I’m working on the art of letting go. While taking one last pass through before sending off to the committee, I thought I’d post the introduction to my chapter “Memory and the Art of Imagery.” I’ll post more of the chapter over the next week or so. In the meantime, here’s the intro:

Memory and the Art of Imagery

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 them for further thinking, is a striking and continuous feature of medieval monastic rhetoric, with significant interest even for our own contemporary understanding of the role of images and thinking. (Carruthers, The Craft of Thought 3)

Memory, in short, is an imagetext. (Mitchell 192)

In his chapter on images in The Rhetoric of Cool, Jeff Rice argues that composition study’s visual turn has too much focused on the interpretation of images at the expense of focusing on their production. Referring both to Dean Rader’s review essay “Composition, Visual Cultures, and the Problem of Class” and Carolyn Handa’s reader Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World, Rice sums up what he believes is their implicit message: “True writing can only come from reading images, these positions state, not from making images (135). In shifting the focus from interpretation to production, Rice moves us towards a theory and practice of imagery. That contemporary composition studies and rhetorical theory need “discover” such an art is yet one more consequence of our forgetting the role memoria plays as a dynamic process of meaning making for ourselves and for others. Central to this chapter is the assumption that not only does our visual turn need a theory of practice of image production, but that we have the makings of one in classical and medieval practices of memoria.

My use of the phrase memory and the art of imagery is an intentional nod to “the art of memory,” the places and images mnemonic and the broader category of locational memory I discuss in chapter 2. The striking feature of this particular memory art—what for many is the art of memory itself—is its use of images, mental, verbal, and graphic.1 Just as Kristie Fleckenstein argues that we need to conceive of word and image as a “double dialectic, a double vision of literacy as image and word, as imageword” (Embodied Literacies 4), we need to recognize the art of memory as a double dialectic of image and memory.

Before entering into a theoretical and practical discussion of an art of imagery, I want to provide one more contemporary example of imagery as a process of making meaning beyond the examples of the Emerson Garden and imagery in Beowulf, both of which I discussed in chapter 2. For this third example, I turn to Jeffery Jerome Cohen’s discussion of writing Hybridity, Identity, and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain: On Difficult Middles, offered as three blog posts titled “The book I didn’t write,” “The Book I Did Not Write, Part II,” and “Fabulations, Third and Final Installment.” In these three posts, Cohen shares a series of “fabulations,” fictional stories that he calls “product of the imagination,” which he intended to serve as explorations of the book’s themes (“The book I didn’t write”). As these fabulations were eventually cut from the book, so to was the explanation he wrote to account for their presence in the book, then provisionally titled Stories of Blood: Monsters, Jews, and Race in Medieval England. This explanation is including in the first of the three blog posts discussing these fabulations:

My previous books have attempted to work simultaneously in medieval literature and in what often gets called critical theory (a field, I would argue, more accurately and more simply described as philosophy). Stories of Blood marks a departure from this work in that much of the theorizing is conducted quietly, often below the level of direct quotation or even of footnote. This departure should not be read as a rejection. I am as committed to philosophically rigorous work as I ever have been, and would not have been able to formulate my argument without the help of theory, especially postcolonial theory. Yet I also feel that the time is right for medievalists to experiment with how they formulate their arguments, articulate their themes, convince their readers. It is time to essay rhetorical devices and generic shifts that can perhaps achieve something a predictable scholarly prose style will not. Each of my chapters therefore makes use of what I call fabulations. These brief, fictionalized, and experimental asides are meant to function like the strange moments that occur throughout twelfth-century historiography, moments when the sedate and scholarly course of the narrative is startled by an irruption of the marvelous, the monstrous, the new. As Monika Otter has made clear in her book Inventiones, such moments are not digressions from the texts that feature them but explorations in another register of the concerns animating those works. Thus Gerald of Wales “interrupts” his Journey Through Wales to narrate a story about a utopia of tiny men. This subterranean domain bears an uncanny resemblance to the lost world of Gerald’s own childhood, and permits its narrator to mourn the Welshness he has rejected in himself in order to become a cleric who writes in Latin and a courtier who speaks in French. Although I worry that my own fabulations may strike readers as self-indulgent, overwritten, or simply extraneous, it nonetheless seems to me that, even should I fail badly in the attempt, it is worthwhile to allow the sources I have worked with here to imbue my text with their own imprint. (“The book I didn’t write”)2

Significant in Cohen’s call for medievalists to “essay rhetorical devices and generic shifts that can perhaps achieve something a predictable scholarly prose style will not” is that he is not calling upon medievalists to invent new rhetorical devices and methods but to “experiment with” and “essay” modes, techniques, and strategies other than traditional scholarly prose. In fact in his abandoned explanation, he compares fabulations to the “strange moments that occur throughout twelfth-century historiography,” and in his blog post introducing this explanation that was to appear in the book he states, “I believe I had become infected by all the twelfth-century Latin I was reading, and began to compose in a contemporary mode.” In this discussion of the fabulations, I find fascinating both Cohen’s call for expanding standard academic prose and his location of the fabulations in twelfth-century Latin texts. In this discussion we find a professor medieval literature making the same kind of call for expanding academic composition that we find many compositions do, especially those engaged in computers and writing and new media. Just as striking, I believe is the fact that his fabulations are, simply put, acts of monastic rhetoric.

As I explained in chapter 2, monastic rhetoric was not so much an art of persuasion as an art of composing, and this compositional technique found its way into a wide variety of arts, including that of religious and secular poetry and prose. Keeping in mind that mental imagery—“cognitive pictures”—was the building blocks of invention and that verbal imagery—the rhetorical figures of ekphrasis and enargia—was used in medieval verbal art in much the same way mental imagery is used in the places and images mnemonic,3 that Cohen locates the origins of these fabulations in the twelfth century texts with which he was working can not be stressed enough. While they did not make their way into the final draft of his book, they helped him work through the complex theoretical and philosophical issues with which he was working.

I’ve begun this chapter with a discussion of Cohen’s fabulations because they exist as contemporary examples of monastic rhetoric, of writing through images. While Rice’s own call for the production of images focuses on graphic imagery, I believe that we will only establish a fully-realized theory and practice of imagery if we expand our notion of images to include the mental and verbal as well as the graphic as Fleckenstein argues we should. Moreover, I believe we must do so not only through a double dialectic of “literacy as image and word” but as a double dialectic of memoria as image and memory. As I illustrate how these two double dialects work to make meaning for both ourselves and for others, I will begin with a discussion of two medieval products of monastic rhetoric, the eighth-century box made of whale bone known as the Franks Casket and the Old English poem “The Dream of the Rood.” In discussing these two artifacts of Anglo-Saxon England, I will discuss monastic rhetoric as a mnemonic art of making images. From there, I will turn to the concept of conceptual blending, also known as conceptual integration, from cognitive science to discuss how image-based mnemonics and mnemonic arts such as locational memory and monastic rhetoric are rooted in “the origins of thought and language” and “the way we think.”4 Finally, I’ll return to the contemporary classroom to discuss how we can monastic rhetoric, conceptual blending, and the two double dialectics of literacy as image and word and memoria as image and memory can inform a vision of writing as composition with images.

Works Cited

Carruthers, Mary. The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400 – 1200. Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature 34. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1998.

Cohen, Jeffery Jerome. “The book I didn’t write.” In the Middle: A Medieval Studies Group Blog. 30 Aug 2006. Web. 7 Feb. 2008.

—. “The Book I Did Not Write, Part II.” In the Middle: A Medieval Studies Group Blog. 4 Dec. 2006. Web. 7 Feb. 2008.

—. “Fabulations, Third and Final Installment.” In the Middle: A Medieval Studies Group Blog. 13 Dec. 2006. Web. 7 Feb. 2008.

—. Hybridity, Identity, and Monstrosity in Medieval Britain: On Difficult Middles. New York: Palgrave, 2006.

Fauconnier, Gilles, and Mark Turner. The Way We Think: Conceptual Blending and the Mind’s Hidden Complexities. New York: Basic Books, 2002.

Fleckenstein, Kristie S. Embodied Literacies: Imageword and a Poetics of Teaching. Studies in Writing & Rhetoric. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2003.

—. “Inviting Imagery in Our Classrooms.” Language and Image in the Reading-Writing Classroom: Teaching Vision. Eds. Kristie S. Fleckenstein, Linda T. Calendrillo, and Demetrice A Worley. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, 2002. 3-26.

Handa, Carolyn. Visual Rhetoric in a Digital World: A Critical Sourcebook. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.

Mitchell, W. J. T. Picture Theory: Essays on Verbal and Visual Representation. U of Chicago P, 1994.

Rader, Dean. “Composition, Visual Cultures, and the Problems of Class.” College English 67.6 (July 2005): 636-50.

Rice, Jeff. The Rhetoric of Cool: Composition Studies and New Media. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2007.

Turner, Mark. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. New York: Oxford UP, 1996.

  1. In discussing three kinds of imagery—mental, verbal, and graphic—I am following Kristie Fleckenstein’s system of imagery classification (“Inviting Imagery into Our Classrooms” (4). []
  2. Examples of these fabulations can themselves be found in Cohen’s three blog posts. []
  3. Likewise, we cannot ignore the use of such imagery in medieval visual art ranging from paintings, frescos, stained glass windows, and manuscript illumination. That we find this mnemonic use of imagery across mental, verbal, and graphic mediums serves to both justify Fleckenstein’s classification of imagery into these three forms and illustrates the need for rhetoric and composition to pay attention to and revive medieval conceptions of memoria. []
  4. The respective phrases “the origins of thought and language” and “the way we think” come from the titles of books on conceptual blending by Mark Turner and Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner respectively. []