I Imagine the Book as a building

The notion of a text as a build­ing has its ori­gin in the art of memory. The art of memory belongs to clas­si­cal rhetoric and con­cerns the memo­riza­tion of texts and speech­es. The memory tech­niques are based on places and images. The text is broken down into images which are linked to a fic­ti­tious or actual place in the mind. The images sym­bol­ize topics and words and phras­es. The places should be easy to en­vis­age, prefer­ably from one’s own life and work. Pub­lic spaces and build­ings and pri­vate houses and homes. Baths face west and bed­rooms and li­braries face east, writes Vit­ru­vius in his ten books on archi­tec­ture. Rooms for paint­ings and the like, where the light should not shift with the sun, face north. The same build­ing may be used to memo­rize var­i­ous texts. The build­ing is the form and the con­tent is shift­ing. The pro­gres­sion through the build­ing is the course of the nar­ra­tive. The speak­er moves from image to image through the rooms, first to com­mit the text to memory and then to re­con­struct it. A long story de­mands many rooms or large rooms with space for many images. The rooms should not be too bright or too dark, and the images should not be placed closer or far­ther away from one an­other than thirty feet; for we do not see clear­ly what is too bright or too dark, too close or too far away. This is how art imi­tates nature. The images are more man­ner­ed. They must be out of the ordi­nary, for the every­day is for­got­ten, while the extra­ordi­nary remains in memory. Naked bodies, bloody and filthy, with crowns and cloaks. A solar eclipse in­stead of a sun­rise. Strik­ing re­sem­blance. These are recom­men­da­tions and not ex­am­ples. There are no ex­am­ple col­lec­tions re­lat­ing to the art of memory, just an odd ex­plana­tory image in scat­tered rhe­tor­ical hand­books. The fol­low­ing is from an imag­ined de­fence speech, from the text­book Rhet­orica ad Heren­nium, at­trib­uted to Cicero but not by him. A man has been ac­cused of mur­der by poi­son­ing, the mo­tive is pre­sumed to be in­heri­tance, and there are many wit­ness­es. Image: the poi­son­ed man is lying ill in a bed. The de­fen­dant is sit­ting at the bed­side, he has a cup in his right hand and wax tablets in his left, and a ram’s tes­ti­cles on his ring finger. The cup sym­bol­izes the poisoning, the tablets sym­bol­ize the in­heri­tance, the tes­ti­cles sym­bol­ize the wit­nesses—the Latin ‘tes­ti­culus’ is a de­ri­va­tive of ‘tes­tis, wit­ness. A scro­tum is evi­dence of viril­ity. Imag­ine an en­tire house of such images. It re­sem­bles more a cabi­net of curi­osi­ties from the Baro­que than a har­mo­nious whole from Clas­sical An­tiq­uity. Purs­es were made of rams’ tes­ti­cles in Roman times. It may sug­gest that the wit­ness­es have been bribed. The author leaves it open. I imagine the book as a build­ing. A page is a room. The front is the façade. If the fol­low­ing are the only words on a page:

loves me

Then there is no­thing else in this room. You may stop and consider this, or move on. Images in other rooms will throw light on images in other rooms again.

loves me not

This is not about prose, but poetry, and not the in­di­vid­ual poem, but the col­lec­tion or suite.

Text and translation by Jørn H. Sværen. Printed in the col­lec­tion Queen of England (Black Square Edi­tions, New York, 2017), the author’s trans­lation of the Nor­wegian Dronning av England (Kolon Forlag, Oslo, 2011). First pub­lished in English in Snow 2 (East Sussex, 2013–2014).