Mapping Memory

Jen Percy interviews author Anthony Doerr:

Everything intrigues me about memory: its fallibility, its fragility, its utter importance in our lives. Take away our memories and we are nobodies; we don’t exist. I watched that happen with my grandmother as she descended into Alzheimer’s: the disease stripped her of her self.

I’m interested in collective memory, too, and how collective memories are determined. No one is alive right now who knew, say, Ben Franklin. And yet his name is circulated ten thousand times a day. He’s imprinted somehow in the memory of every American I know. Why? How? Partially because, as you say, words are a kind of memory. He wrote thousands of them; millions have been written about him. So the dead live on in sentences. Look at Anne Frank. Look at Melville. Look at Saul Bellow.