The Media Ecology Association discussion list has been discussing the merits of Manovich’s The Language of New Media. A lot of people have taken issue with Manovich’s focus on cinema. The discussion has wound its way to a discussion of film as a representation of reality, which one poster then connected to imagistic thinking as explored and/or practiced by Eric Havelock (Preface to Plato), Francis Yates (The Art of Memory), lectio divina, St. Ignatius of Loyola (Spiritual Exercises), and Carl Jung. Since I’ve been thrashing such issues out in a largely drafted chapter I’m setting aside for the moment, I thought I’d jump with the following post:

I’d add to this list Mary Carruthers’ The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200. Carruthers doesn’t address the Spiritual Exercises, but she argues that this imagistic thinking was fundamental not only to monastic rhetoric, but to the secular world as well (see also “‘Ut pictura poesis‘: The Rhetoric of Verbal and Visual Images” (Mentalities/Mentalitiés 7.1 (Fall 1990): 1-6) and “The Poet as Master Builder: Composition and Locational Memory in the Middle Ages” (New Literary History 24 (1993): 881-904). Consider, for instance, these two passages from the introduction of The Craft of Thought:

The monastic practice of meditation notably involved making mental images or cognitive ‘pictures’ for thinking and composing. The use of such pictures, I will argue, derives both from Jewish spirituality and from the compositional practices of Roman rhetoric. The emphasis upon the need for human beings to ‘see’ their thoughts in their mind as organized schemata of images, or ‘pictures,’ and then to use these for further thinking, is a striking and continuous feature of medieval monastic rhetoric, with significant interest even from our own contemporary understanding of the role of images in thinking. And the monks’ ‘mixed’ use of verbal and visual media, their often synaesthetic literature and architecture, is a quality of medieval aesthetic practice that was also given a major impetus by the tools of monastic memory work. (3)


So I must ask of my readers a considerable effort of imagination throughout this study, to conceive of memory not only as ‘rote,’ the ability to reproduce something (whether a text, a formula, a list of items, an incident) but as the matrix of a reminiscing cogitation, shuffling and collating ‘things’ stores in a random-access memory scheme, or set of schemes — a memory architecture and a library built up during one’s lifetime with the express intention that it can be used inventively. Medieval memoria was a universal thinking machine, machina memorialis — both the mill that ground the grain of one’s experiences (including all that one read) into a mental flour with which one could make wholesome new bread, and also the hoist or windlass that every wise master-mason learned to make and to use in constructing new matters. (4)

In a dissertation chapter I’m slogging through, I’m pulling from Carruthers’ insights into the practice of memoria; from composition studies’ discussions of the use of verbal, mental, and graphic imagery; and from cognitive science’s theory of conceptual blending to articulate the role memory currently, often unconsciously, plays in rhetoric and hermeneutic.

You are absolutely right when you suggest that Yates’ “art of memory” (really, one art of memory, as Carruthers demonstrates), involves montage, though I don’t know that I’d suggest that such images — what Carruthers calls “cognitive images” — need to be still. They become still as they’re introduced onto the page in manuscripts and printed books, but they can also be dynamic, even cinemagraphic (in fact, I’d suggest that the staticness of Yates’ example of the lawyer remembering the facts in a murder case, which she takes from the Rhetorica ad Herennium, is static because what Yates called the Ciceronian Art of Memory is based in literacy and, therefore, uses the static page or wax tablet as a conceptual framework for how such cognitive images work (See Carruthers’ The Book of Memory and Jocylen Penny Small’s Wax Tablets of the Mind). This doesn’t mean, however, that all cognitive images or imagistic thinking involves static images.

While we don’t think of them in this way, a verbal narrative is a montage of images mediated through verbal language. Likewise, when we remember scenes from books, we often remember them as an image or set of images which we often articulate (unconsciously translate) to ourselves verbally. Narrative/story is a montage of such images. And this isn’t just limited to narrative.

We regularly produce and process information in both words and mental images. Consider, for instance, the conceptual metaphor “life is a journey.” If you’re like me, you can process this metaphor without consciously constructing a cognitive image of a person engaged in travel. But can we really understand the idea of journey, of travel, without conceptualizing movement? Movement is a tactile/visual concept. Because we understand movement, we don’t need to consciously visualize/kinesthetize movement (what do you call the imagination of movement? do we have a term for it?), but we draw upon this conceptualization when we think of life as a journey. In this way, “journey” serves as a verbal mnemonic for this tactile/visual concept, and it’s through the process of conceptual blending that we unconsciously translate this tactile/visual concept into verbal expression for ourselves and others.

While conceptual blending is an important part of this chapter in that it explains how cognitive images function cognitively both as things we make and things we decode, I hadn’t thought about discussing conceptual metaphors themselves as I do above. I’ll need to go back and add that in.