So this is Giulio Camillo's Memory Theatre, as reconstructed from the eyewitness reports of Camillo's visitors who entered it.
Finer details are recorded in Frances Yates' reconstructed plan. Don't bother to thank me for this nice fresh scan from the 1978 Peregrine reprint, that is just part of the usual Riddled service.
Now the classical Memory Palace, as featured in the Ars Memoriae of antiquity, was all about the 'Method of Loci', and it was all about the serial retrieval of information. This is all commonplace knowledge now, with TED talks and National Geographic infographics and a chorus of Explaining Voices from bloggers in their scores, so you should all be familiar with the concept and it may well come up in the end-of-year exam.
Each detail of the tableau is chosen to embody one salient point of that mnemonic 'chunk'... the ram's testicles, the cup of poison, the salted pineapple, the splash of red paint... all comprising an image of Surrealist weirdness or Grand Guignol excess, a crime scene out of 'Hannibal'. Or in Cicero's example, "Aesopus and Cimber [two actors] being dressed for the roles of Agamemnon and Menelaus in Iphigenaia".²
crime scenesmemory images
So the images and tableau are unique to your own associational needs. The architecture or landscape that you populate with them is equally customised. A Memory Garden or Church or Gallery or Museum will work just as well as a Memory Palace, as long as you know it so well as to navigate its corridors or promenades in your mind, and it is punctuated with stopping points or Stations of the Schloss that vary enough in their circumstances to keep the images distinct and non-overlapping. You can use it again or again for different narratives of information sequences, so it does not need to be immense... Hannibal Lecter is credited with mnemonic architecture that "is vast, even by medieval standards. Translated to the tangible world it would rival the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul for size and complexity" -- but Lecter is just showing off.³
Something about the Memory Palace conceit resonated with the Neuromancer tropes of cyberspace -- virtual but spatial metaphors for representing data, stored or in motion, in human terms. So now Memory Palaces are everywhere, they probably have their own Lonely Planet guide, and we hipsters who were reading Yates' book 40 years ago before they went mainstream, it is all tiresome for us, now we have moved on to reading Mary Carruthers' "The Medieval Craft of Memory" and other histories of mnemotechnics that you probably haven't heard of. Everyone quotes "The Art of Memory" but no-one memorises it. If they did, they would recall that the classical Method of Loci is covered in the first two chapters, while the bulk of the book traces its medieval mutations and Renaissance excrescences, in which the convenience of a retentive memory features hardly at all.
with hypertext, and with information-overload data-immersion interfaces like Bush's Memex desk or the Microfilm Machine. Thus its appearance in a Laundry novel cannot be far away.
The first letter of the
Name has been uttered
Below, right: Frozen
The second letter of the
Name has been uttered
The last letter of the
Name has been uttered
Perhaps the user was intended to encode information in the form of a manhunter detection wall, by visualising a spiderweb of colour-coded strings to connect the relevant talismans.
But each fictive manifestation of the Theatre makes the next manifestation easier and more likely (according to the iron laws of the Morphogenetic Field): the successive intervals are shortening, the rhythm is accelerating. The third case marks the tipping point of the avalanche, Bellman Logic applies and the slippery slope becomes steeper. Extrapolating the curve, we only have two years left before every single work of literary or cinematic fiction is about a Memory Theatre. After that, as the Morphogenic Flux propagates backwards in time, past works will be recognised in retrospection as descriptions of Camillo's theatre.5 Memory Theatres will be the only culture we have.
I pay no attention to all this and go on revising, in the still days at the Adrogue hotel, an uncertain Quevedian translation (which I do not intend to publish) of Browne's Urn Burial.
----------------------------------------------------------------------1. Filmed in the Debating Chamber in County Hall in London, which used to be the headquarters of the Greater London Council. Until Margaret Thatcher abolished the GLC on the principle that local democracy is incompatible with Freedom... leaving County Hall to be occupied by a succession of fly-by-night tourist attractions. The Debating Chamber is now available for corporate hire.
2. Lengthy footnote goes here about Locus Solus as Canterel's memory palace. Tl;dw.
3. There's a plaque on the wall of Literature Street in Vilnius honouring Thomas Harris... not in recognition of his contributions to the literature of Memory, alas, but rather because Lecter is also credited with a Lithuanian background.
4. The stage is small, with room for one or maybe two people at a time, so the stairway leading up to it from behind narrows to a eye-of-the-needle entrance. There is nothing in the written description about the corridor being bedecked with banners and messages.
Brain Impulse Galvanoscope Record And Transferdevice from Joe-90 designed not so much to implant memories and skills, but to awaken them through anamnesis? I could not possibly comment.