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  • La stanza della memoria. Modelli letterari e iconografici nell’età della stampa
  • Valeria Finucci
Lina Bolzoni, La stanza della memoria. Modelli letterari e iconografici nell’età della stampa. Torino, Einaudi, 1995. 282 pp.

How do you build knowledge? Through communication, or more precisely in our postmodern times through technological advancements and by browsing the world wide web of available information. Not so, would a Medieval and Renaissance writer protest, for learning was considered then to have much to do with remembering. Thus thinkers, preachers, press editors, and school teachers alike fostered the idea that memory needed to be sharply exercised in order to be able to store all possible information and retrievable items of past histories, cultures, politics, and literatures. In this sense, if a characteristic of postmodernists is their ironic recycling of the cliché and of the already said, then experts of mnemotechnique in Medieval and Early Modern culture share something in common with them. They do not share, however, as will soon become clear, the same outlook on the possibilities for the mind’s training. Examining in La stanza della memoria through an interdisciplinary focus how artificial intelligence is created, Lina Bolzoni proposes a fascinating journey into the library of the mind, a journey that includes discussions of how such diverse sciences as physiognomy, codicology, iconography, graphology, medicine, and mythology blend together to construct a highly defined and illustrated system of remembrance.

Entering Bolzoni’s “stanza della memoria” resembles Galileo’s recall of his fabulous access into Ludovico Ariosto’s Orlando Furioso, into a palace, he wrote, where “veggo aprirsi una guardaroba, una tribuna, una galleria regia, ornata di cento statue antiche de’ piú celebri scultori, con infinite storie intere, e le migliori, di poeti illustri, con un numero grande di vasi, di cristalli, d’agate, di lapislazari e d’altre gioie, e finalmente ripiena di cose rare, preziose, meravigliose, e di tutta eccellenza” (“Considerazioni al Tasso”). So is Bolzoni’s text: a verbally multilayered edifice where the mind is controllable and trainable, figurative trees allow a student to know precisely how a professor will develop his course on rhetoric (as in Robortello’s illustration of his teaching method); ladders, grids, wheels, charts, carts, tables, diagrams, and squares are rhetorical machines structuring learning; letters of the alphabet jump to mind because a woman corresponds to each sign (as in Pietro da Ravenna’s recommendations); portraits can be read to understand the construction of personalities and thus substitute biographies; sermons are composed by reducing the topic to a subject and a predicate that can be enlarged by looking into other books’ indexes and tables; poetry is produced by playing a game of chance; games teach the future by combining possibilities more or less at random; and months become intelligible by recalling various iconographic decorations.

Clearly the world Bolzoni describes is a world still able, no matter the conflicts, to believe in the perfectibility of the mind and the possibility of [End Page 117] total knowledge; a world where catalogs and indexes offer a key to all that has been said and suggest other ways a given subject could develop in the future; where the subliminal self is under control and the balanced turns of the mind are literally figured by ordered palaces, well marked squares, regular temples, proportioned galleries, properly stacked studies, beautiful containers, and nicely wrought toys. This is the world that sees the first inroads of the printing presses, as in the close contacts between book editing and the Accademia Veneziana in Venice which Bolzoni brings to life in Chapter 1, the world still able, although only for a while, to ignore the Church’s fiat on books to ban and the fact that the middle class was not so keen to acquire books after all.

Mnemonic schemes do not depend on attentive hearing but on imaginative seeing, not on rote repetition but on how the mind can represent images so that they stand out, often by association, when we need to retrieve them from their appropriate memory-places. Grounding her insights and examples from literature (the period she considers is after all that in which debates on language were rampant in Italy), love treatises...

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