Tuesday, August 07, 2018

Memory: Canonical & Remembering. Reading your own stuff.

Michael Sedano

My brain has filed away an engram releasing words for a standard opening lecture in a communication course:

Aristotle said that rhetoric was an art of finding the available means of persuasion on a given subject for a given audience. The Roman Cicero said rhetoric is the study or science of the Good Person speaking well. In Aristotle’s Greece, it was unthinkable a person could not defend themselves with a sword. Equally unthinkable, Aristotle believed, that a person would be unable to defend themselves with their speech.

Nowadays, I’d hope none of the students in basic oral communication are packing. I’m confident I can disarm an attacker, “Ms White, the safety’s on”, or spot them before their stagefright reaches the point of pulling a gun. There goes another engram. Stagefright. It’s a good thing. Fight flight, adrenaline, it means you care. No one knows.

A very good friend of mine can’t remember three items on a list after four minutes. It’s a neurological condition. A few years ago I lost big chunks of memory but regained a lot of it. Baffled the neurologist.

Aristotle, circa 350 b.c., taught public speaking. His lesson plans structured around five elements, the Canons of Rhetoric, namely, invention arrangement style delivery memory. Memorization is an important part of the canon, remembering the oration or poem word for word, remembering the organization, remembering different ways to support ideas, being memorable.

Remembering, a good memory, offers speakers and readers a fruitful resource. Who hasn’t taken their seat after a reading or a talk and thought of something they should have done or said but didn’t think of it until they sat down. That “’darn it!” inspiration is a goal. Next time you have an audience, remember to say that instead.

Memorizing short poems should be a snap, after all, you wrote it. Some readers fear forgetting or changing a word. That happens even to text readers. It’s the poem’s way of telling you to consider editing in the difference. Audiences don't know when a speaker forgets, unless the speaker confesses and spoils the flow. Let it go. See above about editing.

Prose writers scoff they’re damned if they can memorize the three pages they’ll read, much less the nineteen pages of the whole story. Don’t.

Memorize the first and final paragraph or sentences. This way the reading begins with eye contact and ends with eye contact. Audiences hunger for personal contact, they get what they seek in a reader when she or he looks at them. When people get what they seek they buy books.

My friend is one of many who experience dementia. That requires life style changes in the friend’s household and familia. The changes are profound. But then, cognitive problems are profound, the mind is such a thing of beauty.

We have billions of memories--if DNA carries engrams, or something, from ancestors. Personally, we’ve lived millions of remembered moments, taking them out as needed, cherishing others in a nicho you keep for special memories, suppressing some, torturing yourself with others. Imagine losing all that, piece by piece or a million at a time. Gone. What if every now and then you lost the last three minutes?
Chavacan orchard and tents in Hemet 1940s
Photography is prosthesis for memory, no? Fotos of immigrants holding valises painted on decaying walls of Ellis Island connect that 19th century memory for those immigrants with the tourist’s 21st century selfie. 

With smart phones making really good images, people are documenting quotidian things like storefronts, trees, old houses. In a few years those will be the only memories of things long gone.

At one time in history it was possible for a person to know everything that was known. It was passed on by word of mouth. Homeric Odes were spun out over days, using memorized noun formulas that yielded mas o menos the same phrases, different
Public speaker uses memorized "talking points" to guide the protreptic

Then books come along and knowledge explodes. Reading sends memorization to the outmoded technology shelf. 

Pretty soon, rhetoric–the word--gets shunted off to the realm of style and delivery, while invention and arrangement go to philosophy and science. Memory disappears as a canonical pursuit.

The very best schools today, and the very best teachers in any school, require kids to memorize stuff. It’s akin to showing your work in math. Memorization makes better speakers, more confident and poised kids.

All the kids in competitive speech and debate had long memorized pieces. Except I never could remember the whole Ralph Bunche speech. I can do Portia at the drop of a hat. Ask for me tomorrow and you will find me a remembering man.

I do have an outstanding memory. Learning foreign language is lots of memorization. I remember stuff in foreign languages I don’t speak, even. One night in Orlando at a huge restaurant where waiters sing arias, all the yokels were having the trio sing O Sole Mio. When the singers reached me, I requested La Dona E Mobile. The grateful trio forced me to stand and sing arm-in-arm with them. I remembered the words from elementary school piano lessons.

I don't know how to guard memory other than constant frequent ambitious use of that faculty of mind, gente.

Speaking of remembering, remember to vote. GOTV.

1 comment:

Amelia ML Montes said...

Gracias for your important words about memory and giving the mind what it needs to recall
those most important moments from the past, moments, words, songs!
Muchísimas gracias, Em!