The Western Canon and the Art of Memory-or-The Art of Reading

Collective Memorial -or- Remembrance Day of Autobiographical Memory

According to Freud, hysterics suffer from reminiscences, their personal memory archive traumatisized (1) causing cognitive-behavioural symptoms. Who doesn't have symptomatic traumatic memories (2) and nightmares they can't forget? Freud "The Interpretation of Dreams" opines; "The way in which memory behaves in dreams is of the greatest importance for any theory of memory in general." Carl Jung expanded the ontogenetic scope of Freud's notion of personal memory by subsuming it into the vast collective ethological aspects of memory (3) found in the phylogenetic brain development of the human species. Alfred Adler would further revise Freud's ideas by proposing the communal sense of memory in dreams and society, as can be exemplified in memorial rituals.

We can see and hear our collective memory (4) at work every day, in museums, in books, films, TV news reports, newspapers, radio news, photographs, the Internet, tweets, You Tube videos, and in our dreams. Engraved into our modern collective living memory and dreams are such nightmaric events as WWII, the Holocaust, the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, Gulf War I and II, and 9/11. Remembering becomes influenced and colored by the ideological (5) politics of memory, "damnatio memorae" being one prime example. Freud's "The Interpretation of Dreams" can be viewed as an ethnocentric medical case study (6) of the literary reception of the European memory palace found in dreams.

In terms of my own ontological growth and development of autobiographical memory, I am both blessed and oft-time cursed by the fact that that nature has given me the hereditary gift of "eidetic memory", popularly known as photographic visual memory. Freud had postulated that in dreams our neural network was in a "hypermnesic" state, we can deduce from this, that the dreaming mind's eye can view a nightly visual montage derived from our entire past. Having formally begun writing down my dreams on 11.11.1977 (Remembrance Day) I have been building a voluntary-involuntary memory palace of dream vision that reflects the philological course of the epic hermeneutic history of dreaming. This Field Note however is not about my own dreams, memory, or philology, instead it discusses the dream of the literary memory palace of American literary critic Harold Bloom and his "anxiety of influence".

Imre Salusinszky (7) in an interview with Bloom discloses that prior to her meeting she had a dream; "Two nights ago, I dreamed that we were doing this interview. Instead of living in a relatively normal house like this one, you lived in a vast palace, full of reception rooms and ballrooms. Every time I got ten minutes into the interview, you would have to rush to some antechamber to take a phone call, and I would struggle after you with my notes and my tape recorder...."


Nightmare of History -or- Reception of the Gesamtkunstwerk of Dream Vision

Bloom in "The Western Canon" opions that the literary canon of reading is "identical with the literary Art of Memory". The mind's (8) reception of world literature can be seen as an art of memory, creating a vast memory palace. Bloom's memory palace houses the Western canon of reading (9) and it can be cogently argued is closely related to Geoffrey Chaucer's reception of dream vision and the English language's art of reading and memory found in "The House of Fame". The main cultural media differences between the two memory palaces, is that in Chaucer's Medieval times there were no phones or tape recorders. Each of us learns to read, dreaming can facilitate or obstruct our reading responses (10). Gaston Bachelard (11) believed that the artistic key to better reading is better dreaming. In one way or another, we all dream by the book (12) found in memory's library (13). To quote Dante's "La Vita Nuova": "In that book which is my memory, On the first page of the chapter that is the day when I first met you, Appear the words, ‘Here begins a new life'."

Salusinszky discusses the art of memory of another literary critic, namely that of Northrop Frye (14). Salusinszky notes; "It is interesting that Harold Bloom, Frye's distinguished successor in so many ways, has a prodigious memory too; but the two appear to react to their powers of recall in opposite ways: the poets in Bloom's head become claustrophobic, and begin their bitter struggle for lebensraum; Frye builds bigger and bigger rooms for his tenants, so even Eliot and Pound, whom he dislikes, get to share a grannny-flat." Resolving these mimetic (15,16) "point-counterpoint" reading tensions, both critics are surely in search of a literary theory that circumscribes the psychodynamic biocultural forces shaping the construction of the historical base and superstructure (17,18) of our collective memory palace. In Frye's memory palace, he searches for the historical poetic unity of diverse literary aspects (19), rhetorically merging the polyphonic voices of the "total dream". In Bloom's memory palace "reception rooms", there evidently is an ongoing critical agonistic (20,21) war and peace (22) "lebensraum" (23) battle surrounding the historical re-visionism (24) of collective  memory and dreaming. Both memory palaces provide different literary reception aspects to see and hear the ongoing biographical poetic process (25,26,27) known as the "Great Conversation" (28) and the epic movement of texts.

During his interview with Salusinszky Bloom discloses a nightmare that can be viewed as the back story for his literary theory of the "anxiety of influence". Bloom tells the reader; "I had a ghostly nightmare, about the time of my birthday: July 11, 1967. A simply ghastly nightmare, in which I had this sensation that I was being suffocated by some great winged creature which was pressing down on me. I woke up the next day and, after I cleared my head, I started writing a long dithyramb called ‘The Covering Cherub, or Poetic Influence.'" Much like James Joyce's character Stephen Dedalus, Bloom appears to sense that; "History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake." The Fuseli or perhaps even Goya like gothic "ghost" writing powers of the nightmare featuring the "ghastly" (29,30), seems to have launched and propelled Bloom's literary theory and career. Is it a coincidence that Bloom's nightmare closely coincides with the dramatic agonistic lebensraum (31) anxieties of the June 1967 Arab-Israeli War?

According to Jacob's dream vision found in the Old Testament, Cherubs move up and down a "ladder", they also defend and protect the tree of life (32). Walter Benjamin (33) would likely see Paul Klee's "Angel of History" in Bloom's "Cherub". From this historiographic "life" and the ruins of history perspective, dream vision literature becomes a cultural hermeneutic path leading towards a unified medical humanities understanding of our vast communal unconscious memory palace (34). In this public museum created by the epic medium (35,36) of "voluntary-involuntary memory" we can re-collect and become a virtual eye-witness of the gesamtkunstwerk of memorialization (37) and the dialectical waking and dreaming process (38).

"Field Notes of a Dream Researcher" represents an epic people's history guide of the literary rhetoric, genres and devices of the "total dream" of society's gallery of the collective art of memory (39,40,41,42). When completed, Field Notes will provide you the reader with an Angel of History (43) view of the psychodynamic gesamtkunstwerk of our dream world and the forgotten language of dreams (44). By pragmatically using the mimetic dream (45) as a philological, philosophical and epic intertextual "House of Fame" bridging and salvation device (46), we can create a "Finnegan's Wake" (47) like living montage of the 1001 cubistic fragments (48)  of the Eastern and Western canons of anthropology, languages, history, philosophy, politics, economics, education, religion, science, art, literature, music, theatre, and medicine in both their creative (49) and destructive (50) aspects.




1. Cathy Caruth, Trauma: Explorations of Memory

2. Deirdre Barrett (ed), Trauma and Dreams

3. Paul R. Schuster, Gibt es vererbte und unbewusste Vorstellungen, 1878 

4. Maurice Halbwuchs, On collective memory

5. Karl Mannheim, Ideology and Utopia

6. Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever

7. Imre Salusinszky, Criticism in Society

8. Susanne Langer, Mind: An Essay on Human Feeling

9. Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading

10. Paul de Man, Allgory of Reading: Figural Language in Rousseau, Nietzsche, Rilke and Proust

11. Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

12. Eliane Scary, Dreaming by the Book

13. Jennifer Summit, Memory's Library: Medieval Books in Early Modern England

14. Imre Salusinszky, Frye and the Art of Memory, in; Rereading Frye, edited by David Boyd and Imre Salusinszky 

15. Erich Auerbach, Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature

16. Rene Girard, A Theatre of Envy: William Shakespeare

17. Alexandre Kostka and Irving Wohlfarth, Nietzsche and "An Architecture of Our Minds"

18. Robert Denham, Northrop Frye: Religious Visionary and Architect of the Visual World

19. Northrop Frye, Anatomy of Criticism

20. Kenneth Burke, The Rhetoric of Hitler's Battle

21. Marc Auge, The War of Dreams: Exercises in Ethno-Fiction

22. Marshall McLuhan, War and Peace in the Global Village

23. Charlotte Beradt, The Third Reich of Dreams

24. Harold Bloom, Agon: Towards a Theory of Revisionism

25. Giambattista Vico, The New Science 

26. Caterina Nella Cotrupi, Northrop Frye, Poetics of Process

27. Bert  States, The Rhetoric of Dreams

28. Mikhail Bahktin, The Dialogic Imagination

29. Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror 

30. Ernst Hartmann, Dreams and Nightmares

31. Robert Ardry, The Territorial Imperative

32. Harold Bloom, Kabbalah and Criticism

33. Walter Benjamin, "Thesis on the Philosophy of History"

34. George Johnson, In the Palaces of Memory: How We Build The Worlds Inside Our Heads

35. Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media,

36. Harold A. Innis, Empire and Communication

37. Peter Homans, The Ability to Mourn

38. Peter Schellenbaum, Träume Dich Wach (Dream Yourself Awake)

39. Lina Bolzoni, The Gallery of Memory

40. Mary Carruthers, The Book of Memory: A study of Memory in Medieval Culture

41. Patrick Hutton, History as the Art of Memory

42. Frances A. Yates, The Art of Memory

43. Seigrid Weigel, Body- and Image- Space: Re-reading Walter Benjamin

44. Erich Fromm, The Forgotten Language

45. Jean Piaget, Play, Dreams and Imitation in Childhood

46. Kenneth Burke, Attitudes Toward History

47. Umberto Eco, The Aesthetics of Chaosmos: The Middle Ages of James Joyce

48. Walter Benjamin, The Task of the Translator

49. Howard Gardner, Creating Minds

50. Erich Fromm, The Anatomy of Destructiveness



All material Copyright 2006 International Institute for Dream Research. All rights reserved.