Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Writing and Remembering

While we read vast amounts of verbiage, some of it of ephemeral or trivial content, we remember very little of it in detail. Medieval readers, particularly those from the professional reading classes, had techniques for remembering large amounts of written material. Writers also developed techniques for making their material able to be remembered.
Monks and clerics who performed their offices every day learned certain texts, such as their psalms, by constant repetition. Workers in the legal system had alliterative, rhythmic and often tautological phrases to remind them of their technical vocabulary. Storytellers used rhyme to help themselves in oral performance, and to help their readers when the stories were written down.
It would seem logical that scholars who studied complex theological and philosophical concepts might have read much more like we do, cruising along through the text trying to nut out the concepts, but not necessarily learning it off by rote. The latest script example and paleographical exercise on Medieval Writing is from a 13th or 14th century copy of the Sentences of Peter Lombard, written in a most excruciating manner so that it would seem to be almost impossible to untangle by any reader unfamiliar with the text, but containing those elements of repetition and rhythm and word play that would seem to indicate that it was meant to be learned off. Not being a scholar of medieval philosophy, this was a surprise to me. Perhaps we should get off the internet and try to remember a few things ourselves, like our favourite poem or something.


D_Dretske said...

It's so true that the appreciation for reciting poems from memory seems long gone. Information is constantly at our fingertips. It's an easy trap to fall into with the internet so available.

Thanks for this very interesting post, and the reminder!

H. Doug Matsuoka said...

Yes, anything that would help prevent being taken prisoner by a medieval philosopher!

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