A Stubbornly Persistent Illusion

M|RBlog FeaturedOver at LARB, Peter Birkenhead writes on Vladimir Nabokov’s Speak, Memory: An Autobiography Revisited:

Early in the pages of his memoir, Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov confesses that he is a “chronophobic,” that he in fact not only fears but also doesn’t “believe in time,” that he is less impressed by memory’s ability to sort and retrieve information than by its knack for synthesizing that information into poetry. He writes, “I witness with pleasure the supreme achievement of memory, which is the masterly use it makes of innate harmonies when gathering to its fold the suspended and wandering tonalities of the past.”

And later:

… in welcoming his memories on their own disorderly terms, Nabokov opens himself to a universe in which, as he wrote in Ada, “The present is only the top of the past, and the future does not exist,” or, as his fellow multi-exile Einstein put it, “the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”

Memory studies have become increasingly important in biblical and ancient historiography. Helen Bond talked about this in her April 1 piece in MRB on Jesus Criteria and the Demise of Authenticity from Chris Keith and Anthony Le Donne, and Mark McEntire did the same a couple of weeks ago in his discussion of Jacob L. Wright’s book on King David.