The Memory Code

This utterly fascinating book was lent to me by my friend Chris Kelly (no relation). I'd previously read Lynne Kelly's book in the First Knowledges series, Songlines, co-authored with Margo Neale, and I'm looking forward to reading Memory Craft, which I gather is more of a practical guide to putting Kelly's insights into practice.

Lynne Kelly's key revelation in The Memory Code is that many, if not all, ancient monuments are actually what she calls 'memory spaces.' Extrapolating from the idea of Australian Indigenous songlines, in which landscape and story are sung together as a way of preserving knowledge (practical survival knowledge as well as sacred stories), she imagines the transitional time in human history between living as hunter-gatherers and becoming settled food producers. She reasons, very plausibly, that the intimate hunter-gatherer knowledge would still be highly valued -- but how to preserve that oral knowledge when walking the landscape was no longer a permanent way of living? She theorises that structures like Stonehenge, the animal shapes traced in the desert at Nasca, the immense statues on Rapa Nui and others, were constructed as memory devices, to be walked or observed as an aid to calling up elaborate images or stories that embed vast amounts of remembered information.

Kelly gives an exhilarating account of her own experience of using her own neighbourhood to absorb and recall more information than she would have thought possible, and gives some hints of the way different streams of knowledge begin to intertwine and inform each other, enriching the whole way she looks at the world -- this is why I'm looking forward to finding out more in Memory Craft. Her theory seems to me totally plausible and hugely important, showing us how Indigeous knowledges can help us to understand other civilizations, and also a key to perhaps deepening our own relationship to our precious world.

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