Saturday, August 13, 2005

Dissertation notes: Harbus on memory and interpretation

From Harbus, Antonina. The Life of the Mind in Old English Poetry. Costerus New Series 143. Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2002.

"This dynamic opportunity of text and memory provides a new interpretation of individual circumstances motivated by reminiscence and textual production. The demonstrated interest of Anglo-Saxon poets in the salvific role of memory coupled with active interpretation must also carry an implied ideal way of processing the text at hand which involves active mental work. Their interest in the temporal past, including legendary material, distant hagiographic stories and far-flung history, sheds some light on the relationship between text and history, in that it endows the written text with the role of a memorial outside the individual. Likewise, the apparent native interest in riddles (especially as they do not contain the answer in the title unlike their Latin counterparts), mental puzzles, acrostics, encrypted runic signatures, and charms encodes the local value placed on mental exercise and also the desirability of maintaining written records of these challenges. The notion of a capacious, flexible mind, however, has more than recreational significance; these texts explicitly urge spiritual or moral vigilance and mental fortitude as personal responsibility. They present an outlook in which psychological vigour and acumen are valued, in which a valid textual contribution to mental stimulation or control is granted" (189).


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