In the British TV series “Sherlock,” Sherlock Holmes explains that the reason he is able to recall vast amounts of information is because he stores it in his “mind palace.” The mind palace, or method of loci, is a real mnemonic device which allows people to store and recall information in their memories through visualization.
First, you construct a mind palace by visualizing a place, real or imaginary, in your mind. When I created my first mind palace, I visualized my childhood bedroom because it was a place I knew intimately. Next, you designate certain objects in the room as “containers,” or places to store whatever pieces of information you wish to remember. You can have as many or as few containers as you want, but the more you have, the larger the amount of information you’ll be able to remember. I chose containers such as my bed, a picture hanging on the wall, and my bookshelf. If I had wanted, I could have made each individual book on my shelf a container, but since this was my first time creating a mind palace, I decided to keep things simple. Finally, you “place” each tidbit of information in its container by associating the image of the container with the information.
To use the mind palace, you mentally “walk through” the location, visualizing the containers as you go. The image of the container should trigger your memory of the information stored within. This takes some practice, but eventually, you can use your mind palace to store everything from your deepest secrets to your weekly grocery list.
I chose the mind palace as my emblem of visibility because within the memory system, the image (the container) precedes the word (the stored information). This correlates with Calvino’s insistence on the supremacy of the image in cultivating the imagination and aiding the memory. Within the mind palace, the image is a powerful evocative force; its visibility enables the recall of more abstract stored information.
Jackson’s combination of minimalist colors and poetic language in my body remind me of the work of graphic artist Julian Peters. Peters takes classic works of poetry and translates them into graphic novels. He uses the same black and white color scheme to add contrast while creating detailed visualizations of the language of the poems, some of which are very abstract.
This is taken from his rendering of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which is my favorite poem. When I was reading this, I noticed the similarities between Jackson’s and Peters’s translation of images into words (Jackson) and words into images (Peters). This is exactly what Calvino describes in his definition of the two types of imaginative processes. In both cases, the visual aspect of the work greatly enhances the linguistic component. Peters’s illustrations greatly added to my enjoyment of the poem, and I look forward to his completion of the Prufrock project.
Follow the link to explore more of Peters’s work:
“I prefer to see with closed eyes.” –Josef Albers
Color and visibility go hand in hand when it comes to creating art and literature. The picture above shows a sequence of Albers squares, which were developed by Josef Albers as part of his scientific study of colors and the relationships between them.
Lupton and Philips state that “Color can convey a mood, describe reality, or codify information. Words like “gloomy,” “drab,” and “glittering” each bring to mind a general climate of colors, a palette of relationships. Designers use color to make some things stand out (warning signs) and to make other things disappear (camouflage). Color serves to differentiate and connect, to highlight and to hide.”
This is precisely what Albers desired to illustrate through his study of color. Originally, the use of color in graphic design was considered fantastic, while black and white designs were seen as realistic. A good example of this is the movie The Wizard of Oz: during the “real” parts of the movie when Dorothy is in Kansas, the film is shot in black and white, but once she reaches Oz, the film switches to Technicolor to denote magic and fantasy. Over time, these modes of representation switched places. Color came to denote realism, while black and white is now employed to place an artwork in a particular historical period (think of how the movie Schindler’s List is shot in black and white) or to create an aesthetic effect.
The minimalist color scheme in my body creates contrast, and the starkness of the artwork parallels Jackson’s honest, forthright language. Her choice of colors helps to set the tone for the work even before we have begun reading her story. Once again, it is the image, rather than the word, which enters the imagination first.
I think my body: a WunderKammer by Shelley Jackson captures Calvino’s visibility. Jackson uses a chalk drawing of her body to tell the story of her life. She uses each body part as a springboard to tell stories about her adolescence, her sexual awakening, and her ultimate acceptance and celebration of her own body. Her body is at once a map, a timeline, and a living museum, and it all begins with the image.
I chose my body as my example of visibility because in this work, as in the comics Calvino read as a child, the story really begins with the visual image. The image also provides us with the opportunity to create our own stories by drawing on our own experiences and imagining a multitude of alternate narratives.
In his memo on visibility, Calvino explains that there are two types of imaginative processes: one which begins with the word and ends with a visual image, and one which begins with the image and ends with the word. Calvino says that the imagination which begins with the image is the one which achieves “knowledge of the most profound meaning.” For Calvino, the image takes priority over the word because the image gives birth to literature in the imagination. Thus, visualization, imagination, and thinking in terms of images are essential to creating good literature.
Of all Calvino’s qualities, visibility is the one which resonates most with me. Maybe it’s because I remember a moment similar to the one he describes in his memo when he would make up stories for the characters in his comic books before he could read the captions beneath the pictures. For me, this book was St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Hyman won a Caldecott Medal for her illustrations, which captivated me as a child. I would pore over the book for hours, lost in a world of my own fantasy where I could imagine my own adventures beside Una and the Red Cross Knight.
I remember telling my mom years later that I was actually disappointed when I learned to read the text of the book because it collapsed my multitude of adventures into a single, fixed narrative. The pictures in that book were a formative part of my education–they taught me that my imagination has no limits, and I have only to keep my eyes open and be attentive to detail in order to notice the beauty all around me.