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YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY MEMORY DEGREE ZERO: NOTES ON JOSÉ CARDOSO PIRES’ DE PROFUNDIS, VALSA LENTA1 SÍLVIA OLIVEIRA IN 1995 the Portuguese writer, José Cardoso Pires, suffered a cerebrovascular accident, or stroke, which damaged the left-hemisphere frontal lobe, affecting his capacity to understand and use language (speaking, writing and reading), as well as his capacity to recall information . ‘Estrangement’ is the word that might best describe the experience . In the first moments of the stroke, he was addressing his wife with the question, “como te chamas?” (‘What is your name?’), followed by a complete loss of memory and aphasia (loss of speach). De Profundis, Valsa Lenta (Slow Waltz), by José Cardoso Pires (1997), is the dramatic testimony of his remarkable recovery from, in his own words, “morte branca” ‘white death.’ Most patients suffer debilitating lesions in the areas affected by a stroke, and it is known that complete recovery from this kind of brain accident is a rare occurrence. What kind of expectations, then, might one reasonably bring to such a text, a memoir that recounts a period of no memory? How does one read an empty mind? From the beginning, De Profundis is framed as a journey into, and out of, a place, suggesting almost an impossibility of narrating an existence without reference to a time sequence. Similarly, it suggests the impossibility of existing apart from a consciousness of time. The book has two important paratexts: a preface letter from the neurologist to the author, José Cardoso Pires, and a postface by the author. Both texts are a testament of the events, and a confirmation that the 1 Presented at the Theory of Mind and Literature Conference, Purdue University, Indiana, Nov 3, 2007. YYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY 333 period of aphasia and memory loss, as well as the recovery experienced by Cardoso Pires, will continue to remain an enigma: What is an empty mind? How does one perceive an empty mind, and can one read it? What is there to know in a mind that has no memory, nor a language to express itself? How do we interpret José Cardoso Pires attempts to read his own empty mind, having established from the start the impossibility to gain access to it? He departs from no privileged position, except as a subject of the loss of subjectivity: [. . .] foi naquele lugar e naquele instante que eu, frente a frente com a minha imagem no espelho mas já desligado dela, me transferi para um Outro sem nome e sem memória e por consequência incapaz da menor relação passado-presente, de imagem-objecto [. . .] (24) [. . .] it was right there and then that I, facing my image in the mirror but already disconnected from it, transferred myself to an Other without name, without memory, and therefore incapable of the slightest relation of past-present, image-object [. . .]2 Can personality doubling be a response to evidence of the loss of identity ? This is the very description of a disembodiment, by no means an unknown mental experience. The narrating of ‘I’ into an ‘Other’ creates an observer and an observed, an agent and an object. It enables narrative. It implies a co-existence of a protagonist as narrator and the same protagonist also as character (referred to as ‘he’). The reenactment of the ‘mirror stage’ and the epiphanic moment of perceiving the ‘Other’ in the mirror unveils a similar radical break in the personality of the ‘I’. The difficulty, however, resides in the observer (‘I’) being able to exercise his Theory of Mind in a being (‘Other’) who shows no signs whatsoever of “embodied transparencies.”3 The ‘Other’ is not physically capable of emoting. There seems to have been moments in Cardoso Pires’ experience where both ‘I’ and ‘the Other’ co-existed but generally, for the ‘Other’ to be present, the ‘I’ had to step back (qua Mr. Hyde and Dr. Jekyll). In other words, when aphasia and memory loss were at their peek, the ‘I’ could not be found. To narrate this phenomenon, José Cardoso Pires needed to gather information from other people: doctors, nurses, family and friends. It was mainly their testimony after the fact that allowed for 334 ROMANCE NOTES 2 Author’s translation. 3 Lisa...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2165-7599
Print ISSN
0035-7995
Pages
pp. 333-339
Launched on MUSE
2012-10-03
Open Access
No
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