Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Remember Memory.

Reynolds, John Frederick. “Memory Issues in Composition Studies.” Ed. John Frederick Reynolds. Rhetorical Memory and Delivery : Classical Concepts for Contemporary Composition and Communication. Hillsdale, NJ: L. Eribaum Associates, 1993. 1-15. Print.

In this chapter, John Frederick Reynolds makes a case for the place of memory in Composition Studies. He argues that the fourth canon of rhetoric has been neglected unjustly by the field, noting its absence or flimsy treatment in almost all textbooks in the discipline.

Drawing from Thonssen et al, Reynolds explains that the rhetorical canons “constitute ‘the basic pattern of all theoretical and critical investigations into rhetorical art and practice’” (1). He explains that while their collective relevance remains constant, over time the perceived importance of individual canons fluctuates. As a result of these shifting values between the different canons, textbooks produced for the field often neglect or only briefly cover those canons not perceived as most important.

Memory and delivery, in particular, are often glossed over. Memory historically received the least attention, despite being what Carruthers described as “the noblest of the canons” (qtd in Reynolds 3). Reynolds attributes this neglect to a misunderstanding that memory concerns only the “‘memorizing of speech’” (4).

Understanding memory as a mere tool for memorizing speech is reductive and unimaginative. As society has shifted from an oral one to one that is literate, a shift in memory’s interpretation is also needed. The four “interpretive options” for memory, as described by Reynolds are “memory as mnemonics, memory as memorableness, memory as databases, and memory as psychology” (7).

Memory as mnemonics refers to the manner in which textual cues (such as color, headings, and even topic sentences) can be used as memory devices to aid reading. Drawing on the role of narrative writing and memorable language in effective writing, Reynolds describes memory as memorableness as the importance of creating texts that resonate with readers and are, therefore, more likely to recalled by readers. Memory as databases refers to the type of memory that would retain knowledge about style guides and formatting, for example. It might also address knowledge of how to recall information from library databases and the like. Lastly, memory as psychology refers to the connection, observed by many scholars, including Plato, of memory to the idea of "psychological consciousness" (12). These interpretations start to demonstrate how memory can be rendered an effective and even vital canon to consider.

Renyold's piece serves as a detailed historical overview of the role of memory in the field. It provides a abundant “database” of resources for developing one’s understanding of memory’s history and potential. In some ways this overview might seem rather shallow because most concepts are not dealt with in great depth. If someone were looking for a more exhaustive overview of memory, he or she might look instead to Carruthers’s The Book of Memory; however, for someone looking for a place to start building a reading list on the topic, this piece provides a rich starting place.