refuge from and "hair-breadth scapes" when he was being chased. Caverns, then, are places of refuge as well as places of storage. That is what I got from Augustine and Shakespeare. And now, drawing fully on those classic sources and developing them yet further, we can speak yet more of my mind as a series of caverns.
Let's turn, in the final essay, to the way that my "cavern system" works and to potential problems in the system.