After losing 15 years of his memory following electroconvulsive therapy for depression, Cott (Wandering Ghost, 1994, etc.) began a personal quest to discover the significance of memory.
Cott begins by writing emotionally of his unfortunate experience with ECT and of the therapy’s troubled history. Driven by curiosity and resentment, if not anger, over his loss, he interviewed 11 people with varying backgrounds, credentials and experience in the areas of memory and forgetting. The structure of the chapters (names include “On Wanting to Forget” and “On Alzheimer’s Disease”) is as follows: Cott introduces each topic with a short essay, gives a brief description of the interviewee’s background, then delves into the Q&A. The book explores phenomenal—indeed quite incredible—feats of memory, techniques of memory enhancement, the neurobiology of memory and false and recovered memories, and then moves on to the relationships among memory, imagination and the soul. His quest takes an unexpected turn with interviews providing a look at the role of an African griot, or remembrancer, in the culture of an African tribe, followed by an explanation of the uses of emotional memory in the Stanislavski method of acting. Next are interviews with three religious figures—a rabbi, a Sufi spiritual guide and a Tibetan Buddhist teacher—each of whom gives his perspective on the role of remembrance in religious tradition. At the end, Cott returns to his personal story, interviewing an old friend, who fills him in on the forgotten details of their relationship, and then a fellow victim of memory loss, who shares his experiences and coping techniques.
An eclectic collection, each piece opening one small window on an aspect of memory.