Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Further to the art of memory: Sources

Further to yesterday's post: here are some sources I cobbled together for an old friend who was asking about them after this presentation:

Quintillian (the Institutio Oratoria) and Cicero both talk about the art of memory (see also Yates, Frances A. (1974), The Art of Memory, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, ISBN 0226950018; for a modern interpretation of the latter); St Augustine does too; the Yates has a good interpretation of the use of spatial and architectural mnemonics. A nice modern interpretation of the same is Jonathan Spence's The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, which documents the experience of a Jesuit who was a missionary in China and taught these techniques there to great effect.

Natalie Goldberg, in her Writing Down the Bones,"talks about how poetry's scansion, punctuation, etc should/can recreate, when read aloud, the breathing of the poet at the moment of composition. I extended that, in our conversation, to suggest that the reason for singing mantras aloud in the original language is because, if properly pronounced/sung/phrased, the mantra itself aligns the practitioner's breathing as the original composers intended. Hence, mantra/chant practice MUST use the original language and pronunciation for it to have the claimed tangible positive effects.

Ciaran Carson, in his Last Night's Fun: In and Out of Time with Irish Music, talks a lot about memory, mnemonics, and tunes. The trad musician who told me about attaching specific phrases of tunes to specific roads or landscapes is Paddy O'Brien.

There's a great scene in the Robert Duvall film The Apostle that focuses around little kids singing the books of the Old Testament to a specific mnemonic tune.

In memorizing texts in languages I don't speak, I've often succeeded best by attaching 1 specific gesture, apposite to the text, to each line; see Altramar's Crossroads of the Celts (the track "The Lay of the Forge") and From Galway to Galicia (the track "The Last Voyage of St Brendan").

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