Sunday, July 17, 2005

Ruminations on memory by David Farrell Krell

From Krell's Of Memory, Reminiscence, and Writing: On the Verge:

"Until the modern age the word memory extended across the vast verge of the Latin memor, 'to be mindful,' mens, 'the mind,' and all the words that display the Indogermanic roots men-, mon-, mn-, words related to thinking, intending, and being conscious or mindful in any way. When Chaucer wished to assure his reader or listener that Arcite did not die or even lose consciousness as a result of the fall from his steed all he needed to write was, 'For he was yet in memorie and alyve' ('The Knight's Tale,' I. 2698). The sense of memory was so broad as to encompass both death and love: hē mnēmē is remembrance in general but also a record, memorial, or tomb; mnaomai means to turn one's mind to a thing but also to woo and to solicit favor. Even the medieval German word minne, which we remember thanks to minnesingers and Tristan's ache of amorous love, derives from the sense of 'having in mind.' How paltry the word memory has become since then! We no longer hold it in memorie and alyve--and the present book is unfortunately no exception to the rule. It reduces the sense of memory to what contemporary psychology and neurophysiology call 'long-term memory,' that is, retention of persons, objects, or events from the distant past. Neither the acquisitions nor retention of things we learn constitutes a part of the book, as though memory were not essential to the whole affair we call 'education.' Neither genetics nor immunology plays a apart in it---as though I were certain that it is only mere metaphor at work when we assert that template RNA 'remembers' or that the host 'recognizes' its own and 'rejects' the foreign invader, as though one could forget genes and all the body and write ghostly of memory and reminiscence" (2).



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