Do You Remember Enough To Write An (Accurate) Book About Your Life?


In this episode of the Magnetic Memory Method Podcast, we talk about recalling things from your deep past in order to write autobiography and fiction (and throw Jung, Lacan and Freud into the mix for good measure).

Program Notes

This Magnetic Memory Method Podcast episode was inspired by the following question I received from a participant in my video course How to Learn and Memorize Poetry. Denver writes:

While listening to the interview in Lecture 23, I wondered whether the Magnetic Memory Method is likely to aid in recall of past old memories. What thoughts anybody? One of the excuses I use for not getting round to writing the books in my head, is lack of confidence in recalling past details. I’m always staggered as to how writers do this. I know that note-taking is probably one of the keys, but “wow!”, if you could just remember things, how great that would be!

This is the original answer I wrote in response that forms the basis of the podcast, most of which is ad lib and goes into some rich areas about using wax tablets in your Memory Palaces, Nietzsche, sailboats and more.

This is an interesting question, Denver.

I could only offer anecdotal evidence, which is that, yes, practicing memory techniques can improve your overall recall.

A caveat, however. The accuracy of that recall may not be adequate even if your Memory Palace work and work with other memory techniques and mnemonics is involved. Thus, I would exercise caution if and when claiming this material is the truth. I suspect that most writers and audiences realize this anyway, but it’s an important point to keep in mind.

Something related that comes to mind just for fun:

Carl Jung used the word “cryptomnesia” to describe writing things and not realizing that you’re “copying” something you’ve read before. He accused Nietzsche of being a plagiarist, for example, but a plagiarist suffering from this condition (through somehow I don’t think Jung’s diagnosis means that Jung forgave him).

English: Hand-colored photograph of Carl Jung ...

The problem with this accusation is that it would lead people to believe that the creators of The Matrix had read the 7th book of Plato’s Republic (the “Allegory of the Cave”).

This is quite likely, but it’s not necessary that they did. What matters is that there is a core, universal story that has reverberated throughout history. What is being “remembered” or recreated is the echo of the narrative undertow and its deep structures. You don’t need to have come across something before in order to “fall prey” to reconstructing it.

This doesn’t, by the way, relate to the idea that a thousands monkeys with typewriters would eventually come up with all of Shakespeare. As far as I know, they don’t perceive culture, so that randomness could never attain to such meaning. Not only that, but what counts as “Shakespeare” has always been and will always be in question as new scholarship discovers new things and we continue to contend with the fragments of writing that were left behind and mostly unsigned by whoever wrote them.

Back to writing the “truth” of one’s past, another psychologist, Jacques Lacan, said that “there are too many words” to accurately reflect the truth of a situation after the fact.

Try it out some time.

I’m about to go to the grocery store and I can guarantee you in advance that so many things are going to happen, so many shapes and colors are going to be seen and so many people encountered, all of which will contain conscious and subconscious thoughts …

There will be too many words available in English and every other language to ever describe it except by eliminating, or rather focusing possibility towards the construction of a possible rendition of what happened.

Put another way, there aren’t words enough. You could fill twelve telephone books trying to describe what will take place on that simple journey and never make an accurate description. You’d have to be me taking that short trip, and even I won’t absorb even a tenth of it.

Français : Plaque apposée au n° 5 de la rue de...

Thus, I would suggest that it’s not what one can remember that is important when writing about the past. It’s the impressions that you shape from what you do remember that count. And the words you use to choose them will always come from a pool of too much to create too little based on the pounding of stimuli from what Freud called the “oceanic.”

There you have it. Three psychoanalysts in one answer. How’s that for fearful symmetry? 🙂

Further Resources and Nifty Things That Only An Internet Can Provide: Freud on the Oceanic in Civilization and its Discontents (probably better translated as “its discomfort”)

Wiki on Cryptomnesia

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave

Previous MMMPodcast Episode: Tap the Mind of a 10 Year-Old Memory Palace Master

Cool song that mentions Freud’s “Oceanic”:

About the author: Anthony Metivier is the founder of the Magnetic Memory Method, a systematic, 21st Century approach to memorizing foreign language vocabulary, dreams, names, music, poetry and much more in ways that are easy, elegant, effective and fun.


2 Responses to " Do You Remember Enough To Write An (Accurate) Book About Your Life? "

  1. Thanks for the post. Your nod to ‘fearful symmetry’ has planted in my head the idea of adding Blake’s “The Tyger” to my list poems to memorise. And my final offering to the discussion is a poem – actually one of the first poems I memorised.
    The Invention of Influence (by Peter Cole)

    Precisely this
    afflicts the plagiarist
    or something like
    the X he is:
    What’s old and has
    long been known,
    seems to him new
    and becomes his own.
    he’s all reception,
    all alone,
    and the fruits are manifold
    though the root is one –
    thwarted ambition
    and a sense at heart
    the doctor describes
    as a kind of cry:
    I cannot bear
    not to have been
    the first to have uttered
    a certain thing.


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