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'Culture is what's left when you've forgotten everything'

9 November 2020

‘We can't really take in everything we read in a book. When you think about what you remember of a book a month or a year later, it's a distillation - sometimes you remember an image or a scene or a moment in the plot, or an idea in an essay. You don't actively remember the entire experience, at least not consciously. My father used to say that culture is what's left when you've forgotten everything...

What we retain from our reading is that it's all there. It comes back to Proust and his madeleine - you don't know what moment will bring you back experiences or memories, whether they're things you've lived or things you've read.'

Claire Messud, author of The Emperor's Children, The Burning Girl, The Last Life and The Woman Upstairs in the Observer