As I mentioned in my last post, I'm quite interested in the rhetorical canons and have previously started examining the way in which memory is often thought to be a "forgotten" canon of rhetoric. In Collin Gifford Brooke's Lingua Fracta, he addresses how memory is often treated as the "victim of technological change" wherein advances such as the invite of writing as well as information storage lead to a society wherein individual memory is diminished. Brooke goes on to explain that "[i]t may be true that our contemporary powers of memory are individually weaker than our ancestors', but is is almost certainly the case that our collective memory is stronger by virtue of our ability to store information with the printed word, audio, and video recording, as as bits on our computers" (32).
I certainly agree with Brooke that these technologies increase our collective memory, but I am not sure if I am ready to concede that our individual memory is hopeless without these media either. Perhaps it is because I am teaching Survey of Popular Culture this term, but I am struck by what has left our memories and what remains year after year. While it is true that there are few high cultural artifacts that I have taken the liberty memorize for the purpose of recitation (the Preamble of the Constitution and the General Prologue of The Canterbury Tales withstanding), I can recite a fair number of other complex texts.
Take for example "I Knew Prufrock Before He Got Famous" by Frank Turner
I took great pride and care to memorize every line of this song when it first came out. It resonated with me instantly and that made it something I wanted to know and be able to cite. However, I have take little time to memorize the lines of the T.S. Eliot poem to which the title refers.
I wonder sometimes whether our memory really has died or whether it has shifted. Does new media allow us to prioritize how we use our memory. I will admit that my memory is dedicated not to high cultural things. I can quote the song above line for line. I can recount whole segments of Dane Cook comedy routines to you. I could likely preform the musical Rent as a one woman show...if, of course, my voice wasn't a terrible thing to hear. I can say just about every line to Empire Records as it's delivered by the film. Need to know about the plot of an episode of Seinfeld? I've got that covered too.
I am not sure that I buy into Plato's theory that writing (or any other media) will "implant forgetfulness in [our] souls" (qtd in Brooke 31). Instead, I think the democratization of information and the ability for our collective memory to hold those items we deem less important to us has freed us from having to be memory slaves to high culture. In other words, we're free to spend our memory capacity upon issues of popular culture, rather than, as Matthew Arnold would say "the endeavour to know the best that can be known" (qtd in Stroey 18).
Brooke, Collin Gifford. Lingua Fracta: Toward a Rhetoric of New Media. Cresskill: Hampton Press, 2009. Print.
Storey, John. Cultural Theory and Popular Culture: An Introduction. 5th ed. Harlow: Pearson, 2009. Print.