top of page

Compost of the Mind

‘"My memory, sir, is like a garbage heap.”

—Funes the Memorius

Jorge Luis Borges wrote about abominable mirrors and labyrinths, the Aleph, the sign of the God on a leopards coat and an infinite library. Dante’s Beatrice haunted his dreams and days, while the Tango could be as portentous as a looming storm on the pampas. Doomed to go blind, like his hero Homer, Borges lost the visual world and fell headlong into reflection. Much of his writing was dictated, a post-modern song of the Ages. Like the paralyzed Funes, Borges lived a life of the mind. Unlike the infallible memory of Funes in his story, Borges had the gift of forgetting. Time dissolved. Borges lived in a world of crowning metaphors that gave rise to beautiful stories.

In the book, Borges and Memory, neuroscientist Rodrigo Quian Quiroga made a connection between Borges’ Funes and modern research on memory. When thinking of memory, there are the opposite sides of the spectrum, memories gained and lost. Then there is the protean nature of memory, how recalling a memory is to forever change it, metaphorically akin to the way the observer affects a particle by that very observation. Mountains of research and books have been written on memory, but what Quiroga saw in Funes was an aspect of memory that is neglected: The critical element of forgetting.

Funes is cursed with mental faculties to recall an entire day, to look at a tree and not only remember every leaf, but every detail of every leaf on every tree he had ever seen. To recall an entire day, takes an entire day, the inherent limits of Time and a single mind creating a nightmare scenario. The face of someone you love becomes an entirely different person from the slightest tilt of their chin, that loved one at 6am this morning is not the loved one at 7am. Abstraction becomes impossible, therefore, the ability to form ideas is smothered before having a chance to even take a crying breath. Our ability to forget—something that is more feared than appreciated—is the void that acts as a bridge in our minds. Much like the metaphor is a bridge linking two seemingly unlike things, forgetfulness allows us to unite dizzying memories into ideas. Funes’ physical paralysis is nothing compared to his intellectual one. His plight makes the punishment of characters such as Sisyphus and Prometheus seem merciful. At least they could think about their repetitious hells.

Scientific understanding of memory is still in it nascent period. Dazzling images of brain activity—full of neon colors, a cerebral Aurora Borealis—are deceptive. While such scans reveal a certain part of the brain reacting under stimuli, the hidden symphony of the brain’s hyper-complexity remains hidden. We still don’t know how the hippocampus and cortical structures interact to allow memory consolidation, how we store long-term memories and if there are actual limits to how much we can remember. Everything has limits, but an individual’s mortality might be the only limit to how much we can retain.

I have a patch of earth in the backyard that serves as my lazy compost. I dig up a patch of the compost and add more kitchen scraps. I might chop up ends of onions and potatoes with the shovel, turning the earth enough to bury them into forgetfulness. The black soil all around is composed of the coffee grounds, carrots, shallots, garlic, lettuce, peppers…the list goes on, but I’ve forgotten every single thing I’ve added to the compost pile. Those forgotten things decompose alongside the remembered ones, churned by earthworms and ever-warm, even in deep Winter, beneath the snow. Forgotten and neglected bits of food will nourish the seeds of Spring, the ideations of Nature nurtured by merciful forgetfulness. What remains is the hope of the fruit of an idea.

Hayden Moore

0 views0 comments
Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page