Memory palace

My last week in the roman studio. This means that whatever it is I’m producing has to take shape soon. I know I resisted the urge to create more books when I first got here, and I went far off in other directions. That’s all good, because eventually I got back to where I need to be. I needed to make those things, which are really not my language, so I could return to the familiar and rediscover it.

So here’s my language — right now, this work is manifesting itself into a book. I want to finish it by Friday and look at it two ways — flattened out on the wall and as an object. I’m seeing the book as a container for memories (my past, Rome’s) — a non-space to store objects, associations and meaning. A memory palace to contain the artifacts: desire lines, relics and maps. It’s like a reliquary, housing both the remains of lost memory (clues to past experiences) as well as new material.

Recently I was trying to describe the feeling of disorientation I’ve experienced here in Rome, my struggle to feel fully connected to the past, present and future cities that exist simultaneously in this place. I’ve felt it profoundly and deeply throughout this trip and I think my work has been created out of this “feeling of derealization.” A friend here suggested that maybe I was trying too hard. I don’t think so; rather, I think it may be

“a disturbance of memory…which takes place in unconscious cities which suddenly displace the obtuse force of real cities. These two kinds of cities cannot be securely distinguished or neatly integrated, because each exists in relationship to the other. One’s experience of a city is, in other words, haunted by an unconscious counterpart: the (Rome) one has imagined, dreamed about, and planned to visit cannot be left at home. It comes along and constantly interferes with — and so organizes — the traveler’s experience. A distinct stratification separates unconscious expectations and associations, the scattered experiences of the city, and the memories that we will continue to revise for ourselves and others. Thus, when one visits (Rome) for the first time, disappointment or familiarity is inevitable, and even more severe feelings of déjà vu indicate a powerful confirmation of a long-held, unconscious idea. Such feelings could be compared to encountering a ghost — of oneself and of a city. In such moments of disorientation, one suddenly finds oneself on the streets of an unconscious city.”

“Unconscious Cities,” from The Persistence of Memory: Organism, Myth, Text (Philip Kuberski)


  1. The color palette you’ve been using is quite wonderful. Very Italian, Roman, and aged to perfection. I’d imagine this is intentional.

    I like the idea of projecting this book in two different manners. Looking forward to seeing it.

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  3. The Kuberski quote is extremely evocative. I dream, repeatedly, of three cities: New York, unsurprisingly; Istanbul; and, weirdly, Palermo (weird because I’ve only visited it twice, and very briefly both times). The geography of each differs from its “real” geography–for instance, the Golden Horn in my dream Istanbul is on the Asian side; my dream Palermo is largely underground–but the dream-city geography is, in each case, remarkably consistent from dream to dream. I’ve thought, in the past, of using these unconscious geographies in my art, in some way; your post encourages me.

  4. James beat me to the punch; New York is such an archetype of this phenomenon (and the beneficiary of so many alternate-reality versions realized through popular culture, arts and media). I feel as if I spend MORE time in my unconscious version than the real one. I don’t doubt your ‘trial’ with New York puts you in perfect form to experience this effect in Rome (as you have demonstrated). I also know that like myself you are good at ‘enabling’ or willing the idealized unconscious elements to ‘manifest’ themselves. maybe the only reason cities exist at all (at least philosophically) is because of a large congregation of human beings with similar ‘conjuring’ aspirations. OK – taking my fingers off the keyboard NOW 🙂

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