Language, Power, and Forgetting in Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi

Parisha Goel
1 min readAug 1, 2021

The protagonist of Susanna Clarke’s Piranesi grapples with the ever-shifting reality of the house he lives in, which he calls World because of how it structures the entirety of his experience. As per the rules of this world, the longer he stays in the house, the more of his memory he loses, and effectively becomes imprisoned there at the mercy of the mysterious scholar known only as The Other.

Forgetting, power, and language are brought to bear on the principal themes of Piranesi when forgetting is quite literally dramatised as a prison: without his memories, Piranesi does not know where he is, who he is, how he came to be there, why he maintains such a meticulous record of his thoughts and activities, or why some crucial sections from his notebooks have been destroyed or are missing. The labyrinthine nature of the house/World is a reference to Minotaur and his labyrinth, where language becomes the yarn that Piranesi and those who attempt to rescue him use to navigate the slippery corridors of forgetting.

Induced forgetting becomes an instrument of power for The Other, who uses Piranesi’s gradual memory loss and descent into a purely corporeal being as an experiment to see how malicious the World actually is, but language, writing, and communication become means through which Piranesi fights back both against The Other and against forgetting itself.