Will Rees at The Quarterly Conversation:
An English philosopher called Simon Critchley moves from Essex to New York after becoming disillusioned with the state of British academia. On returning to Essex to clear out his office he finds five boxes, each marked with a zodiac sign from Capricorn to Gemini (the Taurus box is missing), containing the unpublished notebooks and manuscripts of the great, recently deceased, Michel Haar.
Among the boxes is a text called “Le théâtre de mémoir selon G.W.F Hegel,” “an entirely original interpretation of Hegel’s monumental 1807 Phenomenology of Spirit.” Haar’s interpretation of Hegel is informed by a reading of British art historian Francis Yates’s The Art of Memory, a book tracing mnemonic systems from antiquity to the early modern period; in particular by her account of the Renaissance philosopher Giulio Camillo’s theatre of memory, a theoretical structure that “hold[s] the sum of knowledge in a way that would permit total recall.”
Having lost a great deal of his memory in an industrial accident, Critchley finds the idea of the memory theatre at once quaint and irresistible. Later he opens the fifth box—marked Pisces; his astrological sign—and finds a series of astrological projections. “They weren’t so much birth charts as death charts, necronautical rather than genethlialogical. Their purpose was to plot the major events in a philosopher’s life and then to use those events to explain their demise.” One of them, produced 18 years before Haar’s death, predicts that death to the minute. “Knowing his fate, he had simply lost the will to live. He arrived dead just on time.”