Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature) by Mary Carruthers from Cambridge University Press:
This volume is an elegant and intricate study of the medieval understanding of the educated memory, addressing the pedagogy of memory, theory of memory, nature of mnemonic technique, and cultural value assigned to memory. “For this book can be read in at least two ways: as a history of a basic and greatly influential practice of medieval pedagogy, and as a reflection on the psychological and social value of the institution of memoria itself, which is in many ways the same as the institution of literature,” writes Carruthers.
The book is an explicitly “cultural” history, stressing continuity over change. It draws on an almost bewilderingly wide variety of elite sources throughout the medieval (and late classical) period. Carruthers chose not to highlight the Neoplatonist/Aristotelian intellectual divide in medieval thought, maintaining that memoria is a matter of praxis rather than doxos, and one that was equally pertinent and similarly approached on both sides of the doctrinal coin.
Carruthers’ unavoidable predecessor in the study of the education of memory is Frances Yates (The Art of Memory, et al.), and key fellow medievalists are Brian Stock and Jean Leclercq.
She advances a distinction between textualist (interpretational) and fundamentalist (anti-interpretational) cultural perspectives, as well as a contrast between mechanical mental recall and recollection/reminiscence. She also draws a useful line between heuristic and hermeneutic processes.
She succeeds admirably in her effort to demonstrate the collaborative relationship of literacy and memory in medieval culture, and the emphasis on memory as reflecting the value of rhetoric. Although I have made more use of its successor volume The Craft of Thought in my researches, The Book of Memory is one of a small handful of books that persuaded me to become a medievalist. [via]
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