The Mind of a Mnemonist III
Bill Long 2/23/06
The Continuation of "Magical" Thinking
One of the realities of S's experience, then, was that he of necessity spent a great deal of time in imagined worlds. He would "make up" these worlds because the power of the images overwhelmed him as he either heard stories read, listened to a series of numbers or otherwise was introduced to a text. In the previous essay Luria tells us, though without comment, how the result of this was S's inability to deal with the "real world." This inability eventuated in a kind of helplessness, which frustrated S. What Luria doesn't do is to explore this frustration. But he provides one more very valuable comment about how S tried to integrate his memory style and capacity into the personality or into the living of "real life." This essay probes that comment.
After speaking of S's helplessness in dealing with the world, Luria says:
"However, his unstable grasp of reality, and the realistic overtones of his fantasies, had a far more profound effect on his personality development. For he lived in wait of something that he assumed was to come his way, and gave himself up to dreaming and 'seeing' far more than to functioning in life. The sense he had that something particularly fine was about to happen remained with him throughout his life--something which would solve all his problems and make his life simple and clear. He 'saw' and thus waited..Thus, everthing he did in life was merely 'temporary,' what he had to do until the expected woudl finally come to pass" (p. 157).
S himself comments in a record from 1937:
"I read a great deal and always identified myself with one of the heroes. For I saw them, you know. Even at eighteen I wouldn't understand one friend of mine was content to train to become an accountant, another a commercial traveler. For what's important in life isn't a profession but something fine, something grand that is going to happen to me...If at eighteen or twenty I'd thought I was ready to marry and a countess or princess had agreed to marry me--even that wouldn't have impressed me. Perhaps I was destined for something greater?...Whatever I did, whether writing articles, becoming a film star--it was just a temporary thing...I was passive for the most part, didn't understand that time was moving on. All the jobs I had were simply work I was doing 'in the meantime.' The feeling I had was: 'I'm only twenty-five, only thirty--I've got my whole life ahead of me.'...But even now I realize time's passing and that I might have accomplihsed a great deal--but I don't work. That's the way I've always been" (pp. 157-158).
Conclusion--Longing for the Kingdom
It is here that Luria's skills were most needed and, unfortunately, most wanting. We needed someone to probe the inner effects on personality of a person whose mind was filled with such pictures who also imagined himself being "discovered" or "rescued" or in living a "grand" life. Were the two related? How so? Did the need to live in the imaginary world of images and pictures create the tenous grip on reality that resulted in the feeling that something fine was destined for him? Or, were they unrelated concepts? And, how did he feel each day knowing that he had a great desire for this great thing that would happen to him but that each day ended with life pretty much the same as it was before the day started? Did he feel betrayed by life? Did he give up hope? Did he think that life was some kind of joke? Did he see himself just as a sort of wounded person? Was there any way to "help" S realize that life would probably not materially change for him?
One of the reasons I resonated with S's story is that I have always entertained notions similar to his. I recall, in the summer of 1976, going to a psychological evaluation center which all future ministers in my denomination had to visit, in order to determine if I was psychologically "fit" for ministry. One of the things I recall the psychologist saying to me, with a sort of quizzical look on his face, was, "Bill, you seem to expect that the Kingdom of God is just about to dawn."
And that observation was correct. I had a feeling that each moment was so potentially full of so much meaning that it was only a matter of time for forces to coalesce, events to come together, explanation of the meaning of these things (to be given by me) to be advanced and some kind of symphonic chord would ring out that would make life, in some way, "grand." But it didn't happen in 1976, or 1986, or 1996. Nor, do I believe, will it happen in 2006. That is why I have taken up learning new and practical skills--like learning how to cook or to tango. I am finally realizing that "grand" isn't going to happen. But I have not fully dealt with the pain of that realization. So, I wish I could have asked S or Luria how S dealt with the fact that the "grand" never came. Or, was his career as a traveling mnemonist a sort of "grand" life? Luria doesn't give us the impression that it was.
Thus, Luria gives us a good book--a provocative look at the mental life of a great mnemonist. But Luria doesn't give us a "grand" book, and that is probably for the best.
Copyright © 2004-2007 William R. Long