From time to time, there will be special articles in this blog that have nothing to do with the Philippines, just stuff I happen to be interested in writing about. Cheers.

Hari Kunzru, a Londoner of Kashmiri and English origin, produced a beautiful illustrated novel called Memory Palace, the accompanying exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum was highly  acclaimed. 45 Bank Street with 40 Bank Street skyscraper in London, spring 2013 (1)It is about a time in the future where our civilization has been destroyed by electromagnetic pulse, its achievements just distant memories. It was because people relied too much on computers Рcalled pewter in the distant future Рthey were helpless and desperate when they were suddenly gone:

“An aura was seen all over the world, great waves of light shivering in the sky. They saw the great waves of light, and their screens spewed out their last sign and went dark. After that, all memory was gone, and the market was empty and the people wandered the cities looting and burning and killing one another. ItIndian-Battle-Axe 3 is said that people had lived in the realm of sign so long that no one could remember how to get food, and without pewter they no longer knew their own names… It was a war of all against all, each against each.”

The country is now ruled by Thanes who worship power and hate knowledge, while exploiting the many weak and ignorant:

“And of course ideas are a poor substitute for true power. True power lives in the bone. It courses through the blood. Even you should be able to see that. We are men. We were meant to be warriors. We were meant to exist in a wild world.”

Their secret enemies are the Memorialists, people devoted to keeping the memory of the civilized past alive in a present where even writing things down Рcalled trace Рis prohibited.  Units of measurement Рcalled accounting by the memorialist rebels Рare outlawed, numbers above forty are forgotten, the last person who could read or write died ten generations ago. The memorialists rely only on memory passed on by secret word of mouth. Yet their memories of the past are distorted, they are what is left from hundreds of years ago:

“Once there were great palaces called hospitals. The tradition of hospitality was revered across the land. It meant helping customers, healing them and seeing to their needs. Men and women greeted each other by asking “How can I help you today?” The doctors performed great feats of surgery and roamed the cities, looking for the sick, whose faces would appear on their screens so that all men would know who was in need. It was a time of great wonder.”

Scientific laws are memorized, scientists of old like “Milord Newton” are revered as lawlords. Another distant memory are:

“Museums. A palace where the Lawlords went to muse. Museums were filled with treasures kept for musing on or amusement.
These pa
laces were silent and heavily guarded, because even in the Booming, amusement was precious and rare“.

The tragic hero of the novel is caught with trace of the periodic table of the elements, is imprisoned, betrays the other members of his internet – his secret group, but is still set for execution. Another memorialist who is secretly inside the system comes to his cell and asks him to download all he knows to her so she can memorize it. And he may add exactly one memory of his own:

Land's End rocks - geograph.org.uk - 724396“I was walking over a green field, with my lover. In front of us scampers our cowardly little dog. My lover and I hold hands. I see her long dark hair, feel the cool pressure of her hand in mine. We walk over the field. Up ahead is the brow of a hill. In the moment, we will reach the top and be able to see the view.”

It is a story of knowledge versus superstition. It is a story of truth versus power.

It is a warning of how fragile civilization and its achievements can be if taken for granted.

Irineo B. R. Salazar, Munich, 15 May 2015 – illustrations are mine of course…

P.S. I also highly recommend Transmission by Hari Kunzru – a novel about a disgruntled Indian IT expert who turns the world upside down after being fired by an antivirus corporation. He creates a worm called Leela after his favorite Bollywood actress. Among other things, it turns the Europol database upside down, causing a high-class English marketing executive to be jailed as an “Albanian” human trafficker…

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