cover image Memory Theater

Memory Theater

Simon Critchley. Other Press, $15.95 (112p) ISBN 978-1-59051-740-6

From philosopher Critchley (The Book of Dead Philosophers) comes this debut novel, a not-quite-nonfiction story that fuses its author’s long-standing engagement with critical theory and a narrative inquiry into mortality and remembrance that is original, observant, and unexpectedly moving. In 2004, aging professor Simon Critchley discovers a stack of boxes belonging to his deceased friend and mentor, Michel Haar. Organized according to the signs of the zodiac, the boxes contain unpublished papers on Friedrich Nietzsche, Martin Heidegger, and Thomas Carlyle; Haar’s primary interest seems to have been in the Renaissance concept of the memory theater. Haar’s commentaries have particular relevance for Critchley, whose own memory was seemingly damaged in an accident years earlier; increasingly beguiled by the eerily accurate horoscopes that Haar left behind, Critchley resolves to build his own full-scale memory theater, populated with manifestations of his life and learning, to be completed at the hour of his death—which has been foretold by Haar in his papers. As anyone familiar with the works of Critchley (or his frequent collaborator Tom McCarthy) might expect, this speculative narrative is peppered with copious references like Medieval heresy, the avant-garde, and Mark E. Smith of the English punk group the Fall. These essayistic reveries hang together so beautifully with the unfolding mystery that the book becomes, in essence, a theater of its own. The novel is short enough to be absorbed in a single sitting, but the questions posed by author/character Simon regarding the full ramifications of the soul’s saturation in history will linger indefinitely. (Nov.)