The project sets out from a meditation on the way in which historical narrative is inserted within the factors that produce knowledge of the past, combined in this particular case with fiction and sited at the intersection with collective memory. The sentence is excerpted from the novel Delirium by Marin Preda, published in 1975 and makes reference to the experiences of a young communist hero, arrested by the police for underground activities in the capital and made to walk all the way home to his parents’ house in the country. The novel is set in the period before the Second World War, and the main character of the chapter from which the sentence is taken is the young Nicolae Ceausescu. I have chosen to transpose this sentence visually in public spaces around Bucharest, following the order of a visual alphabet in which each separate letter is performed. The sentence is thereby rearticulated letter by letter, respecting the temporality of the reading process – combining with the process of contemplation – and being projected into the public space.

The visual alphabet represents a mnemonic method, to be found in Antiquity (under the tutelage of rhetoric) and then in the Middle Ages and Renaissance (Christian ethics and, later, mystic-religious practices), being closely connected to the process whereby memory is constituted. The Art of Memory (a term used in Antiquity) was based on a series of principles and techniques employed in order to organise acts of memory (not in the current sense of memorisation, but rather that of assimilation at the level of knowledge), to improve recollection of memorised elements, and to facilitate the processes of combining and articulating ideas. The methods were various: association of strongly emotive images with visualisations of certain places; the formation of groups of images; the combination of images with schematic graphic elements, signs or marks; the combination of texts with images, etc. Memory was thus constructed through the association of images/representations with certain (real or imaginary) places, named loci memoriae, in such a way that the mnemonic techniques were interposed between the inner and outer world of the person applying them, thereby articulating both worlds. At the practical level, an idea or a word was represented mentally within a space (locus), according to certain rules laid out in the treatises on memory: the information was first of all divided into a number of segments arranged in a certain numeric or alphabetic order in order to facilitate their combination; these elements were then collected (Latin legere “to read” originally meant “to collect”). The places selected for the mental projection had to be uncrowded, to be laid out according to certain parameters, and to meet certain conditions relating to architecture, illumination, etc. The images projected into the selected places were chosen in such a way as to allow them to linger in the memory for a long time (they would be unusual, comic, or grotesque); they were not vague, but active, and had corporeal analogues. The memory was thus constructed by following certain spatial and architectural co-ordinates, and almost all the mnemonic techniques (particularly those employed in the Middle Ages) were based on geometric figures. The visual alphabet (the representation of letters using images) was especially employed in order to draw up lists of objects or names aimed at making the act of memory easier or at inscribing things in the memory.

The act of performing the sentence from the novel letter by letter is aimed at creating an additional level of reflexivity. The visual alphabet puts forward a “cognitive” reading, both with regard to an understanding of the content and with regard to an understanding of the letters (as signs, representations). The three essential dimensions – docere, movere and delectare (the lesson of teaching, movement/gesture, and delectation/desire) are sedimented in the act of perception given that they are taken corporeally and spatially. Brecht once said that teaching with words is closely linked to teaching with images, grasping the importance of educating using images: play and image set in motion a specific delectatio, which imbues the body of the reader with the meaning of the lesson (lectio). Image, gesture and delectatio will always be able to bring to light the lectio: the language organised into a message, the discourse transposed into knowledge through imagination (and implicitly the recourse to images). 

The text chosen is not aleatory. On the one hand, the literary style lends the character a more human note, while narrative, in theories of historiography, constructs the meaning of historical events and fills imaginative gaps. Historical figures such as Ceausescu, as well as the historical events in themselves, acquire meaning only if they are integrated into narrative structures, otherwise they are perceived in an abstract way (chronology, facts, cause/effect). On the other hand, the text itself contains certain temporal sequences: references to the present and the future (within past time) and seems to foreshadow Ceausescu’s destiny and death. The text chosen (and thus performed) is a sublimation of representation through narrative, with claims to unity in terms of both the temporal dimension and the meaning (all the more so given that the temporal dimension is invoked in the character’s self-reflexive process). Here, it is not a matter of the character’s historico-political connotations, but rather the way in which history is written (even in literary form), represented in words and images, and acquiring a certain mythic quality (according to a certain view, narrative migrated from literature and myth to history; this continues to be one of the criticisms brought against historical narrative). In addition, the process of representing history does not end with the form in which it clothes itself, but rather in a circular manner, through the way in which the reader/viewer responds to this representation. Struggling with the text and applying various imaginative schemata, the reader undergoes reorientations of his own being-in-the-world (in relation to his own life and to recent history).

The act of performing the alphabet and visually recomposing the text sets forth a re-articulation of recent history and a reflection on the way in which it has been represented. What is at stake is not the inscription of the text upon the memory, but its reassembly, upon new, seemingly infantile positions, but which in fact combine with the reading of the text and amplify the way in which it is interiorised.

           Special thanks: Mihai Albu, Catalin Ilie