Monday, August 3, 2015

Sherlock’s Debt to Giordano Bruno

             Followers of the excellent BBC Sherlock series (yes, you—it’s OK to admit it) have surely noticed the remarkable antipathy Sherlock holds against the “Napoleon of blackmail”, the reptilian Charles Augustus Magnussen.  But they also have perhaps been intrigued by the “memory palace” process of memorization that Sherlock and Magnussen have in common. 

            The revival of this ancient memory technology traces back to Giordano Bruno’s “Art of Memory”, in which ideas, people, and images are inserted into the context of a house or palace with many rooms.  This process was described and elaborated in Frances A. Yates’ wonderful book, “Giordano Bruno and the Hermetic Tradition”.

            But the technique is of far more ancient origin.  Cicero and Aristotle wrote of this technique, as did the famous Jesuit Matteo Ricci.  They in turn provided the inspiration to Bruno, whose ideas were again brought to current awareness by Yates’ scholarly writings.  And, as so often happens, these ideas were again “invented” by the writers of Sherlock, who surely were familiar with Bruno’s contribution, but who, in proof if their freedom from stuffy academic conventions, passed them on to us free of scholarly attribution.

            This oversight is perhaps made more understandable when we realize that the inscrutable Mycroft Holmes, in his assumed persona of Mark Gatiss, is the producer and one of the writers of Sherlock.  Surely he has some game afoot, if only we knew what it was…

            Perhaps all will become clear in Season 4, if it ever materializes.

1 comment:

V. said...

And earlier: Attic rhetoric, at least as far back as Hesiod, used formal devices, not just as embellishment and poetics, but as aides-memoire. There's some evidence that for the Greeks symmetry itself, and other formal devices, WERE art; the difference between a mere building and architecture was the latter's symmetry, and, in the same way, the difference between mere speech and a piece of rhetoric was the latter's formal rigor. Here ya go:

Giordano and Aristotle in there, too.