From this renowned philosopher comes a debut work of fiction, at once a brilliant précis of the history of philosophy, a semiautobiographical meditation on the absurd relationship between knowledge and memory, and a very funny story
A French philosopher dies during a savage summer heat wave. Boxes carrying his unpublished papers mysteriously appear in Simon Critchley’s office. Rooting through them, Critchley discovers a brilliant text on the ancient art of memory and a cache of astrological charts predicting the deaths of various philosophers. Among them is a chart for Critchley himself, laying out in great detail the course of his life and eventual demise. While waiting for his friend’s prediction to come through, Critchley receives the missing, final box, which contains a maquette of Giulio Camillo’s sixteenth-century Venetian memory theater, a space supposed to contain the sum of all knowledge. With nothing left to hope for, Critchley devotes himself to one final project before his death—the building of a structure to house his collective memories and document the remnants of his entire life.
From philosopher Critchley (The Book of Dead Philosophers) comes this debut novel, a not-quite-nonfiction story that fuses its author's long-standing engagement with critical theory and a narrative inquiry into mortality and remembrance that is original, observant, and unexpectedly moving. In 2004, aging professor Simon Critchley discovers a stack of boxes belonging to his deceased friend and mentor, Michel Haar. Organized according to the signs of the zodiac, the boxes contain unpublished papers on Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Thomas Carlyle; Haar's primary interest seems to have been in the Renaissance concept of the memory theater. Haar's commentaries have particular relevance for Critchley, whose own memory was seemingly damaged in an accident years earlier; increasingly beguiled by the eerily accurate horoscopes that Haar left behind, Critchley resolves to build his own full-scale memory theater, populated with manifestations of his life and learning, to be completed at the hour of his death which has been foretold by Haar in his papers. As anyone familiar with the works of Critchley (or his frequent collaborator Tom McCarthy) might expect, this speculative narrative is peppered with copious references like Medieval heresy, the avant-garde, and Mark E. Smith of the English punk group the Fall. These essayistic reveries hang together so beautifully with the unfolding mystery that the book becomes, in essence, a theater of its own. The novel is short enough to be absorbed in a single sitting, but the questions posed by author/character Simon regarding the full ramifications of the soul's saturation in history will linger indefinitely.
This small book is a bit self-indulgent on author’s part, more like inner thoughts in preparation for a Lecture, than ideas developed to be enjoyed by readers. That said, it could be perfect while waiting for a flight; its world feels centuries and continents away from our own. And the focus is on serious pondering by the smartest people of their times.
I’ll be researching some of the highly inventive Thinkers here.