- Jun 2021
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Seth Long takes a closer look at the number of memory treatises from 1550-1650 to come up with a more concrete reason for the disappearance of mnemonic imagery (and the method of loci) in English rhetoric and pedagogic traditions. Some writers have attributed it to the rise of more writing and publishing. Long extends Frances Yates' idea of its decline to the rise of Ramism by presenting some general data about the number and quality of memory treatises published during the time period in question. Comparison of this data with European continental publications helps to draw some more concrete conclusions.
In particular, he highlights an example of a Ramist sympathizer re-writing a previous treatise and specifically removing the rhetorical imagery from the piece.
perhaps the best example of iconoclasm’s influence on early modern English rhetoric isCharles Butler’sOratoriae Libri Duo. Originally published in 1597 as a commentary on Ramus’sandTalon’s work, it was supplemented by Butler with original material and published under its new title in1621 (see Hultzen for commentary and translation).
Though he doesnot discuss mnemonics, Thomas Sloane similarly argues that classical invention—a process thattakes not only logic but also“sense, imagination, and emotions”into consideration—is irreparablyneutered by Ramism (137).
This makes me wonder what the relation of this mode of "limited" thinking (represented by Ramism) has with Max Weber's ideas of Protestant work ethic? If we're not being creative like we may have been in the past, does it help us to focus on the mundane drudgery of our work at hand?
In my view, the most detrimental result of this change to rhetorical theory is the loss of theclassical outlook that imagination and memory are central to invention
I can agree with this.
Ong puts it this way:“Ramus can adopt memory intodialectic because his entire topically conceived logic is itself a system of local memory”(Ramus280).However, it is a simplified systemunlike the classical one: The ancient precepts about images and theirfacilitation of invention have been dropped.
What is gained and lost in the Ramist tradition versus the method of loci?
There is some simplicity to be sure and structure/organization aid in the structured memory.
We lose the addition work, creativity, and invention. We also loose some of the interest that students might have. I recently read something to the effect that we always seem to make education boring and dull. (cross reference this, which I haven't read: https://daily.jstor.org/why-school-is-boring/)
How does this interact with Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's idea of flow? Does Ramism beat out the fun of flow?
How also, is this similar to Kelly's idea of the third archive as a means of bringing these all back together?
This art of method was understood by Ramus and Ramists as its own efficacious art of memory. InScholae in liberales artes, Ramus is explicit about his disdain for the visual mnemonic rules suggested byclassical sources.“The art of memory,”he counters,“consists entirely in division and composition. If weseek then an art which will divide and compose things, we shall find the art of memory”(qtd. in Yates 233).Ramus thus enfolds the fourth canon into his methodical framework, linking memorization of content withits“division and composition,”that is, with its organization.
Arrangement and organization definitely have their place and can be helpful. However they may also tend to become too rigid to the point that one's thinking begins to lack creativity and invention. Where is the space for the Llullist arts of combinatorial thought here?
Ramist method does away withimaginesand architecturalloci, replacing them with asystem of abstract, logical arrangement.
Similar to Yates' theory.
As Walter Ong’sbibliographic studies have shown, the rise of English Ramism did not begin until the 1570s and did
As Walter Ong’s bibliographic studies have shown, the rise of English Ramism did not begin until the 1570s and did not take off until the 1580s, when seven editions of Ramus’s Dialectica were published (Rhetoric,Romance 85-86).
Todate, however, no scholar has taken advantage of bibliographic resources to verify whether or notmemory treatises did in fact decline in England in the latter sixteenth and early seventeenthcenturies, a period that coincides with the continuing influence of iconoclasm and the risinginfluence of English Ramism. In this article I provide such bibliographic evidence, demonstratingthat the publication of memory treatises abated in England following Henry VIII’s reforms andduring the English Civil War
When reading Yates and thinking about the disappearance of these traditions in the West, I've wanted to delve into this exact question!
Glad to see the work has already been done for me.