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  • Ars Reminiscendi: Mind and Memory in Renaissance Culture
  • Garrett A. Sullivan Jr (bio)
Donald Beecher and Grant Williams, editors. Ars Reminiscendi: Mind and Memory in Renaissance Culture. CRRS Publications, Victoria University in the University of Toronto. 2009. 440. $37.00

In his introduction, Donald Beecher notes that memory has become so capacious a category as to risk losing much of its utility: '[T]hat memory, cut loose from its moorings in mnemotechnology, should rightfully become a history of everything must be resisted.' In contrast, the essays in Ars Reminiscendi 'restric[t] their investigations either to the technologies and philosophies of memory, the theorized instruments of information warehousing, or specific cultural creations in which the ethics or duties of recollection pose a salient hermeneutic crux.' This is a worthy collection of essays by accomplished scholars focusing on an array of texts, from commonplace books and anonymous manuscripts [End Page 335] to famous works by Machiavelli, Erasmus, Shakespeare, and others. However, many of these essays cover familiar conceptual territory. As a whole, this collection carefully builds upon the foundational scholarship of Frances Yates, Paolo Rossi, Mary Carruthers, and Lina Bolzoni but does not take the critical conversation about memory in new directions.

This lengthy volume contains too many essays to account for each of them here. It is divided into seven parts: 'Revisioning the Classical Art of Memory,' 'Manuscripts, Commonplace Books, and Personal Recollection,' 'Learning, Rhetoric, and the Humanist Challenge,' 'Ethics and Memory in English Literature,' 'Nations, Historiography, and Cultural Identity,' 'Natural Memory vs Artificial Recollection,' and a long postscript offering an overview of Renaissance memory. Contributors show that the influence of the memory arts was registered well into the seventeenth century. Raymond Waddington considers that 'the characters within [Paradise Lost] function as memory images allocated to a system of places,' while Rhodri Lewis examines 'the differing forms of mnemotechnique in which . . . the infant Royal Society took an interest.' Andrea Torre explores the shifting relationship between memory icons and texts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Focusing on the construction of otherness in depictions of New World cannibalism, Wolfgang Neuber argues that 'visual images of mnemonic treatises . . . can be held responsible for the formulation of a collective memory.' Albeit in different ways, both Paul Nelles and Victoria E. Burke consider the relationship between memory and the (re)arrangement of textual materials, arguing that writing, reading, and memory are bound up in 'a very dynamic relationship.'

Focusing on Spenser, Christopher Ivic construes memory and forgetting more broadly than other contributors, linking them to social, cultural, ethnic, and gender differences. A number of contributors stress memory's significance for civic identity, whether through memory's connection with the rhetorical tradition or its centrality to the operations of exemplarity. Brenda Dunn-Lardeau shows that Johan Du Pre's Le Palais des nobles Dames harnesses the memory arts to produce female exemplars. For Machiavelli, Joseph Khoury argues, exemplarity is instead linked not to the inculcation of virtue but to 'stupefy[ing] the people.' John Hunter reveals Erasmus's awareness of the danger that remembering too much could pose to the humanist educative ideals that memory underwrites. Andrew Wallace reads Hamlet's famous 'Hecuba' speech as showing the melancholy Dane to be 'revisiting with longing . . . conceptions of memory work nurtured in the schoolroom.' Desire is also a significant category for Grant Williams, who argues that 'the pleasure/pain experienced with the sensory organs' is disavowed in psychophysiological accounts of memory. [End Page 336]

Alimitation of this volume is that it reifies a distinction that scholars have started to contest: 'On one side of the equationwas the mind itself . . . On the other was the emerging employment of prompts, records, documentation, and indexing by which memory could be exteriorized.' Drawing on the work of cognitive scientists (some of which is discussed in the postscript), John Sutton and Evelyn Tribble have challenged the view that cognition is limited to brain activity; instead, mind is 'extended,' encompassing (and not just utilizing) 'prompts, records, documentation and indexing.' Memory and cognition are operations distributed across body and environment, with the memory arts merely one form such distribution can take. Whatever the merits of such an approach, it interrogates categories fundamental to...


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