28 abr. 2009


The problem of knowing enough to be a good scholar a problem of learning, but of memory. Memory peaks in the early twenties, they say. Yet my memory is actually improving with age. I don't know quite how to explain it. I sometimes scare myself with my memory. I remember specific things I learned in college and where I learned them, certain things I read and pondered over as a child. Maybe it's an illusion, but my memories now seem sharper than they did ten years ago. I inhabit the apophatic bookstore of my own head.

Imagine a woman living in a small town and not leaving very much. She knows everyone in the town and could probably give you an extremely accurate account of the town's history down to very small details. There's a few thousand people to keep track of but that's not a problem because that's what she does. I'm a little like that.

After a while, as you get older, you get more concentrated; what you know, you know even better. You remember things because they are significant to you. I'm not about to forget what Body and Soul sounds like. Ancient Greek, which I learned very quickly once and never used afterwords, is mostly gone.

Nobody is all that good at learning and remembering unmeaningful data. That's what a filing cabinet is good for. (Some people are very good at that in the short term, and can get good grades in undergraduate, and then promptly forget all of it.) But almost everyone is good at remembering things that they are motivated to remember. If you forget something it wasn't that important to you in the first place.

I could probably relearn Greek, or some math I've "forgotten." I remember exactly how I learned Greek, and the structure of the language: I've just forgotten those pesky conjugations, declensions, and vocabulary items.