Cryptamnesia occurs when a forgotten memory returns without its being recognized as such by the subject, who believes it is something new and original. It is a memory bias whereby a person may falsely recall generating a thought, an idea, a tune, a name, or a joke, not deliberately engaging in plagiarism but rather experiencing a memory as if it were a new inspiration.
I have uncovered what appears to be an instance, a possibly psychoanalytically revealing instance, of cryptamnesia in my book A Memory of Joyce and Proust.
A portion of the text meshes thoughts about law and an opera house in Peru, pariticularly signified by the image of “the Strauss firm” — which manifestly refers to the fictional opera house but is also an implicit reference to the law firm Akin, Gump, Strauss, Hauer & Feld. I also refer to “Ellen” — Federal Judge Ellen Segal Huvelle touring Inca trails in Machu Pichu, an ancient Inca site.
. . . in the hinterlands of the cosmos, in the sixth dimension of space, where in that alternative universe known as South America, schools of uncultivated but arriviste dolphins swim—more often than not in avid pursuit of amatory adventure—with accredited academies of freestyling fish, who, with aquatic grace and piscine fortitude, and seeking a happier and simpler life in the pleasant waters in off-shore Central America near Mosquito Coast or, perhaps, in the serene surf that laps the western edge of Peru near the Inca trails where Ellen reconnoitered the Andean ruins of Machu Pichu on Thanksgiving Day, and— . . . a disastrous premiere performance of an Inca-dialect production of Tristan und Isolde (or was it Strauss’s Elektra?) in a dilapidated and non-air conditioned theater, colloquially known as “the Strauss Firm,” in a derelict but soon-to-be gentrified precinct of Lima— for, I might query a second time, what obtuse impresario could have failed to foresee the enormous protests that would arise from the lungs of aggrieved descendants of a fleeced Indian tribe to what was rightly perceived by those guileless natives as a mockery—consummated by descendants of European colonialists, those benighted Prosperos of yesteryear in search of amenable Calibans—of a forfeited but reverenced culture by overweight, Euro-trading, white-skinned opera singers, many of whom had lost their voices crying out in support of Freedom and Brotherhood! in affiliation with the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo and were temporarily blinded by the lustrous glare of chromium license plates reflecting the razzle-dazzle Peruvian late-afternoon sun—not to mention transiently disoriented by one of the lesser known Prokofiev piano concertos that was then blaring from a souped-up limousine stereo system—a disconcerting razzle-dazzle reflected off forged license plates riveted to the rear ends of limousines transporting a coterie of sycophants accompanying the President of Peru . . .
Is it possible that this text was inspired by an unconscious glance back at the year 1982, when I graduated law school?
In 1982 I also saw the movie Fitzcarraldo, which portrays would-be rubber baron Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an Irishman known in Peru as Fitzcarraldo, who is determined to transport a steamship over a steep hill in order to access a rich rubber territory in the Amazon Basin. The film is derived from the historic events of Peruvian rubber baron Carlos Fitzcarrald and his real-life feat of transporting a disassembled steamboat over the Isthmus of Fitzcarrald. A lover of opera and a great fan of the internationally known Italian tenor Enrico Caruso, he dreams of building an opera house in Iquitos. Numerous Europeans and North African Sephardic Jewish immigrants have settled in the city at this time, bringing their cultures with them. The opera house will require considerable amounts of money, which the booming rubber industry in Peru should yield in profits. The areas in the Amazon Basin known to contain rubber trees have been parceled up by the Peruvian government and are leased to private companies for exploitation.
In short, Fitzcarraldo is an idealist with an impossible dream: a dream to build a European-style opera house in the jungles of South America. Did the character Fitzcarraldo symbolize for me my pursuit of a law degree? Was the practice of law my “impossible dream?” Or perhaps even more speculatively was my impossible dream to become a writer? But there are broader implications about my status as an outsider in my family and in life — my tastes and interests made me feel in childhood like a cultured European in the midst of a primitive people, my family. Fitzcarraldo was an alien dreamer.
Note the following metaphor I created that links the theater and my first year of law school, when I was living as an out-of-towner in Spokane, Washington:
I think about how my life is so empty but I have this constant swirl of thoughts in my mind. I told you how I feel I have a civil war in my head. That’s constantly going on. But I am not a part of the real world. I am detached from the world. I think about how in my adult life I have recreated the world of the infant in his crib. So his mother has gone off and the infant is alone in his bedroom. But he has this imagination. And he imagines the world of experience, but he is at the same time detached from real experience. And he has a flood if imaginings, of thoughts both satisfying and distressing. But it’s all in his imagination. I feel like that in life. I have this inner movie theater in my mind. I spend my life inside that movie theater and the world goes by outside.
But I am in the theater, engrossed in the movie. And in the movie there is a procession of characters, and some of them I like and some of them I don’t like. It reminds me of that dream I had [The Dream of Schubert’s Final Piano Sonata]. I told you about that experience I had back in May 1980. I was living in Spokane, Washington. And I went to the movie theater, and there was a volcanic eruption outside, but I had no idea what was happening outside in the real world.
I was inside the movie theater, engrossed in the movie. My life is like that. I am in my private inner movie theater, while life passes by outside and I am oblivious to that world outside.
The complete movie is on Amazon Prime: