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Relighting the Flame of Memory

If we want to stop our civilization from turning into Fahrenheit 451, hope lies not with intellectuals but with parents.

(By MVolodymyr/Shutterstock)

Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 (1953) is commonly taught as a parable about the dangers of censorship, and that’s true, to an extent. But Bradbury’s classic stood witness to a deeper crisis. He feared a near-future with a technological regime designed to entertain, with the unspoken goal of captivating the senses and squelching the memory. Bradbury’s dystopia was a totalitarianism of the moment. With no power to recall the past and thus no future ahead, all one could do was tune in to the screen, the arena of the now.

Early on, fireman Guy Montag, the hero, struggles to compose a coherent thought but he just can’t, having no body of recollections to which to join his sensory perceptions: