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Memory Theater

3.42  ·  Rating Details ·  208 Ratings  ·  42 Reviews
From this renowned philosopher comes a debut work of fiction, at once a brilliant précis of the history of philosophy, a semiautobiographical meditation on the absurd relationship between knowledge and memory, and a very funny story

A French philosopher dies during a savage summer heat wave. Boxes carrying his unpublished papers mysteriously appear in Simon Critchley’s offi
Hardcover, 112 pages
Published November 17th 2015 by Other Press (first published September 24th 2014)
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Nov 19, 2015 jeremy rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
a slim, apparently somewhat autobiographical novella from philosopher simon critchley (see also nyt's "the stone"), memory theater is an enigmatic, enjoyable foray into memory and mortality. perhaps not unlike something one would expect from enrique vila-matas (or even a more mild-mannered césar aira), critchley's brief work entwines the history of philosophy with the cryptic leavings of his late colleague. critchley's erudition melds easily with an inviting humor, leaving the reader charmed and ...more
Nov 29, 2015 Andrew rated it really liked it
Interesting and worthwhile. I think the book's greatest success is managing to represent the way in which an intellectual's life is populated by the books and ideas he (in this case) loves; it lets us in to see the deep fondness he has for thoughts and their thinkers. There are echoes of Eco (heh), Bernhard, and Sebald here, definitely the European intellectual thinking about his place in history and his inheritance and legacy. It's rewarding, even if it leaves an impression of thinness, and its ...more
Timothy Urban
Nov 24, 2014 Timothy Urban rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Odd, brain-stretching, funny in places and quite different from anything I've read before. I wish I could find more books that are, like this, pleasing reads but at the same time not trying to conform to any obvious literary conventions.
Harold Eckett
Jan 27, 2016 Harold Eckett rated it really liked it
Full of humor and deep philosophical history, The Memory Theater is a quick one-sit read for anyone looking to laugh, think and remember their past.
Apr 06, 2016 Enes rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Kurgu mu, gerçek mi bilmem, oturun, okuyun, belleğiniz sancısın gibi bir kitap.

Rudy Katoch
Aug 26, 2014 Rudy Katoch rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Author Hari Kunzru called Memory Theatre: a strange, affecting and stimulating book that is both a philosophical history and a personal memoir. Sifting through the archives of a dead friend, philosopher Simon Critchley takes a fascinating journey through the philosophy and history of memory, and the technologies of remembering dreamed up by thinkers since classical times.

Critchley explains how the idea of a memory theatre begins:

...with the ancient Greek poet, Simonides, who was reciting a poem
Jan 17, 2016 Stenwjohnson rated it liked it
Philosopher Simon Critchley was born in England, but his debut novel "Memory Theater" looks and smells continental. At first glance, it will remind most readers of a slim, epigrammatic work by Derrida. In the same spirit, it tackles topics of risible enormity: Death, memory, and the idea of a collective historical unconscious.

On closer examination, the real lodestar of the metafictional "Memory Theater" appears to be the fiction of Jorge Luis Borges, with its playful evocation of esoteric theori
Alice  Heiserman
Feb 16, 2016 Alice Heiserman rated it really liked it

This was a wonderfully weird book that dropped in names of philosophers with brief summations of their ideas much like one would at a cocktail party--not too heavy but titillating. I read this short novella in one evening and wound up unable to sleep due to the excitement of the ideas. We know the author is playing with us due to the mixing of genres--novel, essay, autobiography, brief biographies--but the idea of knowing the date of one's death presents a fascinating dramatic scene preceded by
Nov 03, 2014 Philip rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: essays
What a bizarre little thing. What opens on the philosophy of memory (base knowledge of Hegel would be helpful) morphs into. . .something else. An attempt to explain/understand memory, a trip into madness, an attempt to face your own death/life?

A little bonkers, and probably all the better for it.
Jan 30, 2016 Joanna rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Smart, funny, frightening at times.
Oct 23, 2016 Jeroen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Slightly subpar Borgesian fare, which means it's still pretty enjoyable. I know well both the trappings and the appeal of this Borgesian mode of writing (recently, in a eulogy for Umberto Eco, Cees Nooteboom wrote that the greatest consolation for a writing is to dream up books that do not exist). One feels like a mischievous child, mixing important historical and religious tracts and quotations with absolute poppycock. The trapping would be that you get stuck too much in the shadowlands of a ...more
Joshua Unsworth
Nov 22, 2016 Joshua Unsworth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An intoxicating mix of philosophy and the grip of obsession, written in a uniquely poetic and crisp style.

A fascinating and refreshing read.
Oct 16, 2016 Gemma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Enjoyable little read, that kept me thinking for a long time after reading it.
Roger Brunyate
May 03, 2016 Roger Brunyate rated it liked it
Not Dead Yet

[SPOILER ALERT: This is a book about ideas, not plot. In order to discuss it, however, I felt I had to mention the simple story line on which the ideas are hung. If you would rather not know it, don't read on.]

Simon Critchley is a British philosopher now living in New York, where he teaches at the New School and writes a philosophy column for the Times. He has written numerous non-fiction books on topics from Martin Heidegger to David Bowie. This is his first work of fiction. If fict
Tony Parsons
Dec 14, 2015 Tony Parsons rated it really liked it
A remarkable book. Memory, philosophy, the great white Greek & Roman thinkers of way back.

Philosophy 101 not my favorite undergrad class, but I love the stuff nowadays. PS & History were part of my many minor undergrads.
I am glad you enclosed the glossary, but all your references & quotes were not properly MLA displayed or verified. A big no no! - 1, it should be 2 at the least. In college you would flunk the paper, you get the wrong professor plagiarism. A chance maybe to correct t
Feb 18, 2016 John rated it it was amazing
Superb Debut Work of Fiction from One of Our Most Notable Anglo-American Philosophers

"Memory Theater" is a compellingly readable blend of memoir, philosophical treatise and fiction that explores the very nature of memory, relying not only on philosophy and theater, but also the latest scientific thinking, cleverly cloaked within a funny tale sure to please diehard fans of Douglas Adams and Monty Python. Discerning readers will pick up on "Memory Theater" as a succinct homage to Samuel Beckett, w
May 14, 2016 juliemcl rated it liked it
Shelves: novel, m, pub-2015, free-copy
Interesting little book. I'm not the intended audience, but I did get something out of it - just not what I think one was supposed to get. The first third or so of the book (its only 100 pages including the droll "glossary" at the end) was some uphill sledding, dense with discussion of philosophical ideas and historical figures, and I had to read it twice to get the thread. Its been a long time since I took Philosophy 101. After finishing the book, I read an interview with Critchley in 3AM ...more
Chad Felix
Well the revelation for Critchley here–that life's totality is more than just the recounting of one's knowledge–wasn't all that revelatory to me personally by the end, but Memory Theatre is a cool little book that you can, and should, read in one sitting. The book, elaborate as it is, could easily be overwritten, overwrought or too long, but the author is careful to mix his Hegel and Plato with some humor and pop culture. And also outright narrative, which goes something like this: Critchley's ...more
Matthew Martens
I would like to have liked this book better, both because I've read Critchley with pleasure for years and because I suspect its impetus may have been a suicidal crisis, the allusions to which late in the book almost redeem the preceding eighty-odd pages of show-offy, frustratingly unfunny necronautical navel-gazing via the provision of something real, felt, and fearsome. But not quite. An interesting failure, though, which isn't nothing. Anyone looking for a more compelling, transporting ...more
Jonathan Norton
Jan 31, 2016 Jonathan Norton rated it it was ok
Critchley is quite interesting when he's just giving us a potted version of what Frances Yates and others had to say. As a creative writer, his weakness (as he realises in himself) is that he is not a poet, and he lapses into cliche, triteness, and the tone of a rather desperate ageing trendy, several times in this quite short book. The project of the "memory theatre" for his life is dead-on-arrival from its appearance, so I couldn't possibly care at its formal failure. The tricksy business ...more
Jeff Raymond
As a story, a 2.

As a philosophy manifesto/introduction, a 4.

This is...barely a story, and that's okay. It's based mostly around the framework of going through someone's boxes following a death. It goes into a basic philosophical history before transitioning into a broader tale.

At such a small number of pages, it tries to balance it out well, but, honestly, I'd rather just read Crichley's philosophy works outright than a pamphlet-sized discussion wrapped in a fictional mask. Ideas don't always ne
DJ Dycus
Enigmatic is the best word to describe this book. It is a puzzle. That is puzzling. I was able to follow the story and a good number of the philosophical and historical references, but I know that I've missed quite a bit in this first reading. I've seen the clues, but I'm not sure what they point to that I was unable to follow. Intriguing nonetheless.
Holden Richards
Mar 31, 2016 Holden Richards rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Are you up on your philosophy?, then you're in for a informative, enlightening ride through the Memory Theatre. Historically, a memory theatre is a mnemonic space (physical or mental) for remembering the history of man and a source of interpretation for one's inner life. In this book Critchley gets more than he bargained for.
James Dykes
Dec 07, 2015 James Dykes rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

The author is an obvious liberal artser who believes that past writing contains deep meaning and undiscovered truths. My reality believes that current thinking contains the quickest path to truth. If the author was trying to assert his case, he failed in this trivial attempt.
Jesse Lehrer
Mar 09, 2016 Jesse Lehrer rated it liked it
I would seriously need to give this another read before really reviewing it. It was definitely the kind of thing I could get into but I read it too slowly to get the full effect. It's definitely confusing, but it hit that kind of interesting philosophical, bizarre, sci-fi feel that I like.
Feb 21, 2016 Kat rated it it was ok
This novel, written by a philosopher, was mostly over my head, but sometimes I like that in a novel. I enjoyed its comic aspects and appreciated its ending, and if I had to wade through it, at least I never drowned.
Dec 26, 2014 Leif rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wanted to like this much more than I could. There are some brilliant passages here, jewelled with depth and thought. There are also some real clunkers. Still, a more than worthwhile enterprise, and a provocative read.
Sep 07, 2015 Byram rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quick story on the nature of memory and mortality, and the philosophy of memory and predeterminism, this is a nice little story that straddles the neurological with the psychological, the mystical with the philosophical.
Jan 13, 2016 Laurel rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Far too tedious and pedantic to live up to the suspense suggested by the plot summary. Don't let the (useless) glossary of "potential obscurities" fool you; this book is effectively incomprehensible unless you have a strong background in philosophy. Fluency in French wouldn't hurt either.
May 29, 2016 Mike rated it it was ok
This book may prove that philosophers shouldn't write novels.

On the other hand, I learned something about Hegel, who I (happily) haven't read since grad school. I like the idea that Hegel's Phenomenology should be read backwards. Then again, I'm not going to try it.
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Simon Critchley (born 27 February 1960 in Hertfordshire) is an English philosopher currently teaching at The New School. He works in continental philosophy. Critchley argues that philosophy commences in disappointment, either religious or political. These two axes may be said largely to inform his published work: religious disappointment raises the question of meaning and has to, as he sees it, ...more
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