22 July 2009


A great quotation from Nicholas Baker that appeared in a typically rather precious article by Adam Thirwell in The Guardian. I love the phrase "totalled recall."

And then I remembered another moment about memory, or lack of memory, from Nicholson Baker's great book on John Updike, U & I. The author describes how, in an early story by Updike, "a character leans his forehead against a bookcase, and considers 'all the poetry he had once read evaporating in him, a vast dying sea'". This is a stupendous moment in the story, Baker comments, but also stupendous for him - for this moment's "own plucky ability to stay afloat ... as the rest of the story and almost all of literature capsizes and decays in deep corrosive oceans of totalled recall". . . . But Baker continues: "I remember almost nothing of what I read. What once was Portrait of a Lady is now for me only a plaid lap-blanket bobbing on the waves; Anna Karenina survives as a picnic basket containing a single jar of honey; Pnin is a submerged aquamarine bowl ... " This domestic truthfulness creates avant-garde conclusions. Because, Baker decides, it is this "vast dying sea" of the once read that "is the most important feature of all reading lives". And its symbol is the random detail.


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