The memorial palace

von Thomas Stiegler

I personally love the idea of being a reader. To occupy myself with words that build up dreams, that tell of feelings and touch my innermost being.

But it is so incredibly difficult to find the peace and quiet and the muse for this in this noisy time. To find the strength to read with concentration and not to be distracted. Sometimes it is almost like that, that the idea of being a reader is more beautiful than reading itself.

But if you haven’t read properly for a long time, it is difficult to start again.

Yes, it is hard, but I notice how reading takes me back into my mind. How the books take over my thoughts and try to reach into my soul.

And I get a longing to take the next step. To become a human being again, who stands apart. Away from the daily hamster wheel, away from a world of news, permanent availability and the hunt for entertainment and the next click.

While thinking about one of these books an old game came to my mind. For me it was once more than that, but to understand it, I have to dig a little deeper.

To invite you afterwards to try it once yourself.

Do you know the “Steppenwolf” by Hermann Hesse? (If not, it’s a narrow volume, which you can read through in one evening)

At the end of the book, Harry Haller finds himself in the so-called magic theatre and is faced with the decision of which of the many doors to step through that open before him.

Each one takes him to a different world and each one means a different part of his story. Events from his youth, experiences he once longed for, possibilities he once had and never seized.

But here and now, in his magical theatre, he could step through a door and experience it anew in his mind.

Scholars have been practicing what Hermann Hesse describes here for hundreds of years. And it also coincides with what the latest brain research has found.

For the human mind, fantasy and reality are (under certain circumstances) very difficult to distinguish.

If we close our eyes and put ourselves in a situation inside, “experiencing” it intensively with all our senses, then this makes hardly any difference to reality for our mind.

An effect, by the way, which is used today in sports as well as in various forms of therapy.

This perhaps also explains the intense effect that art can have on us. That we are thrown out of the real world when we experience art intensively.

And if that is the case, then perhaps we can use it consciously at some point?

Why not use this kind of “magic theatre” to play with the works of our culture? In order to dive deeper into the works of art and experience them more intensely?

Years later, Hermann Hesse described a similar attempt of this kind in the Glass Bead Game. There, it was the members of the order of the “pedagogical province” of Kastalien, and in particular the Glasperlenspielmeister Knecht, who saw it as their task to preserve the works of our culture.

And their main tool for this was the so-called “Glass Bead Game”, a serious game with abstract signs, which were supposed to remind us of literature, music and all other kinds of sciences of our culture, and which were resurrected in order to relate them to each other and to live through them in the course of the game.

It is probably this idea of Hesse’s that has made this work so popular for decades, and why it has had such a fertile effect on people all over the world.

Now, before I tell you about my little game, I have to make a small panning shot and tell you about an ancient method of memorizing things.

This is the well-known mnemonic technique known as “memory palace”. In this technique you build a palace in your imagination and fill it with the things that mean something to you.

If you want to remember something, you go to your memory palace in your imagination, look for the place where you put the memory down (no matter if it is in a book, a picture or something similar) and you can remember it.

Which brings me finally to the game that I had invented for myself. A method to dive deeper into works of art and thereby gain new levels of understanding.

At that time I was very much influenced by Hermann Hesse and started with his work, and that is why I want to start with this poet again today.

And I would like to invite you to this little spiritual exercise.

Imagine a room that you think suits Hermann Hesse and at the same time expresses your feelings about his works.

Hang a few pictures on the wall, maybe the “Regenmacher” or one where Hesse’s earth burns. Distribute objects you associate with him and put up the books you have read about him.

Then take some time, close your eyes and enter this room.

Imagine yourself going inside, looking at the pictures, feeling the light breeze coming through the open window and gently bulging the curtains. Try to listen inside, to feel and absorb everything, the smell, the colours, the feelings they trigger in you.

And then pick up one of his books. Try not only to remember the story, but to relive it intensely and at the same time to revive the feelings that you once had while reading it.

Let a picture arise in you and try to be there with all your senses. Try to split your mind. Be in the room, be a reader of the book and at the same time be in the book with your feelings as if you were one of the characters and experiencing the story.

For a few minutes really try to be in the room and in the book at the same time.

Isn’t that beautiful? It may be a little strange and unfamiliar. Silly, certainly, perhaps even ridiculous.

But – isn’t it beautiful?

And once you’ve succeeded, you can do it with everything that matters to you. A room for Schubert, a room for Monet or medieval embroidery.

Try to visit these rooms at least once a day, perhaps just before you go to sleep, and you will notice how it becomes easier from time to time and how you get more pleasure and profit from the works of art.

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