Missing Pieces III: Alchemical Pursuits

Writing about cognitive gaps, stolen artworks and missing the things you never had by Hilary Mantel, Michael Neve, Rosa Lyster, Clancy Martin, James Davidson and Malcolm Gaskill.

Memories of Catriona

Hilary Mantel, 6 February 2003

What I would have liked was a choice in life. Leisure, to reverse my earlier decision that children didn’t matter to me; leisure, to ask if circumstances or my mind had changed. No one can predict that the game will be over for them at the age of 27. The time I fell in love is the time I should have acted, and now that an era of my life is over, and my schoolfriends are becoming grandmothers, I miss the child I never had.

It’s got bells on

Michael Neve, 21 June 1984

Oliver Sacks suggests that neurology itself has had its own gaps. In ways that historians of neurology might well find interesting but highly selective, he is proposing an absence, an existential space that ought to have been filled, but wasn’t, and which has held the science back. The full involvement of patients themselves, in the practical task of recovering the self that has been damaged or lost, is the largest of these missing parts.

A thief and her three accomplices forced their way into the library of a country house, where a rich, elderly couple were listening to music on the gramophone. Waving their assault rifles, they screamed at Sir Alfred and Lady Clementine Beit to lie face down on the floor. The leader, who spoke with a strong French accent, instructed her accomplices to start with the Goya above the mantelpiece, a portrait of a beautiful young actress looking out from beneath slightly worried brows.

Diary: The Case of the Counterfeit Eggs

Clancy Martin, 12 February 2009

I had counterfeited before. What I didn’t know at the time, and wish I had (it might have eased my conscience), was that my shifty trip to Russia to steal someone else’s jewellers in order to produce fake eggs was very much in keeping with Fabergé’s shadowy history. In June 1923 the imperial Fabergé eggs seized by Red Army troops during the Revolution were put up for sale, along with many other treasures, in a kind of giant garage sale.

Plato Made It Up: Atlantis at Last!

James Davidson, 19 June 2008

The Lost City of Atlantis consisted of a field of white towers: hydrothermal vents, populated by tiny see-through creatures. So did this mean that Plato had been on to something? Was this yet another example of a myth becoming reality, or at least a myth with a core, a kernel, a germ, a grain of truth?

Alchemists resembled learned theologians poring over the gospels, wary of mangling a single meaning and so missing or misrepresenting a holy truth. And with alchemy, everything needed interpretation because everything was obscure.

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