Memory is a thing we do together.

We risk, each day, losing our forebears in forever, not a Chain of single Links … rather, a great disorderly Tangle of Lines, long and short, weak and strong, vanishing into the Mnemonick Deep, with only their Destination in common. —Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon

I started this newsletter under the name “Anthropostures,” which I said it was about “being human in more-than-human times.” That’s still true, I think. And yet I realize that so much of my work passes through the question of memory. I mean, I wrote a book about libraries, another about writing, and then I wrote one about trees (there were a couple of other books about libraries in the mix, too, and a collection of short stories, but the three links are the major beats). There are many through-lines connecting these books, and one of them certainly is the question of memory—what it is, who gets to have it, who gets to be it, and for whom.

Memory can be tricky, dangerous to conjure. “The cradle rocks above an abyss,” wrote Vladimir Nabokov, “and common sense tells us that our existence is but a brief crack of light between two eternities of darkness.” There it is, the “mnemonic deep” of Thomas Pynchon’s narrator quoted above. And yet the abyss is not a black hole from which no information can escape. Something—meaning, pattern, timbre—is caught in the tangle of lines that holds the cradle. And that information is leaky. For the world is full of remembrancers, and they take many forms. “Find tongues in trees, books in running brooks, sermons in stones,” Duke Senior instructs in As You Like It, “and good in everything.” And so memory is an ecological question, one of kinship and community.

Increasingly I’m convinced that our time calls us to learn how to live into memory—which is another way of saying, let’s learn to be good ancestors.

So, memory. That’s my beat. That’s my newsletter.

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Memory is a thing we do together, a property of the world.

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Matthew Battles

Author of Library: an Unquiet History (Norton 2003) & Tree (Bloomsbury 2017), among other books. Editor of Arnoldia, a magazine about the nature of trees published at Harvard's Arnold Arboretum.