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The Palaces of Memory Lane

by Hans Hafkamp in Films & Books , 28 mei 2018

Dit artikel is ook in het Nederlands beschikbaar

In the beautiful 2004 novel “The Mysterious Flame of Queen Loana” by the Italian writer Umberto Eco, who died in February 2016, the protagonist has lost his memory because of a stroke. That is, that part of his memory that relates to his personal life, as general knowledge is still available.

Youth novel about the sleuthing brothers Frank and Joe Hardy
Thus, his memories have been reduced to an encyclopaedia of mankind, and no longer an accumulation of individual experiences. To regain access to this part of his memories, Giambattista Bodoni leaves for the house he lived in during his childhood years in the hope the preserved artefacts will serve as did the madeleine in Marcel Proust’s work: a key that gives access to the palaces of memory.

As the novel offers a veiled retrospective of Eco’s own youth, it is not surprising that Bodoni mainly tries to evoke the past with the help of the literature from that period in time. Initially, music appears to lead to recognition much more quickly. This is not surprising, as even the life path of people who are completely immersed in and surrounded by the written word and literature is often paved with melodies, which at certain times have accompanied certain events and have unconsciously made a deep impression.

Eco’s novel is above all a literary game, but imagining this actually happening to you would be terrible. Your memories determine who you are, and if you lose them, you are lost. Who would you be if certain events and experiences had not happened in the past? It is hard to tell. However, it is clear that personal experiences usually have no influence on the course of world events.

Mathilde Willink
I remember, for instance, that in my teenage years I was addicted to detective novels. Agatha Christie, Ellery Queen and many other authors were devoured by me. Now that I look back on this, I also remember the fanatic reading in my childhood; in bed on a Saturday morning - an entire novel was no exception. This fanaticism wears out over the years. I also liked to read The Hardy Boys series, detective stories for teenage boys written by Franklin W. Dixon. They were centred around two teenage brothers, Frank and Joe Hardy. Because I fear that these books will turn out dull when re-read, I have never dared to revisit them. You shouldn’t authenticate memories with reality.

Yet, I have sometimes been tempted to go back to these white paperbacks, as to me, unconsciously, these stories had a homoerotic aspect to them. I don’t know whether this was evoked by slowly awakening desires, or whether these books, even for someone who would soon start reading real gay literature, had a homoerotic intention. However, I do know I am not the only one with this experience. I remember that in the 1980s a homoerotic pastiche on the Hardy Boys appeared (but I never got it in my hands).

This memory is not earth-shattering, but you may wonder whether this early reading has influenced my later reading behavior, and perhaps even the direction my life has taken. Even for those who have not been struck by a stroke, many doors are closed in the palaces of memory, and many corridors are unlit and therefore impassable.

I also remember my first outings in gay life: the ITC, the DOK, a little later the Viking and the Wells Fargo Saloon. All gone now. In the DOK I was on the dance floor with Mathilde Willink (who mysteriously died many years ago) and spent hours talking to the artist Franz Deckwitz (also no longer among the living) in DOK’s infamous upper bar. What I do not remember is whether I already knew that Deckwitz had illustrated the poetry collection “De liefste gast” (1961) by Jac. van Hattum - a milestone in Dutch gay literature.

And what does it signify that you remember a Mathilde of flesh and blood, one of the Netherlands’ few true eccentric divas? Is that perhaps the reason I can’t warm up to today’s would-be divas? Lingering in the past raises more questions than it gives answers, but it is a terrible thought to do without these memories, even though these excursions become more and more melancholic as one advances in years.




In the New Issue of Gay News, 332, April 2019

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