I am reading Jonathan Cott’s book On the Sea of Memory: A Journey from Forgetting to Remembering, an expansive and exciting investigation of memory and its role in forming our sense of self. Cott, a successful journalist and author, is a friend of mine. Several years ago I witnessed his struggle to recover from a deep depression. I have also seen the terrible effect ECT treatments [electroshock therapy] have had on his memory, and know Cott’s uncertainty about whether that memory loss might affect his ability to write.
I am finding On the Sea of Memory a sensitive and insightful work, as Cott powerfully recounts his own experience and, in a series of interviews, crafts and exploration of Alzheimer’s, the drive to forget traumatic incidents, the neurobiology of memory, the spiritual significance of memory in Judaism, Sufism, and Buddhism [a dialogue with Sogyal Rinpoche about remembering past lives], the role of memory in the African tradition of storytelling, and the way emotional memory is used in the Stanislavsky method of acting [as recounted in a conversation with Ellen Burstyn]. It is a beautifully written book about loss, and also about the ways we are enriched by connection. Ultimately I see it as being about truly knowing who we are.
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