The Loci SystemThe loci system, also known as the art of memory, originated from a story about a Greek poet who used it to identify guests after a tragic banquet. The method involves attaching images to fixed locations along a familiar route, making it easier to remember items. The system was popularized by St. Thomas Aquinas and later by Jesuits, but was declared unholy by Puritan reformers in 1584. How a student of literature can use the loci system to remember authors, literary works, plots, and ideas:
- Choose a familiar route: First, choose a familiar route in your mind that you can visualize well. For example, you might choose the route you take from your home to school, or the route around your college campus. It's important that you can visualize this route clearly in your mind.
- Identify loci: As you visualize your route, identify specific locations that you can use as "loci" for your memory palace. These might include specific buildings, landmarks, or even rooms in a building. For example, if you choose the route from your home to school, you might use your front door, the living room, the kitchen, your bedroom, and your bathroom as loci.
- Assign information to loci: Once you have identified your loci, you can start assigning information to each location. For example, you might assign an author's name to your front door, the title of a literary work to your living room, the plot of a novel to your kitchen, and a key idea or theme to your bedroom.
- Visualize the information: As you assign information to each location, make sure to visualize it clearly in your mind. For example, you might imagine a giant book with the author's name on it sitting on your front doorstep, or a movie screen playing a scene from the literary work in your living room.
- Review and recall: Once you have assigned information to all of your loci, review it in your mind a few times to help reinforce the connections. Then, when you need to recall the information, simply "walk" through your memory palace and visualize each piece of information at its assigned location.
Example: Here's an example to remember major writers and their works in Renaissance English literature using the loci system:
Imagine that you are taking a stroll through a grand garden filled with fountains and beautiful flowers. As you walk, you come across a statue of William Shakespeare, the greatest playwright of the English Renaissance. You take a moment to admire the statue and pay your respects to the Bard.
As you continue walking, you come across a pond filled with lilies. In the center of the pond, there is a boat where Christopher Marlowe, another renowned playwright, is seated. He is holding a copy of his play "Doctor Faustus" and reciting lines from it to a group of fascinated onlookers.
Next, you come across a pavilion where Edmund Spenser, a poet, is sitting at a desk. He is surrounded by copies of his famous work, "The Faerie Queene." You pause to listen as he recites some of his poetry aloud.
As you leave the pavilion, you come across a statue of John Milton, a writer and poet. He is holding a copy of his epic poem, "Paradise Lost," and you take a moment to appreciate his masterpiece.
As you reach the end of the garden, you come across a grand archway. Above the archway is a sign that reads "Ben Jonson." You walk through the archway and into a large courtyard where Jonson, a playwright and poet, is holding court. He is surrounded by admirers who are discussing his works, including "Volpone" and "The Alchemist."
As you exit the courtyard, you find yourself back at the beginning of the garden, where you see the statue of Shakespeare once again. You realize that you have just taken a memorable journey through the works and lives of some of the greatest writers of the English Renaissance.
Memory PalacesAfter mastering the memory principle, you can take it to higher levels where it becomes a work of art. However, the current system has limitations. You are restricted by the number of loci on your journey and cannot remember more than one list at a time. To expand your memory palace, you can increase the number of loci in each room of your home. You can use spaces like the refrigerator, cutlery drawer, or oven to attach images. The key is to keep the images clear and distinct and avoid clutter. It is best to place the action inside something so that the images do not get in the way of each other.
You should always go through the loci in a fixed order, like moving clockwise. You can also expand your loci system by allowing permanently retained information. This means that you can designate other rooms, spaces, or buildings to hold useful information that you prefer to keep hold of. Once you are familiar with your loci system at home, you can expand the setting to form a more complex interconnection of buildings, which you can imagine as a sprawling palace. You can add an extra door to the imaginary representation of your house, and it opens up into another familiar environment where you keep stored information.
Using grander environments to store useful data is more in keeping with the original use of the system set out by the author of Ad Herennium. Students were encouraged to find and use suitable places from life for the artificial memory, rather than relying on their homes. The loci inside each building were expected to be of moderate size, clearly lit but not too bright, and placed about thirty feet from each other. You can use fictitious or real places to add to your expanding palace, but it relies on you being very familiar with them.
If you choose to employ this system, it is recommended that you spend your time memorizing the real space when it is free from crowds as possible. You can take floors from museums or favorite theatres you have visited or performed in. Many of these can be linked together with grand stairwells and marble hallways, inspired by the chapter in Hannibal. Using this technique, you can construct some wonderful imaginary dwellings, extending in all directions and with countless different rooms for different purposes. It is essential to remember that familiarity with the spaces is the key to successfully expanding your memory palace.