Hannibal and the Importance of Memory
The halls of Doctor Lecter’s mind palace open on immense and well-lit spaces; everywhere are the exhibits, well-spaced and each keyed to memories that lead to other memories in geometric progression.
To say that Hannibal erases painful memories, especially after Mizumono, is, I think, a misunderstanding of him as a character and of what his memory palace does.
Hannibal has trained himself since his childhood to be incapable of forgetting – as a youth he suffered from amnesia after the death of his sister and went to great lengths to recover his memories. It is a matter of needing control over himself, of being able to decide his actions based on his experiences.
In order to be able to remember he developed an elaborate memory palace, incorporating many grand old buildings and locations from his youth.
“In this technique the subject memorises the layout of some building, or the arrangement of shops on a street, or any geographical entity which is composed of a number of discrete loci. When desiring to remember a set of items the subject literally ‘walks’ through these loci and commits an item to each one by forming an image between the item and any distinguishing feature of that locus. Retrieval of items is achieved by 'walking’ through the loci, allowing the latter to activate the desired items.”
In short, Hannibal memorises things by building a room in his mind, which is connected to everything else he remembers. The strength of this technique comes from it’s structure, where one memory/ location leads naturally on to the next and the next.
It is also why the idea of Hannibal erasing memories or emotions is contrary to his established characterisation and development – imagine your own home, in as great detail as you can manage, picture the rooms, from the door where you enter, into the rooms one at a time, the furnishings in place, everything just as it is.
Now erase a room. Take this mental walk through your home again and remove a room, travel through your home as though this room had never existed.
Chances are it’s not so easy to do.
The memory palace method uses the part of your brain that deals with physical memory in order to fix other kinds of memory, this type of memory storage is more stable than the kind that we usually rely on for memorisation, it will enable fast and accurate recollection once the palace is established and the individual is practiced at using it.
Hannibal has been using this technique since childhood, he would memorise his med school textbooks and return them to the store within the week, he stores music and art and history and literature. Everything is stored away.
Even the bad stuff.
In the descriptions of the memory palace in Hannibal and Hannibal Rising, there is emphasis placed on the disadvantages that Hannibal experiences with this style of mnemonic – mainly that there are places in his own mind that are filled with horrors.
“… rooms filled with old fears — great snakes wrestling and heaving in the dark and lit in flashes. Pleas and screaming fill some places on the grounds where Hannibal himself must never go.”
In some ways Hannibal does have an advantage in that he can organise his traumatic memories, decide where they are placed and whether or not he will confront them, but due to the way that he structures his memories they aren’t going to disappear, and he’s certainly not able to get rid of them.
As well, if you look at the final scene of Mizumo his expression doesn't look, to me at least, like one of triumph. Actually he seems to look more worn, even haggard than he has at any other time during the series.
That doesn’t look like an expression of triumph or gloating, and actually the posture he takes, head tilted back, eyes closed – similar to what he did after leaving his home – resembles the gesture that he described when he and Will were discussing Will’s safe place – laying his head back into the quiet of the stream.
It seems more likely to me that this gesture indicates that he's accessing memories about Will, rather than attempting to distance himself from them; laying his head back and joining Will on the bank of the stream, perhaps – of course this is only my interpretation.