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Tricks of memory

The 20th century has witnessed the conquering of infectious disease, soaring life expectancy and a miracle of economic growth. Yet it is often described as the most terrible century in human history-and we can't even remember its horrors without descending into a kind of false memory syndrome

Just as the Art of Memory has finally died, we are obsessed as never before by remembrance. The cult of memory?maybe we should say “memorialism”?has been a striking characteristic of the 20th century.

By the Art of Memory, I mean the way in which, form the earliest days of human society, men committed vast realms to memory. Epics such as the Iliad or the Kalevala were passed down through oral tradition; quantities of music were memorised; people could describe in detail (as Lord Holland did when his nephew Charles James Fox was on the Grand Tour) paintings in Italy…

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