Saturday 18 May 2019

Memories of the Future by Siri Hustvedt

Memories of the Future by Siri Husvedt has lived with me for a few months now. The slowness of my reading is in no way indicative of any lack of enjoyment on my behalf. It is, however a thoughtful, intelligent read, that requires some active participation. Something I could only do when not completely exhausted after work or double-booked, triple-booked on the weekends.

My early feelings and thoughts about the book were contained in this post from last month - Starting a New Book... I won't repeat myself, so if you'd like a brief synopsis of the story, and a poem by Elsa, I'll wait here for you to catch up.
In this particular book, the book you are reading now, the young person and the old person live side by side in the precarious truths of memory

What the 23 yr old SH wrote and what the 61 yr old SH remembers are often two very different things. Hindsight gives a shape to what is shapeless as you live it.
The things that have stayed with her as important are not always the things she recorded in her journal. I am interested in understanding how she and I are relatives.
The story changes, adjusts to new experiences. Memory is not only unreliable; it is porous.
And sometimes there are shocks waiting in the wings to floor you. Sometimes memory is a knife.

This is the stuff I love. I even did a similar thing myself in my thirties when I read through my old travel journal from 1991. Even after a decade, the things I remembered were different to what I recorded at the time. I wrote another journal comparing my record with my memories. As I wrote, I was also being written.
I should hunt it out to see what it looks like twenty years later again.

We are all wishful creatures, and we wish backwards too, not only forward, and thereby rebuild the curious, crumbling architecture of memory into structures that are more habitable.

Sadly, though, somewhere after the halfway mark of Memories of the Future I lost my way. All the sideline stories (the crazy neighbour Lucy Brite, the story within the story that she wrote in her twenties...) stopped being interesting to me, even as they began to take up more and more of the story telling space. Every story carries inside itself multitudes of other stories.

It all got too much in the end - too rambling, too meta and curiously, not enough Elsa.

There was one brief passage towards the end about the Marcel Duchamp porcelain urinal debate, where ID, the Introspective Detective says,
The preponderance of scholarly evidence has long been on the side of the Baroness, you know. One, we have the letter Duchamp wrote to his sister, Susanne, two days after the urinal was rejected. It was discovered until 1982. In it he wrote. 'One of my female friends who had adopted the pseudonym Richard Mutt sent me a porcelain urinal as a sculpture.' Two we know that a newspaper reported at the time that the artist Richard Mutt was from Philadelphia. The Baroness was living in Philadelphia at the time. Three, we know that it wasn't until after the Baroness and Stieglitz were both dead that Duchamp assumed full credit for the urinal.... 
Duchamp stole it, all right. It doesn't even resemble the rest of his work.... 
Fountain doesn't fit in. But the museums haven't changed the attribution.

Marcel Duchamp, 'Fountain', 1950 (replica of 1917 original), porcelain urinal, 30.5 x 38.1 x 45.7 cm
Philadelphia Museum of Art 125th Anniversary Acquisition, gift (by exchange) of Mrs Herbert Cameron Morris,
1998-74-1 © Association Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP. Copyright Agency, 2019

Marcel Duchamp
Fountain, 1950 (replica of 1917 original)
porcelain urinal
© Association Marcel Duchamp/ADAGP. Copyright Agency, 2019

And as luck would have it, from the 27th April until 11th August my local Art Gallery of NSW is hosting The Essential Duchamp exhibition, with the urinal in question on full display. I wonder if the 'replica of 1917 original' is enough to cover his bases?

Favourite or Forget: Not a favourite in the end, but still keen to read more by Hustvedt.

Favourite Characters: IF IS and ID

Favourite Quote:
My first moments in my apartment have a radiant quality in memory that have nothing to do with sunlight. They are illuminated by an idea....I was twenty-three years old...
This took me straight back to my own 23 yr old self, living alone for the first time in a new town, starting my career, on the brink of my adult life, excited, full of anticipation and hope and plans and the love, the 'radiant quality' I felt for my first, slightly dingy, older style townhouse on the wrong side of the tracks.

Books in Books:

  • Don Quixote 
  • Balzac
  • The Great Gatsby
  • Proust
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Gogol - Dead Souls
  • Baudelaire - The Flowers of Evil
  • Laurence Sterne - The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy
  • Plato - Apology
  • Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven
  • Socrates
  • Smolett - The Adventures of Peregrine Pickle
  • The Metamorphosis
  • Chaucer
  • Milton - Paradise Lost
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
  • Finnegan's Wake
  • Simone Weil "imagination and fiction make up more than three quarters of our real life."
  • Great Expectations
  • John Ashbery
  • Michael Lally
  • Thomas Wyatt
  • Shakespeare
  • John Donne
  • John Clare
  • Emily Dickinson
  • Thomas Moore
  • Sylvia Plath
  • Alan Turing
  • Mary Shelley - Frankenstein
  • etc - there were many more but you get the jist!


  1. Speaking of starting new books....
    Are you going to post your #20BooksOfSummer soon?
    I'm having a great day looking for books to read!
    Unfortunately Siri is not my cup of tea so I'll
    be looking more to books on your "new to the pile" of
    "bottom of the pile' or your read-a-thon list....for reading suggestions!

    1. Yes I will be doing a 20 books post again - just need to do it :-)
      I'm also ready to pop up another Stories and Shout-outs as a few more new books seem to have found their way into my home!
      Watch this space....


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