Carruthers’ Book of Memory

Mary Carruthers
The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture
Area: History of Rhetoric and Memory Studies

•    Learning can be seen as a process of acquiring smarter and richer mnemonic devices to represent information
•    Divide the material to be remembered into pieces short enough to be recalled in single units and to key these into some sort of rigid easily reconstructible order
o    This provides one with a “random-access” memory system: immediately and accurately find bits of information
•    Concern with educated memory
•    Memoria: integral part of virtue of prudence
o    Makes moral judgment possible
10: “A work is not truly read until one has made it part of oneself—that process constitutes a necessary stage of its ‘textualization.’  Merely running one’s eyes over the written pages is not reading at all, for the writing must be transferred into memory, from graphemes on parchment or papyrus or paper to images written in one’s brain by emotion and sense.”
Chapter 1: Models for the Memory
•    Memory is a central feature of knowledge
o    Plato: recollection
o    Aristotle: the agent of building experience
•    The proof of a good memory lies not in the retention, but the ability to move about it instantly, directly, and securely
•    Recollection can happen:
o    Naturally = formally
o    Artificially = associatively (more efficient for mass amounts of material)
•    Partialness is also a characteristic of memory
•    Thesaurus refers both to what is in the strong box, the “treasures,” as when Augustine speaks of the treasures of countless images in his memory
31: “The ancients began from the twin assumptions that the mind already writes when it stores up its experience in representations, and, as a corollary, that the graphic expression of such representations is not an event of particular importance, at least for ‘ways of thinking about things—no more important that he sound of an individual’s voice is to his or her ability to use language.  From this viewpoint, the symbolic representations that we call writing are no more than cues or triggers for the memorial ‘representations,’ also symbolic, upon which human cognition is based.  And to mistake one sort of think for the other would be a significant error.  Writing something down cannot change in any significant way our mental representation of it, for it is the mental representation that gives birth to the written form, not vice versa.”
Chapter 2: Descriptions of the Neuropsychology of Memory
•    Aristotle: two processes of memory: storage and recollection
o    Both = memoria
•    The concept of ‘intellectual memory’ is attributed by Thomas Aquinas to Augustine
o    No human is capable of thinking entirely abstractly without some sort of signifying image
o    All memory images have an emotional component acquired during the process of its formation
•    Dreams: Aristotle: memory phantasm
o    In sleep, the consciousness isn’t functioning
•    Personal memory = subject to re-creation and inaccuracy
•    Rote memory = depends on unchangingness (ex: 7 x 6 = 42)
51: “Animals have memories too, but only of discrete experiences – they cannot generalize or predict on the basis of what they remember.  But concepts ‘are not retained in the sense part of the soul, but rather in the body-soul unity, since sense memory is an organic act.’ Human memory is thus both material, as it retains the impress of ‘likenesses,’ and yet more than that, for people can remember opinions and judgments, and predict things, based upon their memories.”
56: “The phantasms themselves are ‘movements started by actual sensations,’ and memory is, in definitions deriving from Aristotle, a delayed motion that continues to exist in the soul.’”
58: “Aristotle says that the mental images which come in dreams arise spontaneously, not in response to a controlled process like recollection; in fact this is their chief difference form the memory-images that are subject of my study here.  Dream-images are created by the vis imaginativa, as are all phantasms.  They are in the same class as ‘after images,’ hallucinations, and other irrational images, the product of aroused, imbalanced emotions (as perception is distorted by anger or lust) or of raw sense-data unformed by judgment (as when we ‘see’ the land move as we ride past it).  Such images are themselves just sense-data, aisthemata, rather than being the imprint of a sense impression after some time has elapsed, Aristotle’s basic definition of a memory-phantasm.”


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October 2008
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