The Wild Library

In the Spell of the Sensuous, David Abram comments on the oral mapping of place, and indigenous memory, in the following way:

One of the strong claims of this book is that the synaesthetic association of visible topology with auditory recall — the intertwining of earthly place with linguistic memory — is common to almost all indigenous, oral cultures.

I’d go even farther to say it goes beyond simple linguistic memory or auditory recall, i.e. an association with words and sounds, and goes to the root of that language: the personalities, metaphors, associations, resemblances, and experiences of the landscape. To clarify: a boulder that doesn’t just remind one of the “word” grandfather, but where one can actually see the face moving in the stone, each mole and freckle marked out as a feature, the expressive habits of the face, the unique sound of its voice. A fully envisioned reality, independent of language, and yet still a language, but one of deep reality. Though certainly mapped using songlines, ballads, and epic poetry, this languaging just serves as another hook upon which to hang the deep nature of the Flesh reality.

Indeed, even within European culture there is a celebrated example of this propensity, albeit in a throughly altered form…[in] the mnemonic technique utilized by the classical orators of Greece and Rome to remember their long speeches (a technique regularly practiced by rhetoricians up until the spread of typographic texts during the late Renaissance). The orator would imagine an elaborate palace, filled with diverse halls and rooms and intricate structural details. He would then envision himself walking through this palace, and would deposit at various places within the rooms a sequence of imagined objects associated with the different parts of his planned speech. Thereafter, to recall the entire speech in its correct sequence and detail, the orator had only to envision himself once again walking the same route through the halls and rooms of the memory palace: each locus encountered on his walk would remind him of the specific phrase to be spoken or the particular topic to be addressed at that point during the discourse. Rather than striving to memorize the composed speech on its own, the orator found it much easier, and certainly much safer, to correlate the diverse parts of the speech to diverse places within an imaginary structure, within an envisioned topology through which he could imaginatively stroll. Yet while the classical orators had to construct and move through such topological matrices in their private imagination, the native peoples of Australia found themselves corporeally immersed in just such a linguistic-topological field, walking through a material landscape whose every feature was already resonant with speech and song!

In this you can see the true nature of the Wild Library; each being of the landscape speaking wisdom about itself, a repository of knowledge about its perspective and habits, waiting for the one to strike up a conversation with it; a conversation that moves naturally beyond words, and yet those same words provide us with an opportunity to layer even more richness to the Storied Earth.

Written by Willem