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On the Need to Reread

I’m about to begin a rereading of Neuromancer for that article on spatial metaphors, geopolitics, and cyberspace I’ve been working on. And it suddenly occurs to me: I’m re-reading this novel for the umpteenth time. I’ve read it for fun. I’ve read it to write about it. And I’ve read it to teach it. Three times. Not all of these readings have been complete or cover-to-cover, but I have had at least two such full-length linear encounters with the novel in the last four years.

And yet: I have to read it again before I can write this article.

Is it just me — am I just spectacularly forgetful — or is there something in the sped-up twenty-first century computer-engaged television-saturated brain that accounts for this need to revisit a novel each and every time I write about or teach it? Is this, for instance, the result of a change in educational strategies over the last few decades? I have marvelled, at times, at the astonishing textual memories that a number of my senior colleagues have; they can not only quote extensively from texts in their own periods and specialties, but have impressive powers of recall of details from texts from all periods. It’s a power that can quickly make me feel inadequate; I can quote the occasional line here and there, and I can remember the broad outlines of plot and character, but usually very little in the way of detail.

This begins to account for some of that slowness in reading I recently bemoaned; in order to make sure that I have some reasonable recall of a text (particularly something critical or theoretical that I’m hoping not to have to re-read repeatedly), I have to take extensive notes. But perhaps there’s the problem — maybe Plato was right, and by externalizing my memory in this way, all I learn is forgetfulness.


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