ready, able: the wars of memory

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The scholars all killed each trying to get into the library, the stairs coated with academic bone and blood. After the bodies were cleared, it was realized that no one any longer understood how to read the books in the library anymore. So it was bricked up. All information is now delivered through song.

Libraries have been replaced with temples filled with priestesses called Mnemosynes who are the rememberers of all songs. They are paid nothing and are celibate except for one week a year, the Feast of Lost Songs, in which everything is permitted and nothing is remembered. No one is allowed to refuse the priestesses any of their pleasures.

The rememberers of songs became too powerful. A wave of tyrants try to displace their influence, creating cults for scent which fail because of the emotive slipperiness of aroma. Finally, one invents the Crystal Harmonium, which can remember and replay all the songs. This begins the Wars of Memory.

The tyrants murder the chief priestess, the rememberer of all songs, and force her daughters to relay all they know into the Harmonium. The songs play in public squares, but the singing, marked with tragedy, fills the citizenry with despair. They wait on park benches to die, and those who can still fuck do so with brutish despondency.

Soon, all songs are forbidden. Hidden away in caverns, the Mnemosynes confess their songs into amethyst jars. These second-hand hymns are smuggled to the weary rebellion, otherwise their spirits would collapse in the crushing absence of song.

To bolster the waning hopes of their doleful armies, the tyrants resolve to marry the captured daughters. In blood red dresses spun with gossamer lace, all but one of the stolen songstresses suicide en masse. The last slips barefoot into the soft arms of the cold forest.

Sound cannons pound through the countryside, their victims fall flaccidly to the earth, all will to live gone.

The last stolen songstress is quietly captured in the woods by a dark lieutenant, a man of war. He falls in love with his quarry and she her captor. A clandestine coupling, she sings him songs of love and devotion which permeate his flesh and warp his spirit. One night she disappears, a single sheaf of lavender and the scent of her hair is all he finds in their bed.

The dark lieutenant finds his way to the front. His voice rises slowly, trembling. He sings of lovers lost in countrysides and of dew settling on night sleepers under distant stars and of the strange and beautiful weakness of men and women. Each soldier hears the song differently, the words bent to each of their desires, each of their dreams. They lay down in the fields and weep for their lost childhoods and their singular heartbreaks. The battlefield floods with memory, which condenses into a cool mist and unfurls across the land washing away the sins and regrets of a people at war with themselves.

—Andrew Berardini

Andrew Berardini is a writer in Los Angeles. He regularly publishes criticism and essays for magazines and newspapers in North America and Europe, including Frieze, Art Review and Mousse, where he is a contributing editor. As a curator at the Armory Center for the Arts in Pasadena, CA, he has worked on original solo exhibitions with Dave Muller, Bruce Nauman, Camilo Ontiveros, Yoshua Okon and Raymond Pettibon.

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