Sunday, 11 December 2011

In the First Place

Stotinki's diaries from his mid-thirties reveal the intense atmosphere of his Wolvercote airship design and construction business. Often working for three days and nights without pause, Stotinki and his team would launch prototype craft at dawn from the open expanses of Port Meadow. When succesful, Stotinki would often land in the centre of Oxford and go to the Botanic Garden...

'I walked the length of the systematic order beds, where the plants are arranged, by family, in long, narrow beds. To walk along the paths of this garden is to undertake more than a mere physical journey. It is to walk along the path of evolutionary history, from the earliest flowering plants to the most recent. The historical developments, the complex relationships between species are manifested in the physical world, and we can walk around as though inside an idea- as though, in order to acquaint ourselves with the history of our own family, we were to stroll among the shades of our own ancestors, flesh and blood before us,  each standing on one branch of a giant family tree  '
           Journal vii, G.Stotinki

Some commentators believe that Stotinki's interest in, and subsequent use of the ancient technique of the 'Memory Palace' stem from his strolls in this garden. He writes of conversations with the gardeners who describe how, bringing a certain plant to mind, they could find information about which botanical family it belonged to, or it's geographical origins, medicinal uses etc., simply by remembering its location within the ordered planting systems of the garden.

    '" Architecture, in fact," she said, "is frozen memory. A great man said that."
     "Many great thinkers of the past believed that the mind is a house, where memories are stored; and that the easiest way to remember things is to imagine an architecture, and then cast symbols of what you wish to remember on the various places defined by the architect....
     "It sounds terribly complicated, I know. And I suppose it's really not any better than a notebook."
     "Then why all that guff? I don't get it."
     "Because," she said carefully, sensing that despite his outward truculence he understood her, "it can happen - if you practice this art - that the symbols you put next to one another will modify themselves without your choosing it, and that when next you call them forth, they may say something new and revelatory to you, something you didn't know you knew. Out of the proper arrangement of what you do know, what you don't know may arise spontaneously. That's the advantage of a system. Memory is fluid and vague. Systems are precise and articulated. Reason apprehends them better."
                                                                                 'Little, Big', John Crowley

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