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  1. Last 7 days
    1. The world isn't divided up into neatly separated components, and I believe it's good to collide very different types of questions. One moment Anki is asking me a question about the temperature chicken should be cooked to. The next: a question about the JavaScript API. Is this mixing doing me any real good? I'm not sure.

      I think context-switching helps a lot as it makes it more challenging to retrieve, thus making stronger neural connections

    2. Of course, instead of using Anki I could have taken conventional notes, using a similar process to build up an understanding of the paper. But using Anki gave me confidence I would retain much of the understanding over the long term.

      Short term memory vs Long-term memory

      One easy example that comes to my mind is studying for exams vs studying for changing worldview

    1. In my personal memory practice, nearly all the benefit has come from learning how to: better digest material; make better questions and answers; better connect the memory system to my life and creative work

      we need: * critical thinking * better analytical skills

    1. Today, we explore whether memory still has a practical place in the world of big data and computing. As a science writer, Lynne has written 18 books including The Memory Code. Her research showed that without writing, people used the most extraordinary suite of memory techniques to memorise massive amounts of practical information. This explains the purpose of monuments like Stonehenge, the Nazca Lines and the statues of Easter Island. Her next book, Unlocking The Memory Code explains the most effective memory methods from around the world and throughout time. Lynne shows how these can be invaluable in modern world.

      I need to read this book. And re-review this video with a notecard handy. (I wonder if there's a way to use hypothes.is for notes on video/audio?)

  2. Apr 2024
    1. We make notes mentally too,for that is the only way to gather knowledge, and a well trainedmemory is always a great asset,

      I appreciate the space for an oral perspective here in a book from1911.

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  3. Mar 2024
    1. It is best not to trust too much tomemory until the routine vrork is thoroughly mastered.

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    1. quote from Schopenhauer’s essay, ‘How to think for oneself’, §268:“the most beautiful thought, if not written down, is in danger of being irretrievably forgotten.”It’s from the passage where he observes that Lichtenberg thought for himself in both senses of the phrase, unlike Herder.The original essay, “Selbstdenken” was part of Schopenhauer’s book Parerga und Paralipomena II. Last authorised edition, Erstausgabe Berlin, A. W. Hayn 1851, online textLooks like Povarnin was a Schopenhauer fan!
  4. Feb 2024
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hWVrz5oCt2w<br /> The meaning of Hand Gestures in Art History<br /> Amuze Art Lectures

      Middle and ring fingers together to represent modesty. (He doesn't say it, but it also could stand for "M" as in Medici??)

      Finger pointing at viewer may indicate a self portrait.

      Woman's hand on abdomen may represent pregnancy, a fertile marriage, or the desire to bear children.

    1. As thehistorian Jean Leclercq, himself a Benedictine monk, puts it, ‘in theMiddle Ages, one generally read by speaking with one’s lips, at leastin a whisper, and consequently hearing the phrases that the eyessee’.6

      quoted section from:<br /> [au moyen âge, on lit généralement en pronançant avec les lèvres, au moins à voix basse, par conséquent en entendant les phrases que les yeux voient.] Jean Leclercq, Initiation aux auteurs monastiques du Moyen Âge, 2nd edn (Paris: Cerf, 1963), p. 72.

      What connection, if any, is there to the muscle memory of movement while speaking/reading along with sound/hearing to remembering what we read? Is there research on this? Implications for orality and memory?

    1. Virginia Woolf described her childhood at 22 Hyde Park Gate: ‘Ourduties were very plain and our pleasures absolutely appropriate.’ Life wasdivided into two spaces – indoors, in a nursery and a book-lined drawingroom, and outdoors, in Kensington Gardens. ‘There were smells and flowersand dead leaves and chestnuts, by which you distinguished the seasons, andeach had innumerable associations, and power to flood the brain in a second.’
    1. What you are reading is likely cleverer than you (of which reading as Mortimer J. Adler points out we should be doing), which constitutes "Like an intelligent and interesting conversation partner."

      While Adler may say that a text could be cleverer than you are (is this a direct quote? reference if so), there is an associative nature to our thinking by which one can read further into a text than anything which is actually present. Did the author really mean to "say" the additional associative material? Was it in their lived experience to make such tangential references which associate things in your mind as well?

      One ought to be careful that an author can only mean something so far, unless one has much more experience with their additional works and context. If it's not there, does it really exist? Did they mean it?

      These associative tricks are what can make texts much richer and deeper than they may have claim to be. Though this doesn't mean that they aren't good "conversation partners."

      compare this with doubletalk and https://boffosocko.com/2016/09/30/complexity-isnt-a-vice-10-word-answers-and-doubletalk-in-election-2016/

  5. Jan 2024
    1. ZK II note 9/8b 9/8b On the general structure of memories, see Ashby 1967, p. 103 . It is then important that you do not have to rely on a huge number of point-by-point accesses , but rather that you can rely on relationships between notes, i.e. references , that make more available at once than you would with a search impulse or with one thought - has fixation in mind.

      This underlies the ideas of songlines and oral mnemonic practices and is related to Vannevar Bush's "associative trails" in As We May Think.

      Luhmann, Niklas. “ZK II Zettel 9/8b.” Niklas Luhmann-Archiv, undated. https://niklas-luhmann-archiv.de/bestand/zettelkasten/zettel/ZK_2_NB_9-8b_V.

    1. once you dissolve that boundary you can't tell whose memories or who's anymore that's kind of the big thing about um that that kind of memory wiping the the wiping the identity on these 00:06:18 memories is a big part of multicellularity

      for - key insight - multicellularity - memory wiping

      • key insight
        • individuals have information in their memories about survival
        • when they merge and join, they pool their information and you can't tell whose memories came from whom initially
        • this memory wiping is a key aspect of multcellularity

      investigate - salience of memory wiping for multicellularity - This is a very important biological behavior. - Perform a literature review to understand examples of this

      question - biological memory wiping - can it be extrapolated to social superorganism?

    1. And everything that I learn, I learn for a particular task, and once it’s done, I immediately forget it, so that if ten years later, I have to – and this gives me great joy — if I have to get involved with something close to or directly within the same subject, I would have to start again from zero, except in certain very rare cases, for example Spinoza, whom I don’t forget, who is in my heart and in my mind.

      https://deleuze.cla.purdue.edu/lecture/lecture-recording-1-f/

      Gilles Deleuze: The ABC Primer / Recording 1 - A to F<br /> DECEMBER 15, 1988

    1. Everything that I learn, I learn for a particular task, and once it’s done, I immediately forget it, so that if ten years later, I have to—and this gives me great joy—if I have to get involved with something close to or directly within the same subject, I would have to start again from zero, except in certain very rare cases... (The ABC Primer)

      I'm definitely not like this and suspect that most people are not either.

  6. Dec 2023
    1. Wells attempts in this essay to help mankind "pull it's mind together" for the betterment of people and the planet. How is this supposed to happen in a modern media environment which is designed to pull our minds apart as rapidly as possible?

      How might the strength of capitalism be leveraged to push people back toward a common middle rather than split them apart?

    1. Chess titans have anywhere from 20,000 to 100,000 configurations of pieces, or patterns, committed to memory. They are able to quickly pull relevant information from this mammoth database. With a mere glance, a grandmaster can then figure out how the configuration in front of him is likely to play itself out.

      is this from Ognjen Amidzic's research on chess and memory?

    1. New member here, is Zettelkasten the right method for my need? .t3_18fjaya._2FCtq-QzlfuN-SwVMUZMM3 { --postTitle-VisitedLinkColor: #edeeef; --postTitleLink-VisitedLinkColor: #6f7071; --postBodyLink-VisitedLinkColor: #6f7071; } questionI have difficulting remembering important facts and numbers at work. I work in a strategic role for a large logistics firm. There are so many KPIs, initiatives, savings, people plans, etc.My biggest opportunity is recall in meetings to answer questions and further conversations. I can feel it holding me back and I am desperate to address it. I stumbled upon Zettelkasten, is this the right tool for me?

      reply to u/chiefkeif at https://www.reddit.com/r/Zettelkasten/comments/18fjaya/new_member_here_is_zettelkasten_the_right_method/

      Some of your root issues may be addressed directly by engaging with by spaced repetition systems (for improving memory recall: try Anki, Mnemosyne, et al.) as well as mnemonic systems (memory palaces, the major system, etc.). Given that a Zettelkasten can be an instantiation of both of these simultaneously, you may find benefits for using it in such a setting. This being said, you may be better off with either one or both of the more proximal solutions with a zettelkasten being somewhat more distal for your specific needs.

    1. Die erste Neuerung besteht darin, dass Harrison’s Karteikasten so aufgebaut ist, dass er als ein ech-tes Zweitgedächtnis fungiert.

      Cevolini seems to be saying that it was an innovation of Harrison's Ark of Studies that it served as a second memory.

      Surely my translation is "off" as the use of a variety of notes and writing long prior to this were used in this way.

  7. Nov 2023
    1. this is a cancer uh approach that we work on which is to not to kill those cells but to force them to re reconnect to their neighbors and when they reconnect to the 00:31:24 neighbors they once again become part of the collective that's working on making nice skin nice muscle they stop being metastatic and they they go back
      • for: quote - Michael Levin, quote - MET of individuality, quote - memory wipe, quote - cancer therapy - MET of individuality

      • quote: Michael Levin

        • this is a cancer approach that we work on which is to not to kill those cells but to force them to re reconnect to their neighbors and when they reconnect to the neighbors they once again become part of the collective that's working on making nice skin nice muscle they stop being metastatic and they they go back
      • comment

        • Michael refers to cancer as a "memory wipe" where they have forgotten the normative programmed narrative of bodily / collective / multicellular unity
  8. Oct 2023
    1. Take Alter's treatment of the cycle of stories in which the first two matriarchs, Sarah and Rebekah, conspire against elder sons for the benefit of younger ones. Sarah insists that Abraham drive Ishmael, his firstborn, and Ishmael's mother, Hagar, into the desert to die, to protect the inheritance of Sarah's son, Isaac. Rebekah tells her son Jacob to trick his father, the now elderly Isaac, into giving him a blessing rightfully owed to Esau, Jacob's ever-so-slightly older twin brother. The matriarchs' behavior is indefensible, yet God defends it. He instructs Abraham to do as Sarah says, and after Jacob takes flight from an enraged Esau God comes to Jacob in a dream, blesses him, and tells him that he, too, like Abraham and Isaac before him, will father a great nation.Alter doesn't try to explain away the paradox of a moral God sanctioning immoral acts. Instead he lets the Bible convey the seriousness of the problem. When Abraham balks at abandoning Ishmael and Hagar, God commands, "Whatever Sarah says to you, listen to her voice." Rebekah, while instructing Jacob on how to dress like Esau so as to steal his blessing, echoes God's phrase -- listen to my voice" -- not once but twice in an effort to reassure him. As we read on in Alter's translation, we realize that the word "voice" ("kol" in Hebrew) is one of his "key words," that if we could only manage to keep track of all the ways it is used it would unlock new worlds of meaning. In the story of Hagar and Ishmael, God's messenger will tell Hagar that God will save them because he has heard the voice of the crying boy. And the all but blind Isaac will recognize the sound of Jacob's voice, so that although his younger son stands before him with his arms covered in goatskin (to make them as hairy as Esau's), and has even put on his brother's clothes (to smell more like a hunter), Isaac nearly grasps the deceit being perpetrated against him.

      Something fascinating here with respect to orality and associative memory in ancient texts at the border of literacy.

      What do others have to say about the use of "key words" with respect to storytelling and orality with respect to associative memory.

      The highlighted portion is an interesting example.

      What do other examples look like? How common might they be? What ought we call them?

    2. Alter's translation puts into practice his belief that the rules of biblical style require it to reiterate, artfully, within scenes and from scene to scene, a set of "key words," a term Alter derives from Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, who in an epic labor that took nearly 40 years to complete, rendered the Hebrew Bible into a beautifully Hebraicized German. Key words, as Alter has explained elsewhere, clue the reader in to what's at stake in a particular story, serving either as "the chief means of thematic exposition" within episodes or as connective tissue between them.
    1. Links are made by readers as well as writers. A stunning thing that we forget, but the link here is not part of the author’s intent, but of the reader’s analysis. The majority of links in the memex are made by readers, not writers. On the world wide web of course, only an author gets to determine links. And links inside the document say that there can only be one set of associations for the document, at least going forward.

      So much to unpack here...

      What is the full list of types of links?

      There are (associative) links created by the author (of an HTML document) as well as associative (and sometimes unwritten) mental links which may be suggested by either the context of a piece and the author's memory.

      There are the links made by the reader as they think or actively analyze the piece they're reading. They may make these explicit in their own note taking or even more strongly explicit with tools like Hypothes.is which make these links visible to others.

      tacit/explicit<br /> suggested mentally / directly written or made<br /> made by writer / made by reader<br /> others?

      lay these out in a grid by type, creator, modality (paper, online, written/spoken and read/heard, other)

    1. More toward the notes in the video themselves (I'm more in media studies and far less conversant in theater studies): from my own zettelkasten on the live nature/immediacy of performance subject, I've seen how some older cultures (ancient Greeks and all sorts of Indigenous peoples, including modern Australian indigenous) use(d) their associative memories in ways we don't generally today, and as such would have been able to "re-live" performances which have occurred in the past without modern recording tools. Perhaps it's been explored previously, but if it's of interest to you and your current work or perhaps post-Ph.D., Lynne Kelly's Knowledge & Power in Prehistoric Societies: Orality, Memory and the Transmission of Culture (Cambridge, 2015) may be helpful along with the supporting works of Milman Parry, Albert Lord, and Walter J. Ong (esp. Orality and Literacy; Methuen, 1982). If you really want to spelunk this area, there are some additional explorations of these in the overlap of Frances Yates' (1966) discussion of memory theaters in Western culture.

      Robert Kanigel's "Hearing Homer's Song: The Brief Life and Big Idea of Milman Parry (Knopf, 2021), may provide a quick/fun (audiobook available) non-technical introduction into Milman's work on Homer for those who haven't come across it before and are interested in early performance techniques. It provides an intriguing and entertaining detective story on multiple fronts.

      As ever, thanks for sharing your notes and the fascinating references within them... 🗃❤

    1. During the establishment of the covenant between Yahweh and Israel, the people were commanded to destroy the sacred stones of the Canaanites, “You must demolish them and break their sacred stones (masseboth) to pieces” (Exodus 23:24).

      In neighboring cultures in which both have oral practices relating to massebah, one is not just destroying "sacred stones" to stamp out their religion, but it's also destroying their culture and cultural memory as well as likely their laws and other valuable memories for the function of their society.

      View this in light also of the people of Israel keeping their own sacred stones (Hosea 10:1) as well as the destruction of pillars dedicated to Baal in 2 Kings 18:4 and 2 Kings 23:14.

      (Link and) Compare this to the British fencing off the land in Australia and thereby destroying Songlines and access to them and the impact this had on Indigenous Australians.

      It's also somewhat similar to the colonialization activity of stamping out of Indigenous Americans and First Nations' language in North America, though the decimation of their language wasn't viewed in as reciprocal way as it might be viewed now. (Did colonizers of the time know about the tremendous damage of language destruction, or was it just a power over function?)

    2. Absalom set up a massebah for himself as a memorial for he said, “‘I have no son to keep my name in remembrance’; he called the massebah by his own name” (2 Samuel 18:18).

      Use of massebah for remembrance of a name...

      Potentially used for other factors? translation? context?

      See also: https://hypothes.is/a/oqgH4mx9Ee68_dMgihgD0A (Rachel's massebah in Genesis 35:19-20)

    3. Israel was forbidden to set up sacred stones, pillars: “you shall not set up a pillar (massebah), which the LORD your God hates” (Deuteronomy 16:22).

      Relationship to the first two commandments against worshiping other gods and the use of idols?

      How does this relate to the standing stone found in the room at Khirbet Qeiyafa from the time of David?

      Dates of this text with respect to Khirbet Keiyafa?

    4. A special use of the word “stone” = ʼben was to designate a name of the God of Israel: Yahweh is “The Stone of Israel” (Genesis 49:24).
    5. When the people of Israel crossed the Jordan, Joshua commanded the people to set up twelve stones which were taken from the Jordan River as a memorial celebrating that defining moment in the life of Israel, the entrance of the people into the land God had promised to their ancestors (Joshua 4:20). The purpose of those memorial stones was to remind future generations of how the people “crossed the Jordan River on dry ground” (Joshua 4:22).

      Description of the arrangement? Circle? Further or suggested usage?

      Link to Genesis 28:18: https://hypothes.is/a/NF5p8Gx6Ee65Rg_J4tfaMQ

    6. When Jacob had a vision of God, he used a stone as a pillow, but after he woke up from his sleep, “he took the stone (ʼben) that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar (massebah) and poured oil on the top of it” (Genesis 28:18). That stone became a memorial of Jacob’s encounter with God.
    1. Because these religions are old, though, and they’vebeen fiddled with, possibly, I feel some of the original keys from themasters have been lost.
  9. Sep 2023
    1. The Glass Bead Game is "a kind of synthesis of human learning"[11] in which themes, such as a musical phrase or a philosophical thought, are stated. As the Game progresses, associations between the themes become deeper and more varied.[11] Although the Glass Bead Game is described lucidly, the rules and mechanics are not explained in detail.
    1. Jerry Michalski says that The Brain provides him with a "neighborhood perspective" of ideas when he reduces the external link number for his graph down to 1.

      This is similar to Nicholas Luhmann's zettelkasten which provided neighborhoods of related notes based on distance from any particular note.

      Also similar to oral cultures who relied on movement through their environment for encoding memories and later remembering them. [I'll use the tag "environmental memory" to track this until a better name comes along.]

    1. Hamacher, Duane, Patrick Nunn, Michelle Gantevoort, Rebe Taylor, Greg Lehman, Ka Hei Andrew Law, and Mel Miles. “The Archaeology of Orality: Dating Tasmanian Aboriginal Oral Traditions to the Late Pleistocene.” Journal of Archaeological Science, August 10, 2023, 45pp.

      Pre-print.

      See also: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0305440323000997

      Annotation url: urn:x-pdf:d4ccd0952073ac59932f4638381e6b69

      Popular press coverage: https://www.unimelb.edu.au/newsroom/news/2023/august/tasmanian-aboriginal-oral-traditions-among-the-oldest-recorded-narratives

    2. This paper supports arguments that the longevity of orality can exceed ten millennia,providing critical information essential to the further development of theoretical frameworksregarding the archaeology of orality.
    1. Luhmann also described his system as his secondary memory (Zweitgedächtnis), alter ego, or his reading memory or (Lesegedächtnis).

      Zweitgedächtnis, the German Word for secondary memory, might also have been translated as "second brain" and thus the root of this word in the note taking space.

      ref: https://hyp.is/hV9LKm71Eeq9s_f_oWRkEg/takingnotenow.blogspot.com/2007/12/luhmanns-zettelkasten.html

      Originally 2021-12-31 at https://hypothes.is/a/3tjzWGqjEeyDSae3OLOEWw

    1. Your success in reading it is determined by the extent to which you receive everything the writer intended to com­municate.

      The difficult thing to pick apart here is the writer's intention and the reader's reception and base of knowledge.

      In particular a lot of imaginative literature is based on having a common level of shared context to get a potentially wider set of references and implied meanings which are almost never apparent in a surface reading. As a result literature may use phrases from other unmentioned sources which the author has read/knows, but which the reader is unaware. Those who read Western literature without any grounding in the stories within the Bible will often obviously be left out of the conversation which is happening, but which they won't know exists.

      Indigenous knowledge bases have this same feature despite the fact that they're based on orality instead of literacy.

    2. The skill inspectional reader does more than classify a book in his mental card catalogue, and achieve a superficial knowledge of its contents.

      a second use of "mental card catalogue", though somehow he doesn't seem to realize the inherent value for building knowledge... ?

  10. Aug 2023
  11. Jul 2023
    1. lets you to control the sampling rate of the CPU profiler

      better to use Go1.18 versions to avoid these limitations

    2. The example above is highly simplified and omits many details around return values, frame pointers, return addresses and function inlining. In fact, as of Go 1.17, the program above may not even need any space on the stack as the small amount of data can be managed using CPU registers by the compiler

      interesting so if data is small, it is managed by the cpu registers by the compiler, stack is not used

    1. https://www.magneticmemorymethod.com/zettelkasten/

      I'd found this page through general search and then a few days later someone from Metivier's "team" (an SEO hire likely) emailed me to link to it from a random zk page on my own site (not a great one).

      Metivier seems to have come to ZK from the PKM space (via a podcast I listened to perhaps?). This page isn't horrible, but seems to benefit greatly from details I've added to the Wikipedia page over the past few years.

    1. oddly, deprived him of his ability to memorize texts, as if he had traded in rotememorization for deep understanding

      Taixu seems to have claimed that, on awakening (if we describe his experiences as such), his capacity for memorization deteriorated?

      (But maybe he just lost interest in memorization/didn't dedicate as much time to it afterwards?)

    1. They now have the chance to understandthemselves through understanding their tradition.

      It feels odd that people wouldn't understand their own traditions, but it obviously happens. Information overload can obviously heavily afflict societies toward forgetting their traditions and the formation of new traditions, particularly in non-oral traditions which focus more on written texts which can more easily be ignored (not read) and then later replaced with seemingly newer traditions.

      Take for example the resurgence of note taking ideas circa 2014-2020 which completely disregarded the prior histories, particularly in lieu of new technologies for doing them.

      As a means of focusing on Western Culture, the editors here have highlighted some of the most important thoughts for encapsulating and influencing their current and future cultures.

      How do oral traditions embrace the idea of the "Great Conversation"?

    1. Inserting a maincards with lack of memory .t3_14ot4na._2FCtq-QzlfuN-SwVMUZMM3 { --postTitle-VisitedLinkColor: #9b9b9b; --postTitleLink-VisitedLinkColor: #9b9b9b; --postBodyLink-VisitedLinkColor: #989898; } Lihmann's system of inserting a maincard is fundamentally based on a person's ability to remember there are other maincards already inserted that would be related to the card you want to insert.What if you have very poor memory like many people do, what is your process of inserting maincards?In my Antinet I handled it in an enhanced method from what I did in my 27 yrs of research notebooks which is very different then Lihmann's method.

      reply to u/drogers8 at https://www.reddit.com/r/antinet/comments/14ot4na/inserting_a_maincards_with_lack_of_memory/

      I would submit that your first sentence is wildly false.

      What topic(s) cover your newly made cards? Look those up in your index and find where those potentially related cards are (whether you remember them or not). Go to that top level card listed in your index and see what's there or in the section of cards that come after it. Find the best card in that branch and file your new card(s) as appropriate. If necessary, cross-index them with sub-topics in your index to make them more findable in the future. If you don't find one or more of those topics in your index, then create a new branch and start an index entry for one or more of those terms. (You'll find yourself making lots of index entries to start, but it will eventually slow down—though it shouldn't stop—as your collection grows.)

      Ideally, with regular use, you'll likely remember more and more, especially for active areas you're really interested in. However, take comfort that the system is designed to let you forget everything! This forgetting will actually help create future surprise as well as serendipity that will actually be beneficial for potentially generating new ideas as you use (and review) your notes.

      And if you don't believe me, consider that Alberto Cevolini edited an entire book, broadly about these techniques—including an entire chapter on Luhmann—, which he aptly named Forgetting Machines!

  12. Jun 2023
    1. That’s easy. You can’t learn without thinking. Thinking is cognition. It’s the ability to recognize, and reason something out. It is observation with some understanding. Learning occurs when memory is added to thinking. The toddler touches hot stove. It thinks, “ouch, there’s pain.” That is observation, and is thinking. But you can’t say it learned, until the toddler remembers that the sensation of heat gradient when approaching a stove will end in a burn, when the stove is touched

      Learning happens when we add memory to thinking. So, thinking precedes learning, and is fundamental to learning.

      note to self: is thinking required for memory?

    1. “The old order changeth, yielding place to new.” This phrase is repeated by Arthur throughout the work. Tennyson's use of the phrase in both the first and last Idyll, and throughout the work, is indicative of the change in Britain's, and Arthur's, fortunes. At this point, the phrase indicates the passing of Rome and the Heathens; In The Passing of Arthur, it indicates the downfall of Arthur's kingdom.

      This seems to represent the cycle of life, that the old will make place for the new, and will be forgotten or remembered. The new comes, trying to make inroads, and tries to be remembered? (work on this further...)

    1. L’alto mare aperto: Pikolo ha viaggiato per mare e sa cosa vuol dire, è quando l’orizzonte si chiude su se stesso, libero diritto e semplice, e non c’è ormai che odore di mare: dolci cose ferocemente lontane.

      The high sea opens up new possibilities of connecting. This passage of the chapter follows a moment of solid and fixed textual memory. After managing the recitation of two terzine from Inferno 26 that initiate the encounter with Ulysses, Levi indicates his frustration at his inability to translate, but also points to Jean’s ability to connect from afar, from a cultural and linguistic remove. Then a gap in memory, a struggle to recall. Half phrases finally crystallise in a well-remembered line, ‘Ma misi me per l’alto mare aperto’ (Inf. 26, 110). This line first prompts Levi to play the role of teacher, explaining to Jean how ‘misi me’ is not the same as the French ‘je me mis,’ but rather something bolder (see also this annotation). In doing so, in envisioning the liberatory potential of breaking a boundary, a chain, putting oneself beyond a barrier, Levi sees a precious and telling connection between himself and Pikolo: ‘noi conosciamo bene questo impulso’. There is a flattening of difference here, a forging of a bond between two men that stretches across the Mediterranean, across a linguistic and poetic divide. Levi is no longer explaining, translating, teaching; instead, they have found a connection in seeking to go beyond, to break out and be free.

      Importantly, this oceanic connection privileges Jean’s experience over Primo’s technical knowledge. It is by no means the same as the disdain for intellectuals shown by Alex at the beginning of the chapter. Rather, this emphasis on Pikolo’s experience - ‘Pikolo ha viaggiato per mare e sa cosa vuol dire…’ - is a way to privilege what might be gained through the perspective of the cultural outsider. Jean has been on the sea; he apparently knows what Primo describes as that feeling of freedom when there is nothing left but the aroma of the ocean. Has Primo not had that? (Perhaps only in the pages of books, by Salgari, Conrad?) Is he thus able to have a wholly different, more potent experience of Inferno 26 as a result of this ‘non-native’ reading? Earlier in the chapter, the ‘leggero odore’ of paint and tar have - strangely, almost paradoxically - brought to Levi’s mind ‘qualche spiaggia estiva della mia infanzia’, but this is of another order. Primo’s experience seems to have been shore-bound; Jean has truly sailed.

      Because Pikolo knows (and the use of ‘sapere’ is telling here, in contrast to the ‘canoscenza’ of Ulysses’ dictum to follow), Primo can convey with both precision and lyricism that mode of apprehension and feeling of emancipation: ‘è quando l’orizzonte si chiude su se stesso, libero diritto e semplice, e non c’è ormai che odore di mare’. He is envisioning and embodying the possibilities of freedom, of being unbound and certainly not being inundated by odours of a very different kind, such as the paint and tar evoked earlier. The image of the horizon closing in on itself stands in stark contrast to the end of both Dante’s Inferno 26 and the end of this chapter, when it is the sea that closes over Ulysses and his companions, and - by implication and association - over Primo and Jean once more as well. The use of the verb ‘rinchiudere’ in that final moment is also striking, almost as if to imply that there are moments such as this one that open out to the world at large but there is the inevitable return to the horror of the camp that once more closes over them. Here, though, the sea is freedom: it is a simple, straight line of the horizon that connects these individuals together in their desire to escape.

      In that exquisite, bittersweet phrase ‘dolci cose ferocemente lontane,’ there is something not just Ulyssean (‘né dolcezza di figlio…’), not just hybrid (‘dulcis’ and ‘ferox’ together, which also resonates with the ‘viver come bruti’ to come), but also a channeling of Purgatorio. One might think in particular of the opening of Purgatorio 8: ‘Era già l’ora che volge il disio | ai navicanti e ’ntenerisce il core | lo dì c’han detto ai dolci amici addio…’. Here, too, the sweet memory of things left behind is made bitter by their absence and separation across the sea. Such a way of thinking Ulysses and the ocean voyage across the Commedia is almost a banality; it nonetheless serves to give us some impetus to thinking about Levi as a reader of not just Inferno, but of other parts of the poem as well.

      And it serves to have us perhaps think about this powerful moment of Mediterranean connectivity a little differently, to take that insight of valorising Jean’s non-native perspective out to the world at large. In his 1990 work Poetics of Relation, Martinican philosopher and poet Édouard Glissant espouses Relation as a means to connect globally and valorise the multilingual, multicultural nature of the Caribbean as a model for global culture that is rhizomatic and not tied to a single, Western line of becoming. Glissant sees the Mediterranean as an enclosed sea, ‘a sea that concentrates’, while the Caribbean is ‘a sea that explodes the scattered lands into an arc. A sea that diffracts’. In this moment of SQ, I wonder if we might find the Caribbean model as one that resonates more with the Primo-Jean dynamic, as Jean’s experience of the open sea asks us to see Dante’s text as one that is not enclosed but rather must be opened up to the global reader. Indeed, Glissant himself characterises Dante’s Commedia as a work that is committed to cultural mixing, dwelling on how ‘one of the greatest monuments of Christian universalisation stresses the filiation shared by ancient myths and the new religion linking both to the creation of the world’. Perhaps this moment of connection, of seeing the liberatory possibilities in the open sea that beckons, is not just a way to palpably feel the strength of Primo and Jean’s new bond, but also to urge us as global readers to embrace the diffractive, rhizomatic potential of a decolonised Dante.

      AK

    2. Considerate

      My reflections here build on Lino Pertile’s 2010 essay, ‘L’inferno, il lager, la poesia’. Pertile notes the profound correspondence between the opening poem of the book (OC I, 139) and this chapter. He points out how the main theme of Levi’s book, the dehumanising experience in the Lager, based on the annihilation of people’s identity, is expressed in the poem and resurfaces explicitly again in the chapter dedicated to Dante’s Ulysses. The key term revealing the correspondence of themes and intentions is ‘Considerate [consider]’, used twice in Levi’s poem (‘Consider if this is a man | … | Consider if this is a woman’) and rooted in the memory of Dante’s famous tercet where Ulysses addresses his crew as they sail towards the horizon of their last journey beyond the pillars of Hercules: ‘Considerate la vostra semenza: | fatti non foste a viver come bruti, | ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza’ (Inf. 26, 118-20 and OC I, 228).

      There are many other correspondences between the chapter of Ulysses and the opening poem, besides the ‘Considerate’, and that they are profound and filtered through the theme of memory, an eminently Dantean theme: the urgency to fix in the memory itself what is or will be necessary to tell, or the urgency to express and recount what is deposited in memory. Indeed, for Levi, the memory of each individual person contains that person’s humanity.

      Memory is immediately activated as Primo and Jean exit the underground gas tank (‘He [Jean] climbed out and I followed him, blinking in the brightness of the day. It was warm [tiepido] outside; the sun drew a faint smell of paint and tar from the greasy earth that made me think of [mi ricordava] a summer beach of my childhood'). Temporarily escaping hell by means of a ladder (a sort of Dantesque ‘natural burella’), it is the tiepido sun and a characteristic smell that evoke the childhood memory and that at the same time the reader cannot avoid connecting to the tiepide case of the initial poem (‘You who live safe | in your heated houses [tiepide case]’ [my emphasis]). It is then around the memory ‘of our homes, of Strasbourg and Turin, of the books we had read, of what we had studied, of our mothers’ that another theme in the chapter coalesces, the theme of friendship (‘He and I had been friends for a week’), a theme that had already emerged in a more general connotation in the opening poem (‘visi amici’). Warmth, friendship (visi amici…Jean), the kitchens as destination for Primo and Jean’s walk (the walk from the tank with the empty pot is ‘the ever welcomed opportunity of getting near the kitchens’, not for that hot food [cibo caldo] evoked in the poem, but for the soup of the camp, an alienating incarnation of Dantesque ‘pane altrui’ whose various names are dissonant). During the respite of the one hour walk from the tank to the kitchens, the intermittent memory of Dante’s canto emerges as if from an underground consciousness, the memory of Inferno as a partial and imperfect mirror of the human condition in the Lager, Ulysses as poetic memory, a sudden epiphany of a semenza, a seed, of humanity that the Lager is made to suppress, and Primo’s wondering in the face of this sudden internal revelation of still possessing an intact humanity. Primo’s memory of his home resurfaces as if springing from the memory of Dante’s text: the ‘montagna bruna’ of Purgatory is reflected in the memory of ‘my mountains, which would appear in the evening dusk [nel bruno della sera] when I returned from Milan to Turin!' But the real, familiar landscape is too heartbreaking a memory of ‘sweet things cruelly distant’, one of those hurtful thoughts, ‘things one thinks but does not say’. There is an epiphanic memory then, the poetic memory that surfaces during the walk and that reveals to Primo that he still is a man, a memory to which he clings despite the sense of his own audacity (‘us two, who dare to talk about these things with the soup poles on our shoulders’); there is also a more intimate memory, equally pulsating with life and humanity - but dangerous, because it makes Primo vulnerable to despair, threatening his own survival in the camp.

      The urgent need to remember Dante’s verses in this chapter develops the theme of memory, which has been central from the opening poem. In Levi’s poem, though, memory is perceived from a different angle: the readers (who live safe…) must honour that memory and transmit it as an imperative testimony of what happened in the concentration camp from generation to generation, testifying to the suffering of the man and the woman ‘considered’ in the poem. This is a memory to be carved in one’s heart, which must accompany those who receive it in every action and in every moment of each day like a prayer. Not coincidentally the poem follows the text of the most fundamental prayer of Judaism, the Shemà Israel, which is read twice a day, a memory to be passed on to one’s own children, a responsibility which is a sign of one’s humanity. The commandment to remember of the opening poem (‘I consign these words to you. | Carve them into your hearts') issues a potential curse to the reader, threatening the destruction of what most fundamentally characterises their humanity - home, health, children: ‘Or may your house fall down, | May illness make you helpless, | And your children turn their eyes from you’. Finally, Primo’s act of remembering during the walk to the kitchens is submerged by the Babelic soup (‘Kraut und Rüben…cavoli e rape…Choux et navets…Kàposzta és répak…Until the sea again closed – over us’) and yet the memory of it becomes part of his testimony in such a central chapter of the book written after surviving the Shoah. If the memory of Dante’s verses contributed to Primo’s faith in his own humanity and his psychological and physical survival in the camp, he then accomplishes the commandment of memory and his responsibility as a man through his own writing.

      CS

    3. Un buco nella memoria

      Despite this and other gaps in his recall, Levi actually succeeds in reconstructing just under half of Dante’s narrative of the encounter with Ulysses in Inferno 26, wholly or almost wholly recalling (a notable) 26 out of 58 verses (24 complete verses, two partial) - and with remarkable accuracy.

      The verses shown in bold below from Inferno 26 (85-142) are the ones Levi remembers. To explore this comparison for yourself, jump to the Dante tab.

      KP

    4. madri

      The subject of mothers arises often in the conversations between prisoners in SQ. When Schlome questions Levi in the chapter ‘Sul fondo,’ he asks 'Dove tua madre?' (OC I, 156) Standing in the long-awaited sunshine in ‘Una buona giornata,’ the teenager Sigi ‘[a]veva cominciato col parlare della sua casa di Vienna e di sua madre’ (OC I, 195), and Levi tells us that, in this moment of relative peace, he and the other prisoners likewise ‘siamo capaci di pensare alle nostre madri e alle nostre mogli, il che di solito non accade’ (OC I, 197).

      These references to mothers are likely to remind us of the mothers who were deported to the Lager, whom Levi describes in the chapter ‘Il viaggio’:

      Ognuno si congedò dalla vita nel modo che più gli si addiceva. Alcuni pregarono, altri bevvero oltre misura, altri si inebriarono di nefanda ultima passione. Ma le madri vegliarono a preparare con dolce cura il cibo per il viaggio, e lavarono i bambini, e fecero i bagagli, ed all’alba i fili spinati erano pieni di biancheria infantile stesa al vento ad asciugare; e non dimenticarono le fasce, e i giocattoli, e i cuscini, e le cento piccole cose che esse ben sanno, e di cui i bambini hanno in ogni caso bisogno. Non fareste anche voi altrettanto? Se dovessero uccidervi domani col vostro bambino, voi non gli dareste oggi da mangiare? (OC I, 143).

      This affecting passage - the first instance, after the introductory poem in which Levi confronts the reader directly, demanding that we place ourselves in the position of the prisoners - enacts a human connection intimately related to the bond that Levi and Jean share in ‘Il canto di Ulisse’.

      CLL

    5. una qualche spiaggia estiva della mia infanzia

      Memories of childhood always send a pang through the heart. Not because they are sad. Perhaps they are, but the pang can be deeper when they are good, for they tell us of what is utterly lost and are thus redolent of our relentless passage through time, projected as we are towards death with, so it seems, an increasing rapidity as we get older. Levi passes quickly over this moment of thought of his infancy. But it sets the tone for ‘Il canto di Ulisse’: the tone of something utterly lost and yet completely present. The childhood beach with its peculiar smell of paint and tar is wholly past and yet it is Levi, here, now. In this moment it is everything he is. Just so, the canto is utterly gone, belonging to a different life, the life Levi had before Auschwitz, and yet is here, now, making him this particular individual man with this burden of identity. He is freighted with the memory of the beach as he is with the memory of those lines from Dante.

      When I was a child, I was sometimes taken in the summer in my parents’ car to one of the few sandy beaches near to where I grew up. The car park was behind the dunes and was itself a vast expanse of coarse grass worn flat and of impacted sand. The smell of that beach was the smell of the grass and sand mingled with that of the hot interior of the car, leather and metal warmed through, the bench seat offering to my child’s body a kind of place of perfect rest, long enough for me to stretch out on it to warm myself after the coldness of the sea. For me, leather and metal are what paint and tar were to Levi: the odours of these at the beach, suffused with the smell of hot sand.

      I cannot think of those odours and all they bring back to me of my childhood without pain, intense but somehow delicious in its melancholy. This is all lost but it is mine and no-one else’s, giving me an acute sense of my individuality. I grasp that Levi had the same sense in remembering that smell of paint and tar from his childhood, even in this dark place. This is why he needs to mention it; this is why he passes over it so rapidly. It is everything and nothing; it is painful and sweetly delicious. This experience of the memory of the beach, surging up out of the nowhere of the camp, is at one with the eruption in Levi’s mind of the canto from Dante. Not everyone can read Dante. But everyone knows of these odours of childhood. Levi is saying: somewhere in this nightmare, in this hell created by some human beings to torture other human beings, there is someone else who, perhaps deprived of culture and learning, ill-educated and uninterested in books, nonetheless has a feeling for his or her childhood as I do for mine. I move from that to Dante; this other person will not. No matter. What binds me to that other, even this side of good and evil where theft is honoured and cheating praised, in this world of remorseless self-concern for the sake of survival, is that he or she too will smell the tar and paint, or some other material, and then be joined again to a moment of childhood. There is a common fellowship after all, a fellowship forged by the fact that that other unknown person and I are both returned to our childhood in some fleeting moment that is saturated in an odour.

      Levi then tries to express this in turning to Pikolo and grasping after those fragments from Dante in order to get him to understand these words of a – for Pikolo – foreign language and feel the depth of Levi’s response to Dante. But it is the beach that is at the back of that: the Dante stands proxy for a more universal feeling – that feeling that we can have, says Levi, even here, perhaps especially here, for our lost childhood.

      CH

    6. non lasciarmi pensare alle mie montagne

      Very often, when we think about ‘Il canto di Ulisse’, we tend to recall only the most famous pages in which Levi tries to remember Dante’s canto. The depth and sense of urgency of the Ulyssean passages are so overwhelming and passionate that they may distract us from other elements in the chapter. However, if we go back to the text and read it closely, we cannot avoid noticing that, after a brief opening in which Levi introduces Pikolo and narrates how he came to be Pikolo’s ‘fortunate’ chaperone to collect the soup for the day, ‘Il canto di Ulisse’ also dwells quite significantly on a moment of domestic memories. While going to the kitchens, Levi writes: ‘Si vedevano i Carpazi coperti di neve. Respirai l’aria fresca, mi sentivo insolitamente leggero’. This is the first moment in the chapter in which Levi refers to the mountains as something that revitalises him and makes him feel fresh and light, both physically and mentally.

      This moment foreshadows another, also in this chapter, when Levi goes back to his mountains, those close to Turin, and compares them to the mountain that the protagonist of Dante’s canto, Ulysses, encounters just before his shipwreck with his companions:

      ... Quando mi apparve una montagna, bruna

      Per la distanza, e parvemi alta tanto

      Che mai veduta non ne avevo alcuna.

      Sì, sì, ‘alta tanto’, non ‘molto alta’, proposizione consecutiva. E le montagne, quando si vedono di lontano... le montagne... oh Pikolo, Pikolo, di’ qualcosa, parla, non lasciarmi pensare alle mie montagne, che comparivano nel bruno della sera quando tornavo in treno da Milano a Torino! Basta, bisogna proseguire, queste sono cose che si pensano ma non si dicono. Pikolo attende e mi guarda. Darei la zuppa di oggi per saper saldare ‘non ne avevo alcuna’ col finale.

      The significance of the mountains in Levi’s narration is confirmed in this passage. For him, the mountains represent his experience of belonging, his youthful years, and his work as a chemist – the job he was doing when he commuted by train from Turin to Milan. At the same time, Levi’s own memories of the mountains intertwine and overlap with another mountain, Dante’s Mount Purgatory. Here, a deep and perhaps not fully conscious intertextual game starts to emerge and to characterise Levi’s writing. The lines that Levi does not remember are these (compare, on the Dante page):

      Noi ci allegrammo, e tosto tornò in pianto,

      ché de la nova terra un turbo nacque,

      e percosse del legno il primo canto.

      For Dante’s Ulysses, Mount Purgatory signifies the final moment of his adventure and his desire for knowledge. The marvel and enthusiasm that Ulysses and his company feel when they see the mountain is suddenly transformed into its contrary. From the mountain, a storm originates that will destroy the ship and swallow its crew: ‘Tre volte il fe’ girar con tutte l’acque, | Alla quarta levar la poppa in suso | E la prora ire in giù, come altrui piacque’. Dante’s Mount Purgatory, so majestic and spectacular, represents the end of any desire for knowledge that aims to find new answers to and interpretations of human existence in the world without God’s word.

      Going back to Levi’s text, we find that, instead, in a kind of reverse overlapping between his image and that of Ulysses, the image of the mountain of Purgatory suggests to Levi a very different set of thoughts that, although seemingly and similarly overwhelming, opens up new interpretations: ‘altro ancora, qualcosa di gigantesco che io stesso ho visto ora soltanto, nell’intuizione di un attimo, forse il perché del nostro destino, del nostro essere oggi qui’. For a moment, it is almost as if Levi, a new Dantean Ulysses in a new Inferno, stands in front of Mount Purgatory and forgets the terzine and the shipwreck. Maybe Levi cannot or does not want to remember those terzine because the mountain in Purgatory represents something very different for him than for Dante’s Ulysses. Levi’s view of the mountain does not lead to a moment of recognition of sin, as it does in Dante’s Ulysses. For him, the mountain, like his mountain range, is the gateway to knowledge, enrichment, and illumination and to a world that lies beyond the imposed limits of traditional, constricting, and distorted views and that awaits discovery (‘qualcosa di gigantesco che io stesso ho visto ora soltanto’). Something about and beyond the Lager.

      To better understand how the mountains are central in ‘Il canto di Ulisse’, we have to remember that Levi’s view of the mountains strongly depends on his anti-Fascism, which he expressed particularly vigorously in two moments of his life: during his months in the Resistance, just before he was captured and sent to Fossoli, and, even more intensely, during the adventures of his youth, when he was a free young man who enjoyed climbing the mountains surrounding Turin. As Alberto Papuzzi has suggested, ‘le radici del suo rapporto con la montagna sono ben piantate in quella stagione più lontana: radici intellettuali di cittadino che cercava sulla montagna, nella montagna, suggestioni e risposte che non trovava nella vita, o meglio nell’atmosfera ispessita di quella vita torinese, senza passato e senza futuro’ (OC III, 426-27). Indeed, reports Papuzzi, Levi confirms that:

      Avevo anche provato a quel tempo a scrivere un racconto di montagna […]. C’era tutta l’epica della montagna, e la metafisica dell’alpinismo. La montagna come chiave di tutto. Volevo rappresentare la sensazione che si prova quando si sale avendo di fronte la linea della montagna che chiude l’orizzonte: tu sali, non vedi che questa linea, non vedi altro, poi improvvisamente la valichi, ti trovi dall’altra parte, e in pochi secondi vedi un mondo nuovo, sei in un mondo nuovo. Ecco, avevo cercato di esprimere questo: il valico.

      The heart of that epic story made its way into the chapter ‘Ferro’ in Il sistema periodico. The discovery of this (brave) new world, ‘mondo nuovo’, is an integral part and a direct achievement of Levi’s experience in the mountains. The mountains open a new understanding and a new perspective on the world.

      Something that escapes common understanding is revealed through the experience of the mountains, both in Levi’s memories of his youth and in his literary recounting of Auschwitz. Reciting Dante in ‘Il canto di Ulisse’ is therefore not only an intertextual exercise for Levi. Only by inserting Levi’s literary references in the complexity of his own experience – before, during, and after Auschwitz – can we fully capture the depth of his reflections. Levi mentally and metaphorically brought to Auschwitz not only Dante but also his ‘metafisica dell’alpinismo’. Together, they contributed to his attempt to come to terms with that reality.

    7. il resto è silenzio

      ‘The Canto of Ulysses’ records a truly remarkable feat of cultural memory, as Levi recalls and recites Dante amidst the ruin of Auschwitz. He does so to teach Italian to his campmate Jean. But as he recites the words of Dante, Levi also feels his past come back to him. He begins to recover something of his identity and his humanity in the degraded world of the Lager, to feel again that he is ‘a man’.

      Dante is not, however, the only canonical writer to appear in ‘The Canto of Ulysses’. So too does Shakespeare. <br /> Levi admits to ‘gaps’, ‘holes’, and ‘lacuna[e]’ in his memory as he recites Dante, some of which would seem to be ‘irreparable’. Unable to recall his Dante, Levi is forced to confront ‘silence’:

      I would give today’s soup to know how to connect ‘the like on any day’ to the last lines. I try to reconstruct it through rhymes, I close my eyes, I bite my fingers – but it is no use, the rest is silence [il resto è silenzio]. Other verses dance in my head: ‘…The sodden ground belched wind …’, no, it is something else. [Woolf’s translation.]

      ‘[T]he rest is silence’: Levi is quoting the last words that are spoken by Hamlet, before he dies:

      O, I die, Horatio!

      The potent poison quite o’ercrows my spirit.

      I cannot live to hear the news from England.

      But I do prophesy th’election lights

      On Fortinbras; he has my dying voice.

      So tell him, with th’occurrents more and less

      Which have solicited – the rest is silence.

      With his ‘spirit’ succumbing to the ‘potent poison’ Claudius and Laertes have used to kill him, Hamlet undertakes the impossible: to testify to his own death, to ‘tell’ in words his fall into deathly silence. This is his ‘dying voice’.

      What is Hamlet doing in ‘The Canto of Ulysses’? Why does Levi place it where he does, in ‘the caesura’, the abyssal gap between Auschwitz and his cultural identity and memory, embodied by Dante? It is certainly ironic that Levi draws once again on the Western canonical literary tradition to record the moment of its ostensible breakdown. What emerges from the lapse, the silence that Levi testifies to, is another tie to his compromised past, and the literary culture that would seem to have been obliterated by the Holocaust – even if Levi does not choose to bring obvious notice to his allusion by using quotation marks or by writing, ‘as Hamlet says’. The poetry of Hamlet appears to be among the ‘other verses’ Levi has confusedly ‘dancing in his head’ while he tries to fill the gaps in his memory.

      By quoting Hamlet, Levi would appear to again testify to the power of literature as a mainstay of culture and humanity, evincing his commitment to humanist ideals. This is certainly the positive interpretation of Hamlet in ‘The Canto of Ulysses’. I would make the case, however, that Levi is using Shakespeare for an altogether more challenging purpose. By appropriating the ‘dying voice’ of Hamlet, Levi records the place where his memory and his identity collapse, testifying to the reduction of the camp inmate to silence and oblivion. Bryan Cheyette writes that ‘even when his memory self-consciously fails him’, Levi is always ‘at pains to bear witness to those moments of failure’ (Cheyette 1999, 64). Levi seeks to testify to the silence, to show that ‘something has occurred even if it cannot be understood’ (Druker 2009, 64). This is the role played by Hamlet in ‘The Canto of Ulysses’. Levi does not use the play to testify to the endurance of the human spirit in the camps, but to silence, to a ‘world of negation’ (OC I, 235). Hamlet, perhaps ironically given its near-unrivalled canonical and cultural status, marks the space beyond language and culture, into which Levi is at risk of falling. This, as Levi called it, is the ‘black hole’ of Auschwitz (OC II, 1663).

      Through his allusion to Hamlet, Levi rewrites Shakespeare from the perspective of Auschwitz, endowing the play with new meanings as he confronts the lacunae and voids produced by the world of the concentration camp. Levi uses the play to record the disintegration of humane values in Auschwitz, as memory and language are brought to the point of collapse. Jacques Derrida does much the same in his own work on the play. He draws Hamlet into conversation with Holocaust testimony when he compares the play to the poetry of survivor Paul Celan in his 1995 piece ‘The Time is Out of Joint’. Derrida contends that the paradox of testimony is that the witness must uncannily ‘outlive his life’ (3.2.117) – or ‘survive’ that which is not ‘survivable’: the collapse of all meaning and death (Derrida 1995). This is the sense in which Hamlet is a play about the ‘impossible possibility of testimony’, as Derrida calls it. Hamlet has ‘seen the worst’ and is ‘the witness of the worst disorder, of absolute injustice’, writes Derrida. Hamlet has witnessed too much for words – but testimony, ‘though it hath no tongue, will speak’ (2.2.546).

      Levi must also confront and testify to the painful death of memory, the destruction of human identity and culture, before the event of physical death itself – or as Jacques Lacan would call it, ‘symbolic’ before ‘actual’ death, the death of the self before physical death. Lawrence Langer uses the phrase ‘deathlife’ to name the same phenomenon, of ‘dying while one is living’ (Langer 2021, 13). Not unlike the melancholic prince, Levi attempts the impossible of testifying to his own demise. He deploys Hamlet to record his fall into a place beyond humanity and beyond culture – even beyond language. It is, to adopt the words of Jean Améry, an act of both resignation and revolt: resignation to silence, and a determined revolt against oblivion, by testifying to it. It is an astonishing moment.

      RA

    8. compagna Picciola

      Giovanni Falaschi (Falaschi 2002) points out that for Levi to remember ‘compagna | Picciola’ but not the equally famous ‘orazion picciola’ is not credible. The same goes for ‘folle volo’, another almost proverbial expression. Falaschi explains this case of ‘selective memory’ as Levi fearing that these expressions might be perceived - either by Pikolo or by his readers - as diminishing or critical of Ulysses, and thus he ‘forgets’ them. However, ‘orazion picciola’ simply means ‘brief speech’, and Falaschi maintains that, while Levi certainly was aware of this, he might have wanted to avoid any confusion.

      EL

    9. Un buco nella memoria

      The ‘hole in the memory’ that swallows up Dante’s verses and prevents Levi from sharing them with Pikolo is reminiscent of both the underground tank described at the beginning of the chapter, and the vast crater that is Dante’s hell. Visually these ‘holes’, be they real or metaphorical, are the negative cast of the mountains mentioned later in the chapter: Levi’s beloved Alps, and Ulysses’ Mount Purgatory - these, instead, bearers of positive meanings, as they respectively represent home and human ambition. (Levi’s very last newspaper article was given the title ‘Il buco nero di Auschwitz’, OC II, 1662-65.)

      EL

    10. amici

      As noted earlier, Jean Samuel’s memories of this episode are described in Il m’appelait Pikolo, pp. 39-40. Consider, for example, this sentence: ‘Encore maintenant je m’interroge sur ce mystère de la mémoire: nous avons eu tous deux le sentiment d’une rencontre cruciale, inoubliable, mais elle ne se fondait pas sur les mêmes gestes, les mêmes paroles, les mêmes sensations’ (Samuel, Dreyfus 2007, 40).

      MJ

    1. I would advise you to read with a pen in your hand, and enter in a little book short hints of what you find that is curious or that may be useful; for this will be the best method of imprinting such particulars in your memory, where they will be ready either for practice on some future occasion if they are matters of utility, or at least to adorn and improve your conversation if they are rather points of curiosity.

      Benjamin Franklin letter to Miss Stevenson, Wanstead. Craven-street, May 16, 1760.

      Franklin doesn't use the word commonplace book here, but is actively recommending the creation and use of one. He's also encouraging the practice of annotation, though in commonplace form rather than within the book itself.

    1. compagna Picciola

      Giovanni Falaschi (Falaschi 2002) points out that for Levi to remember ‘compagna | Picciola’ but not the equally famous ‘orazion picciola’ is not credible. The same goes for ‘folle volo’, another almost proverbial expression. Falaschi explains this case of ‘selective memory’ as Levi fearing that these expressions might be perceived - either by Pikolo or by his readers - as diminishing or critical of Ulysses, and thus he ‘forgets’ them. However, ‘orazion picciola’ simply means ‘brief speech’, and Falaschi maintains that, while Levi certainly was aware of this, he might have wanted to avoid any confusion.

      EL

    2. Considerate

      My reflections here build on Lino Pertile’s 2010 essay, ‘L’inferno, il lager, la poesia’. Pertile notes the profound correspondence between the opening poem of the book (OC I, 139) and this chapter. He points out how the main theme of Levi’s book, the dehumanising experience in the Lager, based on the annihilation of people’s identity, is expressed in the poem and resurfaces explicitly again in the chapter dedicated to Dante’s Ulysses. The key term revealing the correspondence of themes and intentions is ‘Considerate [consider]’, used twice in Levi’s poem (‘Consider if this is a man | … | Consider if this is a woman’) and rooted in the memory of Dante’s famous tercet where Ulysses addresses his crew as they sail towards the horizon of their last journey beyond the pillars of Hercules: ‘Considerate la vostra semenza: | fatti non foste a viver come bruti, | ma per seguir virtute e canoscenza’ (Inf. 26, 118-20 and OC I, 228).

      There are many other correspondences between the chapter of Ulysses and the opening poem, besides the ‘Considerate’, and that they are profound and filtered through the theme of memory, an eminently Dantean theme: the urgency to fix in the memory itself what is or will be necessary to tell, or the urgency to express and recount what is deposited in memory. Indeed, for Levi, the memory of each individual person contains that person’s humanity.

      Memory is immediately activated as Primo and Jean exit the underground gas tank (‘He [Jean] climbed out and I followed him, blinking in the brightness of the day. It was warm [tiepido] outside; the sun drew a faint smell of paint and tar from the greasy earth that made me think of [mi ricordava] a summer beach of my childhood). Temporarily escaping hell by means of a ladder (a sort of Dantesque ‘natural burella’), it is the tiepido sun and a characteristic smell that evoke the childhood memory and that at the same time the reader cannot avoid connecting to the tiepide case of the initial poem (‘You who live safe | in your heated houses [tiepide case]’ [my emphasis]). It is then around the memory ‘of our homes, of Strasbourg and Turin, of the books we had read, of what we had studied, of our mothers’ that another theme in the chapter coalesces, the theme of friendship (‘He and I had been friends for a week’), a theme that had already emerged in a more general connotation in the opening poem (‘visi amici’). Warmth, friendship (visi amici…Jean), the kitchens as destination for Primo and Jean’s walk (the walk from the tank with the empty pot is ‘the ever welcomed opportunity of getting near the kitchens’, not for that hot food [cibo caldo] evoked in the poem, but for the soup of the camp, an alienating incarnation of Dantesque ‘pane altrui’ whose various names are dissonant). During the respite of the one hour walk from the tank to the kitchens, the intermittent memory of Dante’s canto emerges as if from an underground consciousness, the memory of Inferno as a partial and imperfect mirror of the human condition in the Lager, Ulysses as poetic memory, a sudden epiphany of a semenza, a seed, of humanity that the Lager is made to suppress, and Primo’s wondering in the face of this sudden internal revelation of still possessing an intact humanity. Primo’s memory of his home resurfaces as if springing from the memory of Dante’s text: the ‘montagna bruna’ of Purgatory is reflected in the memory of ‘my mountains, which would appear in the evening dusk [nel bruno della sera] when I returned from Milan to Turin!' But the real, familiar landscape is too heartbreaking a memory of ‘sweet things cruelly distant’, one of those hurtful thoughts, ‘things one thinks but does not say’. There is an epiphanic memory then, the poetic memory that surfaces during the walk and that reveals to Primo that he still is a man, a memory to which he clings despite the sense of his own audacity (‘us two, who dare to talk about these things with the soup poles on our shoulders’); there is also a more intimate memory, equally pulsating with life and humanity - but dangerous, because it makes Primo vulnerable to despair, threatening his own survival in the camp.

      The urgent need to remember Dante’s verses in this chapter develops the theme of memory, which has been central from the opening poem. In Levi’s poem, though, memory is perceived from a different angle: the readers (who live safe…) must honour that memory and transmit it as an imperative testimony of what happened in the concentration camp from generation to generation, testifying to the suffering of the man and the woman ‘considered’ in the poem. This is a memory to be carved in one’s heart, which must accompany those who receive it in every action and in every moment of each day like a prayer. Not coincidentally the poem follows the text of the most fundamental prayer of Judaism, the Shemà Israel, which is read twice a day, a memory to be passed on to one’s own children, a responsibility which is a sign of one’s humanity. The commandment to remember of the opening poem (‘I consign these words to you. | Carve them into your hearts') issues a potential curse to the reader, threatening the destruction of what most fundamentally characterises their humanity - home, health, children: ‘Or may your house fall down, | May illness make you helpless, | And your children turn their eyes from you’. Finally, Primo’s act of remembering during the walk to the kitchens is submerged by the Babelic soup (‘Kraut und Rüben…cavoli e rape…Choux et navets…Kàposzta és répak…Until the sea again closed – over us’) and yet the memory of it becomes part of his testimony in such a central chapter of the book written after surviving the Shoah. If the memory of Dante’s verses contributed to Primo’s faith in his own humanity and his psychological and physical survival in the camp, he then accomplishes the commandment of memory and his responsibility as a man through his own writing.

      CS

    3. L’alto mare aperto: Pikolo ha viaggiato per mare e sa cosa vuol dire, è quando l’orizzonte si chiude su se stesso, libero diritto e semplice, e non c’è ormai che odore di mare: dolci cose ferocemente lontane.

      The high sea opens up new possibilities of connecting. This passage of the chapter follows a moment of solid and fixed textual memory. After managing the recitation of two terzine from Inferno 26 that initiate the encounter with Ulysses, Levi indicates his frustration at his inability to translate, but also points to Jean’s ability to connect from afar, from a cultural and linguistic remove. Then a gap in memory, a struggle to recall. Half phrases finally crystallise in a well-remembered line, ‘Ma misi me per l’alto mare aperto’ (Inf. 26, 110). This line first prompts Levi to play the role of teacher, explaining to Jean how ‘misi me’ is not the same as the French ‘je me mis,’ but rather something bolder. In doing so, in envisioning the liberatory potential of breaking a boundary, a chain, putting oneself beyond a barrier, Levi sees a precious and telling connection between himself and Pikolo: ‘noi conosciamo bene questo impulso’. There is a flattening of difference here, a forging of a bond between two men that stretches across the Mediterranean, across a linguistic and poetic divide. Levi is no longer explaining, translating, teaching; instead, they have found a connection in seeking to go beyond, to break out and be free.

      Importantly, this oceanic connection privileges Jean’s experience over Primo’s technical knowledge. It is by no means the same as the disdain for intellectuals shown by Alex at the beginning of the chapter. Rather, this emphasis on Pikolo’s experience - ‘Pikolo ha viaggiato per mare e sa cosa vuol dire…’ - is a way to privilege what might be gained through the perspective of the cultural outsider. Jean has been on the sea; he apparently knows what Primo describes as that feeling of freedom when there is nothing left but the aroma of the ocean. Has Primo not had that? (Perhaps only in the pages of books, by Salgari, Conrad?) Is he thus able to have a wholly different, more potent experience of Inferno 26 as a result of this ‘non-native’ reading? Earlier in the chapter, the ‘leggero odore’ of paint and tar have - strangely, almost paradoxically - brought to Levi’s mind ‘qualche spiaggia estiva della mia infanzia’, but this is of another order. Primo’s experience seems to have been shore-bound; Jean has truly sailed.

      Because Pikolo knows (and the use of ‘sapere’ is telling here, in contrast to the ‘canoscenza’ of Ulysses’ dictum to follow), Primo can convey with both precision and lyricism that mode of apprehension and feeling of emancipation: ‘è quando l’orizzonte si chiude su se stesso, libero diritto e semplice, e non c’è ormai che odore di mare’. He is envisioning and embodying the possibilities of freedom, of being unbound and certainly not being inundated by odours of a very different kind, such as the paint and tar evoked earlier. The image of the horizon closing in on itself stands in stark contrast to the end of both Dante’s Inferno 26 and the end of this chapter, when it is the sea that closes over Ulysses and his companions, and - by implication and association - over Primo and Jean once more as well. The use of the verb ‘rinchiudere’ in that final moment is also striking, almost as if to imply that there are moments such as this one that open out to the world at large but there is the inevitable return to the horror of the camp that once more closes over them. Here, though, the sea is freedom: it is a simple, straight line of the horizon that connects these individuals together in their desire to escape.

      In that exquisite, bittersweet phrase ‘dolci cose ferocemente lontane,’ there is something not just Ulyssean (‘né dolcezza di figlio…’), not just hybrid (‘dulcis’ and ‘ferox’ together, which also resonates with the ‘viver come bruti’ to come), but also a channeling of Purgatorio. One might think in particular of the opening of Purgatorio 8: ‘Era già l’ora che volge il disio | ai navicanti e ’ntenerisce il core | lo dì c’han detto ai dolci amici addio…’. Here, too, the sweet memory of things left behind is made bitter by their absence and separation across the sea. Such a way of thinking Ulysses and the ocean voyage across the Commedia is almost a banality; it nonetheless serves to give us some impetus to thinking about Levi as a reader of not just Inferno, but of other parts of the poem as well.

      And it serves to have us perhaps think about this powerful moment of Mediterranean connectivity a little differently, to take that insight of valorising Jean’s non-native perspective out to the world at large. In his 1990 work Poetics of Relation, Martinican philosopher and poet Édouard Glissant espouses Relation as a means to connect globally and valorise the multilingual, multicultural nature of the Caribbean as a model for global culture that is rhizomatic and not tied to a single, Western line of becoming. Glissant sees the Mediterranean as an enclosed sea, ‘a sea that concentrates’, while the Caribbean is ‘a sea that explodes the scattered lands into an arc. A sea that diffracts’. In this moment of SQ, I wonder if we might find the Caribbean model as one that resonates more with the Primo-Jean dynamic, as Jean’s experience of the open sea asks us to see Dante’s text as one that is not enclosed but rather must be opened up to the global reader. Indeed, Glissant himself characterises Dante’s Commedia as a work that is committed to cultural mixing, dwelling on how ‘one of the greatest monuments of Christian universalisation stresses the filiation shared by ancient myths and the new religion linking both to the creation of the world’. Perhaps this moment of connection, of seeing the liberatory possibilities in the open sea that beckons, is not just a way to palpably feel the strength of Primo and Jean’s new bond, but also to urge us as global readers to embrace the diffractive, rhizomatic potential of a decolonised Dante.

      AK

    4. il resto è silenzio

      ‘The Canto of Ulysses’ records a truly remarkable feat of cultural memory, as Levi recalls and recites Dante amidst the ruin of Auschwitz. He does so to teach Italian to his campmate Jean. But as he recites the words of Dante, Levi also feels his past come back to him. He begins to recover something of his identity and his humanity in the degraded world of the Lager, to feel again that he is ‘a man’.

      Dante is not, however, the only canonical writer to appear in ‘The Canto of Ulysses’. So too does Shakespeare. <br /> Levi admits to ‘gaps’, ‘holes’, and ‘lacuna[e]’ in his memory as he recites Dante, some of which would seem to be ‘irreparable’. Unable to recall his Dante, Levi is forced to confront ‘silence’:

      I would give today’s soup to know how to connect ‘the like on any day’ to the last lines. I try to reconstruct it through rhymes, I close my eyes, I bite my fingers – but it is no use, the rest is silence [il resto è silenzio]. Other verses dance in my head: ‘…The sodden ground belched wind …’, no, it is something else. [Woolf’s translation.]

      ‘[T]he rest is silence’: Levi is quoting the last words that are spoken by Hamlet, before he dies:

      O, I die, Horatio!

      The potent poison quite o’ercrows my spirit.

      I cannot live to hear the news from England.

      But I do prophesy th’election lights

      On Fortinbras; he has my dying voice.

      So tell him, with th’occurrents more and less

      Which have solicited – the rest is silence.

      With his ‘spirit’ succumbing to the ‘potent poison’ Claudius and Laertes have used to kill him, Hamlet undertakes the impossible: to testify to his own death, to ‘tell’ in words his fall into deathly silence. This is his ‘dying voice’.

      What is Hamlet doing in ‘The Canto of Ulysses’? Why does Levi place it where he does, in ‘the caesura’, the abyssal gap between Auschwitz and his cultural identity and memory, embodied by Dante? It is certainly ironic that Levi draws once again on the Western canonical literary tradition to record the moment of its ostensible breakdown. What emerges from the lapse, the silence that Levi testifies to, is another tie to his compromised past, and the literary culture that would seem to have been obliterated by the Holocaust – even if Levi does not choose to bring obvious notice to his allusion by using quotation marks or by writing, ‘as Hamlet says’. The poetry of Hamlet appears to be among the ‘other verses’ Levi has confusedly ‘dancing in his head’ while he tries to fill the gaps in his memory.

      By quoting Hamlet, Levi would appear to again testify to the power of literature as a mainstay of culture and humanity, evincing his commitment to humanist ideals. This is certainly the positive interpretation of Hamlet in ‘The Canto of Ulysses’. I would make the case, however, that Levi is using Shakespeare for an altogether more challenging purpose. By appropriating the ‘dying voice’ of Hamlet, Levi records the place where his memory and his identity collapse, testifying to the reduction of the camp inmate to silence and oblivion. Bryan Cheyette writes that ‘even when his memory self-consciously fails him’, Levi is always ‘at pains to bear witness to those moments of failure’ (Cheyette 1999, 64). Levi seeks to testify to the silence, to show that ‘something has occurred even if it cannot be understood’ (Druker 2009, 64). This is the role played by Hamlet in ‘The Canto of Ulysses’. Levi does not use the play to testify to the endurance of the human spirit in the camps, but to silence, to a ‘world of negation’ (OC I, 235). Hamlet, perhaps ironically given its near-unrivalled canonical and cultural status, marks the space beyond language and culture, into which Levi is at risk of falling. This, as Levi called it, is the ‘black hole’ of Auschwitz (OC II, 1663).

      Through his allusion to Hamlet, Levi rewrites Shakespeare from the perspective of Auschwitz, endowing the play with new meanings as he confronts the lacunae and voids produced by the world of the concentration camp. Levi uses the play to record the disintegration of humane values in Auschwitz, as memory and language are brought to the point of collapse. Jacques Derrida does much the same in his own work on the play. He draws Hamlet into conversation with Holocaust testimony when he compares the play to the poetry of survivor Paul Celan in his 1995 piece ‘The Time is Out of Joint’. Derrida contends that the paradox of testimony is that the witness must uncannily ‘outlive his life’ (3.2.117) – or ‘survive’ that which is not ‘survivable’: the collapse of all meaning and death (Derrida 1995). This is the sense in which Hamlet is a play about the ‘impossible possibility of testimony’, as Derrida calls it. Hamlet has ‘seen the worst’ and is ‘the witness of the worst disorder, of absolute injustice’, writes Derrida. Hamlet has witnessed too much for words – but testimony, ‘though it hath no tongue, will speak’ (2.2.546).

      Levi must also confront and testify to the painful death of memory, the destruction of human identity and culture, before the event of physical death itself – or as Jacques Lacan would call it, ‘symbolic’ before ‘actual’ death, the death of the self before physical death. Lawrence Langer uses the phrase ‘deathlife’ to name the same phenomenon, of ‘dying while one is living’ (Langer 2021, 13). Not unlike the melancholic prince, Levi attempts the impossible of testifying to his own demise. He deploys Hamlet to record his fall into a place beyond humanity and beyond culture – even beyond language. It is, to adopt the words of Jean Améry, an act of both resignation and revolt: resignation to silence, and a determined revolt against oblivion, by testifying to it. It is an astonishing moment.

      RA

    5. Un buco nella memoria.

      The ‘hole in the memory’ that swallows up Dante’s verses and prevents Levi from sharing them with Pikolo is reminiscent of both the underground tank described at the beginning of the chapter, and the vast crater that is Dante’s hell. Visually these ‘holes’, be they real or metaphorical, are the negative cast of the mountains mentioned later in the chapter: Levi’s beloved Alps, and Ulysses’ Mount Purgatory - these, instead, bearers of positive meanings, as they respectively represent home and human ambition. (Levi’s very last newspaper article was given the title ‘Il buco nero di Auschwitz’, OC II, 1662-65.)

      EL

    6. una qualche spiaggia estiva della mia infanzia

      Memories of childhood always send a pang through the heart. Not because they are sad. Perhaps they are, but the pang can be deeper when they are good, for they tell us of what is utterly lost and are thus redolent of our relentless passage through time, projected as we are towards death with, so it seems, an increasing rapidity as we get older. Levi passes quickly over this moment of thought of his infancy. But it sets the tone for ‘Il canto di Ulisse’: the tone of something utterly lost and yet completely present. The childhood beach with its peculiar smell of paint and tar is wholly past and yet it is Levi, here, now. In this moment it is everything he is. Just so, the canto is utterly gone, belonging to a different life, the life Levi had before Auschwitz, and yet is here, now, making him this particular individual man with this burden of identity. He is freighted with the memory of the beach as he is with the memory of those lines from Dante.

      When I was a child, I was sometimes taken in the summer in my parents’ car to one of the few sandy beaches near to where I grew up. The car park was behind the dunes and was itself a vast expanse of coarse grass worn flat and of impacted sand. The smell of that beach was the smell of the grass and sand mingled with that of the hot interior of the car, leather and metal warmed through, the bench seat offering to my child’s body a kind of place of perfect rest, long enough for me to stretch out on it to warm myself after the coldness of the sea. For me, leather and metal are what paint and tar were to Levi: the odours of these at the beach, suffused with the smell of hot sand.

      I cannot think of those odours and all they bring back to me of my childhood without pain, intense but somehow delicious in its melancholy. This is all lost but it is mine and no-one else’s, giving me an acute sense of my individuality. I grasp that Levi had the same sense in remembering that smell of paint and tar from his childhood, even in this dark place. This is why he needs to mention it; this is why he passes over it so rapidly. It is everything and nothing; it is painful and sweetly delicious. This experience of the memory of the beach, surging up out of the nowhere of the camp, is at one with the eruption in Levi’s mind of the canto from Dante. Not everyone can read Dante. But everyone knows of these odours of childhood. Levi is saying: somewhere in this nightmare, in this hell created by some human beings to torture other human beings, there is someone else who, perhaps deprived of culture and learning, ill-educated and uninterested in books, nonetheless has a feeling for his or her childhood as I do for mine. I move from that to Dante; this other person will not. No matter. What binds me to that other, even this side of good and evil where theft is honoured and cheating praised, in this world of remorseless self-concern for the sake of survival, is that he or she too will smell the tar and paint, or some other material, and then be joined again to a moment of childhood. There is a common fellowship after all, a fellowship forged by the fact that that other unknown person and I are both returned to our childhood in some fleeting moment that is saturated in an odour.

      Levi then tries to express this in turning to Pikolo and grasping after those fragments from Dante in order to get him to understand these words of a – for Pikolo – foreign language and feel the depth of Levi’s response to Dante. But it is the beach that is at the back of that: the Dante stands proxy for a more universal feeling – that feeling that we can have, says Levi, even here, perhaps especially here, for our lost childhood.

      CH

    7. amici

      Jean Samuel’s memories of this episode are described in Il m’appelait Pikolo, pp. 39-40. Consider, for example, this sentence: ‘Encore maintenant je m’interroge sur ce mystère de la mémoire: nous avons eu tous deux le sentiment d’une rencontre cruciale, inoubliable, mais elle ne se fondait pas sur les mêmes gestes, les mêmes paroles, les mêmes sensations’ (Samuel, Dreyfus 2007, 40).

      MJ

    1. When I walk my mind is somehow mapping my physical location in the world to the content, down to the sentence. If I rewind an audio book I can fairly often remember where exactly I heard a particular sentence. The precise street corner or park trail I was on, to like a 10 feet precision. I do not otherwise have strong memory. WTF brain.Does anyone else have this experience? I guess this is a peak into how 'memory palaces' work and how people memorize huge volumes of information?

      This is similar to how I've been feeling lately. I cross a corner on the street and I can remember what podcast/audiobook I was listening to at that time and that too with proper context. It's weird, to say the least, and utterly fascinating.

  13. May 2023
    1. @chrisaldrich, I appreciate your feedback. Indeed there is magic in making notes which comes not only from finding connections in the ZK but also from making connections in mind. Maybe I'm confused. A mindset that makes note-making fun is one way to recruit the body's dopamine mechanism. This creates a positive feedback loop. More mote-making turns to more dopamine which turns to more note-making. Maybe even some notes on dopamine. (I have 11 already!) My sense of Luhmann's phrase "second memory" is a rehashing of an idea—a continued exploration. Using the ZK method is one way of formalizing the continued review of ideas. Without a formal process, it is too easy to fall into old bad habits and not work towards "the serendipity of combinatorial creativity. "

      Reply to Will Simpson at https://forum.zettelkasten.de/discussion/comment/17939/#Comment_17939

      There should be more conversation about zettelkasten as both a "ratchet" as well as a "flywheeel". Sometimes I feel like it's hard to speak of these things for either lack of appropriate words/naming and/or having a shared vocabulary for them.

      Even Luhmann's "second memory" has a mushiness to it, but I certainly see your sense of it as a thing which moves forward. I have the same sort of sense with the Aboriginal cultural idea of a "songline" which acts as both a noun as well as having an internal sense of being a verb to me. The word "google" has physically and specifically undergone the transition from noun to verb in a way which "second memory" and "songline" haven't, though perhaps they should? The difference is that the word google is much more concrete and simple while second memory and songline have a lot more cultural material and meaning sitting with them if you know them and their fuller attendant practices.

    2. @Will Thanks for always keeping up with your regular threads and considerations.

      I've been keeping examples of people talking about the "magic of note taking" for a bit. I appreciate your perspectives on it. Personally I consider large portions of it to be bound up with the ideas of what Luhmann termed as "second memory", the use of ZK to supplement our memories, and the serendipity of combinatorial creativity. I've traced portions of it back to the practices of Raymond Llull in which he bound up old mnemonic techniques with combinatorial creativity which goes back to at least Seneca.

      A web search for "combinatorial creativity" may be useful, but there's a good attempt at what it entails here: https://fs.blog/seneca-on-combinatorial-creativity/

    1. I get by when I work by accumulating notes—a bit about everything, ideas cap-tured on the fly, summaries of what I have read, references, quotations . . . Andwhen I want to start a project, I pull a packet of notes out of their pigeonhole anddeal them out like a deck of cards. This kind of operation, where chance plays arole, helps me revive my failing memory.16

      via: Didier Eribon, Conversations with Claude Lévi-Strauss (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), vii–viii; Claude Lévi-Strauss, Structural Anthropology (New York: Basic Books, 1963), 129f.

  14. Apr 2023
    1. Aby Warburg: Metamorphosis and Memory. Documentary, Biography, 2016. https://www.kanopy.com/en/lapl/video/5913764.

      Written, Directed and Produced by Judith Wechsler<br /> Wechsler2016

      sepia image of Warburg looking out over a city next to a hill with the movie title superimposed at the top

    2. 51:20 - [Aby] Not until art history can show51:22 that it sees the work of art51:23 in a few more dimensions than it has done so far51:27 will our activity again attract the interest of scholars51:31 and of the general public.51:36 Every serious scholar51:37 who has to venture on a problem of cultural history51:40 reads over the entrance to his workshop Goethe's lines:51:43 "What you call the spirit of the age51:46 "is really no more51:47 "than the spirit of the worthy historian51:49 "in which the age is reflected."51:57 In my role as psycho-historian,51:59 I tried to diagnose52:00 the schizophrenia of Western civilization52:02 from its images in an autobiographical reflex.52:10 May the history of art and the study of religion,52:13 between which lies nothing at present52:15 but wasteland overgrown with verbiage,52:18 meet together one day in learned and lucid minds,52:22 and may they share a workbench in the laboratory52:24 of the iconological science of civilization.
    3. 12:03 - For art is not only something which is aesthetic relevant,12:07 but it's relevant in so many other dimensions too,12:11 partially, and intellectually,12:15 and there's a lot of knowledge enclosed within the artworks.

      For art is not only something which is aesthetic relevant, but it's relevant in so many other dimensions too, partially, and intellectually, and there's a lot of knowledge enclosed within the artworks. —Michael Diers [00:12:03], art historian in Aby Warburg: Metamorphosis and Memory

    1. I just watched the documentary Aby Warburg: Metamorphosis and Memory (Wechsler, 2016) via Kanopy (for free using my local library's gateway) and thought that others here interested in the ideas of memory in culture, history, and art history may appreciate it. While a broad biography of a seminal figure in the development of art history in the early 20th century, there are some interesting bits relating to art and memory as well as a mention of Frances A. Yates whose research on memory was influenced by Warburg's library.

      Also of "note" is the fact that Aby Warburg had a significant zettelkasten-based note taking practice and portions of his collection (both written as well as images) are featured within the hour long documentary.

      Researchers interested in images, art, dance, and gesture as they relate to memory may appreciate this short film as an entrance into some of Aby Warburg's more specialized research which includes some cultural anthropology research into American Hopi indigenous peoples. cc: @LynneKelly

      syndication link

    1. Seeking to keep Mr. Jory entertained, he idly tossed off a stunt in which he recalled the location of all 52 cards in a shuffled deck.

      Harry Lorayne, having run out of card tricks to entertain actor Victor Jory one evening, invented a trick in which he recalled the location of all the cards in a deck of playing cards. The feat so impressed Jory that Lorayne made it part of his magic act in the Catskills.

    2. “My father stopped hitting me for my grades,” Mr. Lorayne told The Chicago Tribune in 1988. “He hit me for other things.”
    3. Mr. Lorayne’s attainments are all the more noteworthy in light of the fact that he grew up in poverty, struggled academically as a result of undiagnosed dyslexia and concluded his formal education after only a single year of high school.Image

      Harry Lorayne struggled in school because of dyslexia which wasn't noticed or as well understood at the time. As a result he dropped out of high school after his freshman year.

    4. Mr. Lorayne did not claim to have invented the mnemonic system that was his stock in trade: As he readily acknowledged, it harked back to classical antiquity. But he was among the first people in the modern era to recognize its use as entertainment, and to parlay it into a highly successful business.

      Harry Lorayne recognized the use of mnemonics as a form of entertainment and parlayed it into a career. Others before him, primarily magicians like David Roth had paved the way for some of this practice.

    5. By the 1960s, Mr. Lorayne was best known for holding audiences rapt with feats of memory that bordered on the elephantine. Such feats were born, he explained in interviews and in his many books, of a system of learned associations — call them surrealist visual puns — that seemed equal parts Ivan Pavlov and Salvador Dalí.

      "surrealist visual puns"

    6. He was 96.

      Harry Lorayne passed away on April 7, 2023 at the age of 96.

      Is there a link between memory training and longevity?

    1. Good afternoon, just wondering why didn’t Harry Lorraine include a memory palace in his memory techniques?

      A solid question for which I have an historical answer, though working through some of the finer historical details may be a worthwhile exercise.

    1. (Alternating numbers and letters helps the memory and may be an optical aid when searching notes, but is of course not enough).

      The alternation of letters and numbers helps to create some visual differentiation of various branches, but how does it help the memory? Help as in it's easier to search for these sorts of combinations versus remembering strings of only numbers?

  15. Mar 2023
    1. The Pelman School of Memory Training, 1635 Masonic Temple, Chicago.<br /> LONDON , 4 Bloomsbury St., W.C.; <br /> PARIS, Avenuede Nenilly, 109 ;<br /> MUNICH , Mozartstrasse, 9; <br /> MELBOURNE, G.P.O, Box 1635

    2. p 89 There's a Dickson School of Memory selling a Dickson Method.

    1. 1930s Wilson Memindex Co Index Card Organizer Pre Rolodex Ad Price List Brochure

      archived page: https://web.archive.org/web/20230310010450/https://www.ebay.com/itm/165910049390

      Includes price lists

      List of cards includes: - Dated tab cards for a year from any desired. - Blank tab cards for jottings arranged by subject. - These were sold in 1/2 or 1/3 cut formats - Pocket Alphabets for jottings arranged by letter. - Cash Account Cards [without tabs]. - Extra Record Cards for permanent memoranda. - Monthly Guides for quick reference to future dates. - Blank Guides for filing records by subject.. - Alphabet Guides for filing alphabetically.

      Memindex sales brochures recommended the 3 x 5" cards (which had apparently been standardized by 1930 compared to the 5 1/2" width from earlier versions around 1906) because they could be used with other 3 x 5" index card systems.

      In the 1930s Wilson Memindex Company sold more of their vest pocket sized 2 1/4 x 4 1/2" systems than 3 x 5" systems.

      Some of the difference between the vest sized and regular sized systems choice was based on the size of the particular user's handwriting. It was recommended that those with larger handwriting use the larger cards.

      By the 1930's at least the Memindex tag line "An Automatic Memory" was being used, which also gave an indication of the ubiquity of automatization of industrialized life.

      The Memindex has proved its success in more than one hundred kinds of business. Highly recommended by men in executive positions, merchants, manufacturers, managers, .... etc.

      Notice the gendering of users specifically as men here.

      Features: - Sunday cards were sold separately and by my reading were full length tabs rather than 1/6 tabs like the other six days of the week - Lids were custom fit to the bases and needed to be ordered together - The Memindex Jr. held 400 cards versus the larger 9 inch standard trays which had space for 800 cards and block (presumably a block to hold them up or at an angle when partially empty).

      The Memindex Jr., according to a price sheet in the 1930s, was used "extensively as an advertising gift".

      The Memindex system had cards available in bundles of 100 that were labeled with the heading "Things to Keep in Sight".

    1. Memindex

      Let YOUR MIND GO FREE Do not tax your brain trying to re- member. Get the MEMINDEX HABIT and you can FORGET WITH IMPUNITY. An ideal reminder and handy system for keeping all memoranda where they will appear at the right time. Saves time, money, opportunity. A brain saver. No other device answers its purpose. A Great Help for Busy Men, Used and recommended by Bankers, Man- ufacturers, Salesmen, Lawyers, Doctors, Merchants, Insurance Men, Architects, Ed- ucators, Contractors, Railway Managers Engineers, Ministers, etc., all over the world. Order now and get ready to Begin the New Year Right. Rest of '06 free with each outfit. Express prepaid on receipt of price. Personal checks accepted

      Also a valuable card index for desk use. Dated cards from tray are carried in the handy pocket case, 2 to 4 weeks at a time. To-day's card always at the front. No leaves to turn. Helps you to PLAN YOUR WORK WORK YOUR PLAN ACCOMPLISH MORE You need it. Three years' sales show that most all business and professional men need it. GET IT NOW. WILSON MEMINDEX CO. 93 Mills St., Rochester, N. Y.

      Interesting that the use of the portmanteau memindex (as memory + index) for a card index being used to supplement one's memory. It can't go unnoticed that the Wilson Memindex Co. was manufacturing and selling these as early as 1906, several decades before Vannevar Bush's use of the word Memex which seems derivative and removes more of the traces of index from the root.

      Note the use of card sizes 2 3/4 x 4 1/2" and 3 x 5 1/2" for this system.

  16. Feb 2023
    1. I find it very tiring haha. As I said in another comment, processing a single chapter can take me a full day or two. However, I keep reminding myself that I would rather spend a day processing a chapter well, and have literature notes to serve me a lifetime (potentially, at least), rather than reading a chapter in two hours and not remember a single thing the next day. When I REALLY need a reminder of this, I just look at my "Backlog" folder which contains old "notes" that are now pretty much useless: I didn't use a reference manager consistently during my first two years of PhD so there are a lot of citations which are unreliable; I didn't really summarise texts, I only read them and highlighted; I didn't use the cloud for a long time, so I lost a lot of notes; and I didn't have Obsidian, so a lot of my notes are just contained within the context of the place I read them, rather than being connected. Seeing three years worth of useless materials, and knowing that I read a couple hundred of articles/chapters but I have nothing to show for it, that makes me more patient when writing my literature notes now. However I also find it very exciting that I can future-proof some of my notes. I feel like I'm working for my future self.

      A partial answer to note taking why.

    1. You are presented with traces of your past thoughts, each Zettel bringing something back to life within you, lighting up some parts of your brain that start to remember those trains of thoughts the memory had sorted away.

      traces of your past thoughts feels closely related to Vannevar Bush's associative trails

    1. It is reminiscent ofPierre Nora’s suggestion that physical objects and especially the written word constitute‘archival memory,’ a secondary or ‘prosthesis’ memory (Nora, 1989: 14).
    2. He tried to show that this‘favorite topic’ of his, ‘insistence on exactness in chronological dates’, amounted tomore than a trifling (Deutsch, 1915, 1905a). Deutsch compared such historical accuracyto that of a bookkeeper who might recall his ledger by memory. ‘People would look uponsuch an achievement’, he reflected, ‘as a freak, harmless, but of no particular value, infact rather a waste of mental energy’ (Deutsch, 1916). However, he sought to show thatthese details mattered, no different from how ‘a difference in a ledger of one centremains just as grievous as if it were a matter of $100,000’ (Deutsch, 1904a: 3).

      Interesting statement about how much memory matters, though it's missing some gravitas somehow.

      Is there more in the original source?

    1. Wolff, Tobias. “Bullet in the Brain.” The New Yorker, September 17, 1995. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/1995/09/25/bullet-in-the-brain.

    2. The bullet is already in the brain; it won’t be outrun forever, or charmed to a halt. In the end it willdo its work and leave the troubled skull behind, dragging its comet’s tail of memory and hope andtalent and love into the marble hall of commerce.
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pZgMpjjgCRA

      Combining sketchnotes with Cornell Notes in a fairly straightforward manner.

      He mentions anecdotally that teachers who have used custom icons for their subjects see students drawing some of them on their exam papers as mental associative tags. This is the same sort of use that drolleries had in medieval manuscripts.

    1. stayed with me

      "stayed with me" as a phrase to mean an idea so powerful and compelling that one regularly revisits it in their mind at various intervals without spending time on memorizing or actively trying to remember it.

    1. The story on canvassymbolises the importance of traditional law, explains the transmutation of the Moon,and exposes the raw power of human emotion. T

      Notice how in the story of Garnkiny, the Moon Man, and Dawool, that the power of emotion is used as a means of strengthening not only the story, but the memory of the other associated elements.

    2. As in any science class, you learn how tointerpret and apply what you observe. Elders refer to this process as “reading the stars.”

      This idea is closely related to "talking rocks" and seems a very apt parallel.

    1. Some dance to rememberSome dance to forget

      —Eagles, Hotel California, track 1 on the album Hotel California<br /> https://genius.com/Eagles-hotel-california-lyrics

      In many oral societies, dance is a common tool for memory in much the same way that we might pick up a pen and write. Though written in and performed in one of the most literate societies in human history, one might replace "dance" in Hotel California with other forms like writing: "Some write to remember; Some write to forget".

      The first half might be interpreted by the majority as a tautology, but others write in their diaries as a means to purge their memories and let go of them. Similarly the idea of "morning pages" are designed to allow one to purge their surface thoughts so that they can clear their mind for other work: writing to forget.


      (Without hearing this song this morning, I kept (diffuse) thinking about the two line endings "...to remember / ...to forget" until I made the connection to the lyrics and then immediately bridged this to orality.)

  17. Jan 2023
    1. https://www.complexityexplorer.org/courses/162-foundations-applications-of-humanities-analytics/segments/15630

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HwkRfN-7UWI


      Seven Principles of Data Feminism

      • Examine power
      • Challenge power
      • Rethink binaries and hierarchies
      • Elevate emotion an embodiment
      • Embrace pluralism
      • Consider context
      • Make labor visible

      Abolitionist movement

      There are some interesting analogies to be drawn between the abolitionist movement in the 1800s and modern day movements like abolition of police and racial justice, etc.


      Topic modeling - What would topic modeling look like for corpuses of commonplace books? Over time?


      wrt article: Soni, Sandeep, Lauren F. Klein, and Jacob Eisenstein. “Abolitionist Networks: Modeling Language Change in Nineteenth-Century Activist Newspapers.” Journal of Cultural Analytics 6, no. 1 (January 18, 2021). https://doi.org/10.22148/001c.18841. - Brings to mind the difference in power and invisible labor between literate societies and oral societies. It's easier to erase oral cultures with the overwhelm available to literate cultures because the former are harder to see.

      How to find unbiased datasets to study these?


      aspirational abolitionism driven by African Americans in the 1800s over and above (basic) abolitionism

      • Llyn Bochlwyd (lake gray cheek)
      • Foel Fawr
      • Coed Llugwy
      • Cwm Cneifion

      Erasure of culture

      Memory and place names

      "A nation which forgets its past has no future." - Winston Churchill (check quote and provenance)

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yLQ6XlG0MQ4

    1. If you have experienced trouble in rememberingdates try the following system which has proved beneficial to at least onestudent.

      Maxfield suggest drawing out a timeline as a possible visual cue for helping to remember dates. He seemingly misses any mention of ars memoria techniques here.

    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BpvEY-2dSdU

      In this episode, I explain the memory system I created in order to expand my memory to new heights. I call it the Sirianni Method and with it, you can learn how to create an intentional photographic memory.

      Who the hell is the Sirianni this is named for, himself? (In the comments he mentions that "it's my italian grandpa's last name, I always liked it and a while back started naming things after it)

      tl;dr: He's reinvented the wheel, but certainly not the best version of it.

      What he's describing isn't remotely related to the idea of a photographic memory, so he's over-hyping the results, which is dreadful. If it were a photographic memory, he wouldn't need the spaced-repetition portion of his practice. While he mentions how he's regularly reviewing his cards he doesn't mention any of the last century+ of research and work on spaced repetition. https://super-memory.com/articles/20rules.htm is a good place to start for some of this.

      A lot of what he's doing is based on associative memory, particularly by drawing connections/links to other things he already knows. He's also taking advantage of visual memory by associating his knowledge with a specific picture.

      He highlights emotion and memory, but isn't drawing clear connections between his knowledge and any specific emotions that he's tying or associating them to.

      "Intentional" seems to be one of the few honest portions of the piece.

      Overview of his Sirianni method: pseudo-zettelkasten notes with written links to things he already knows (but without any Luhmann-esque numbering system or explicit links between cards, unless they're hiding in his connections section, which isn't well supported by the video) as well as a mnemonic image and lots of ad hoc spaced repetition.

      One would be better off mixing their note taking practice with associative mnemonic methods (method of loci, songlines, memory palaces, sketchnotes, major system, orality, etc.) all well described by Lynne Kelly (amongst hundreds before her who got smaller portions of these practices) in combination with state of the art spaced repetition.

      The description of Luhmann's note taking system here is barely passable at best. He certainly didn't invent the system which was based on several hundred years of commonplace book methodology before him. Luhmann also didn't popularize it in any sense (he actually lamented how people were unimpressed by it when he showed them). Popularization was done post-2013 generally by internet hype based on his prolific academic output.

      There is nothing new here other than that he thinks he's discovered something new and is repackaging it for the masses with a new name in a flashy video package. There's a long history of hucksters doing this sort of fabulist tale including Kevin Trudeau with Mega Memory in the 1990s and going back to at least the late 1800s with "Professor" Alphonse Loisette and the system he sold for inordinate amounts to the masses including Mark Twain.

      Most of these methods have been around for millennia and are all generally useful and well documented though the cultural West has just chosen to forget most of them. A week's worth of research and reading on these topics would have resulted in a much stronger "system" more quickly.

      Beyond this, providing a fuller range of specific options and sub-options in these areas so that individuals could pick and choose the specifics which work best for them might have been a better way to go.

      Content research: D- Production value: A+

      {syndication link](https://www.reddit.com/r/antinet/comments/10ehrbd/comment/j4u495q/?utm_source=share&utm_medium=web2x&context=3)