From: Nacho <cordova@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Tue, 22 Apr 1997 13:19:51 -0400 (EDT)
Malgosia: Thanks for your prompt reply! I find myself as I write this
email in a Marine Estuary Science lab, and you can imagine I have no handy
references to point towards, but I will try to clarify my argument.
The initial ancient idea of memory was not really yet concerned with
"public" in our contemporaneous sense (public sphere, public matters, etc.
which ultimately get reduced to the "political"). Indeed most treatises
that I have read that speak about memory were rhetorical handbooks that
encouraged memorization of key rhetorical strategies, or boilerplate bits
useful for later argument in court. Notice however that the stuff to be
memorized was not really whether an individual had committed an act in
order to prove its public consequences, etc. rather the individual rhetor
committed to memory those bits of information that would help him (in this
case almost no hers) remember how to best craft his case. It could be a
passage from Homer, or three lines from a Demosthenian speech, but always
the emphasis was on developing the individual capacity of the rhetor to
recall for the purpose of rhetorical facility. Although Cicero
characterizes rhetoric as a "civil science" he still talks about memory
not as a negotiation or mediation of claims to public matters, but as the
individual's natural faculty to recall. He basically says that memory is a
natural thing, we can practice, but if you are not born with a great
capacity for it then you have to rely on other things! :)
Those who concentrated on the Hellenistic educational program (Quintillian
and others) had as part of their progymnasmata (rhetorical exercises) the
imitation of certain types of speeches, partly in hope that students would
remember the correct way to do specific types of speeches. From what I
have read regarding Middle Ages and Renaissaince conceptions of memory
(mostly from Mary Carruthers, book on Medieval & Renaissance memory) there
is a sense in which these folks of the Middle Ages thought of prodigious
memory as indicating great moral character. In fact, Carruthers points out
how Thomas Aquinas was remembered for his great memory, and thus moral
character. In the middle ages however, recalling in many ways may have
been relegated as part of the rhetorical canon because much of what was
needed was present in the Bible. The middle ages being characterized by
its three main arts (Ars Poetriae (Poetry), Ars Dictaminis
(Letter-Writing), and Ars Praedicandum (Preaching). Letter writing was not
a tradition of the ancients. Poetry however is most closely related to a
concept of memory tied to moral character which may more directly address
About Poetry then. According to the Ancients, Mnemosyne (I think I got the
spelling ok) was the mother of the muses (a goddess). Her name translates
to memory. When poets were inspired they were in a state of divine madness
caused by one of the muses, this divine madness was assumed to grant them
a faculty to remember, to be repositories of cultural truths, values, etc.
In this sense, they were imbued with a moral value and responsibility.
This of course has more of a sense of "public" that we've come to expect.
In writing they became living repositories of this "memory."
Out of poetry and into the Renaissance. The Renaissance can be
characterized as a recovery of all things ancient, rhetoric being of great
importance. Yet, memory gets short shrift in this period. Most humanists
concentrated on style (their label being elocutio). Insofar as this
amounts to a recovery or a negotiation over how to remember the ancient
tradition, and if this happened pubicly perhaps it can be deemed public
memory work of that time. But there is no indication that there were great
debates about how to recall things necessarily, although a few folks
countered how others wrote their treatises and such. Enter Ramus, Talon,
and Bacon, and we have even more short shrifting of memory, since these
folks reduced the role or rhetoric and sundered it into what could be
considered rhetoric and what was logic, the result was that rhetoric ended
up being "style and delivery."
Memory is indeed important as a way of life. Memory helps maintain
identity, and it is this sense of permanence through space and time that
shaped much of the ethos of the time and of the folks then. We certainly
can speak about public memory, but I get a sense that what we mean by
public right now is distanced somewhat by what we could term public in
those other centuries. Indeed, I think we could say that our conception of
memory as a social construction, as negotiated and mediated in order to
adjust subjects to particular "public" life is not the same as they held
at that time, although we could possibly look at situations of the time
and view them from this more recent understanding of memory. I am not
countering Yates argument, I think we can productively think about memory
in this way, and find that at different times folks were indeed
negotiating meaning by mediating what, how, when, and why things were to
be remembered, commemorated, and such. But I think the tropic
understanding of public memory is much more recent.
The Renaissaince does develop quite an interest in faculty psychology,
that I have not spent much time yet researching. I tend to believe that in
the Middle Ages, with the Church's strong influence, memory work was much
more "official story" work.
Wow, way too long, sorry again. Thanks for the engagement I really
appreciate your questions. I am not certain I can disagree with you
because the formulation of public memory I am using, makes it applicable
to the period in question. I need to historicize it better. How do we
bring Foucault into this? :)
Nathaniel I. Cordova
On Tue, 22 Apr 1997, malgosia askanas wrote:
> Nathaniel, before everything else: great thanks for your elaboration.
> I just finished reading France's Yates' _The Art of Memory_. Now this is,
> by now, a fairly old book -- it came out in 1966 -- and although it was
> then the first extensive treatment of the subject, it might be that it
> has since been superseded by further research and different understandings.
> But Yates' interpretation of the classical and Renaissance mnemonic
> tradition seems to me to link it much more strongly with the "public"
> problematic than the way you're casting it, and I am curious what you think
> of her views.
> So for example, you write:
> > Originally memory was one of the
> > five canons of memory and consisted mainly of techniques of memorizing
> > material for later use in speeches, public discourse, and so on.
> > Rhetoricians told their students to practice memory techniques like
> > putting images in a building, then they could imagine themselves walking
> > through the building and seeing the images, which would bring
> > recollection of the things they wanted to say. Memory seen this way was a
> > private practice, a gift or faculty of recalling things, and as such,
> > psychological.
> > Although memory gets treated a bit differently through the middle ages
> > and the renaissaince, the main way they thought about it was as a
> > psychologistic practice. A natural faculty which people could improve
> > with practice (Cicero did say this earlier). Throught the rest of the
> > centuries after that the work of memory has been seen just like that,
> > individual recalls then shares with others, etc.
> So already in your (and Yates') account of the classical art of memory as
> part of rhetorics, the public sphere immediately enters. What was meant
> to be remembered through the artificial memory were things that one needed
> for public life: details of law suits one was arguing, of political events
> one was participating in, virtues and vices that formed part of the public
> ethical culture one was a spokesman for, and so on. It was not really
> private things that one would commit to memory and then share with others,
> but rather things that were already shared and that the individual needed
> to keep in memory in order to effectively participate in the life of the
> community. In fact, a major part of Yates' investigation has to do with
> her perception that much of the material culture of the the Middle Ages
> and the Renaissance -- religious art and architecture, texts like Dante's
> "Divine Comedy" -- can be seen as a material embodiment of this memory
> tradition. In the Renaissance, the "internal" memory techniques developed
> in classical rhetorics become explicitly "externalized" in projects such
> as Guilio Camillo's memory theatre or in the "global" memory architectures
> developed by Ramon Lull, Giordano Bruno, Robert Fludd. Here, the art of
> memory becomes a search for methods for apprehending, and communicating with,
> the entire cosmos -- but it is the shared cosmos, and has very little to do
> with individual psychology.
> The account put forth in Yates' book seems to me, in some sense,
> the reverse of what you are postulating: it gives the impression that what
> is fairly recent is precisely the concern with memory as a matter
> of individual psychology, and the separation of this "private" realm from
> another realm, designated as "public". I wonder what you think of this.