[Milton-L] memorization

jfleming at sfu.ca jfleming at sfu.ca
Tue Feb 24 11:52:48 EST 2004

Thanks for your post. To some extent, I think you misunderstand me. I was not and am not suggesting that we as literary scholars ought to comport ourselves in a way that will please our scientific culture. I was and am suggesting that being belle-lettristic is exactly the way for us to please our scientific culture. For belles-lettres is exactly the trivial activity that our scientific culture has meted out to us. I agree that a loud assertion of this activity -- what you call "strategic belletrism" -- would be one way of kicking aganst the pricks. But it does not seem to me a very strong way. The strong way, surely, is to assert (and again we seem to be in agreement here) our own kind of knowledge -- knowledge, mind you, not just attractive busywork. For my money, our kind of knowledge is an hermeneutic knowledge of a tradition. I do not assert that memorizing produces no such knowledge. I do assert that it doesn't produce very much.

Since this discussion seems to have raised strong feelings, perhaps it would be helpful for me to note (1) that I am not making this stuff up out of my own wax, but am getting it from Hans-Georg Gadamer _Truth and Method_ (1960), which I recommend to all; and (2) that my own position, like all positions worth having, is evolving.


On Tue, 24 Feb 2004 12:30:18 -0500 milton-l at koko.richmond.edu wrote:
> James Fleming remains skeptical regarding the value of asking students to
> memorize and recite passages of poetry as part of the discipline of
> literary study.  While I still do not have the time to mount the kind of
> defense of such exercizes that I would like to mount, I would like to say a
> few things in response to the position he has advanced, in part because I
> don't find his characterization of my position--that I "object that
> scientific standards are irrelevant to literary study"--entirely accurate.
> As I understand him, Professor Fleming is concerned primarily with the
> level of prestige that the discipline of literary study enjoys among the
> disciplines in academe.  I share his concern.  And I agree with him that "
> the culture has an overwhelmingly scientific epistemology."   But I'm not
> sure I entirely agree that the way for literary study to confront the
> science's hegemony is to stress only those aspects of our discipline, "
> foster[ing] an encounter with meaning," that such an epistemology would
> supposedly regard as "occasion for knowledge."	I find that scientists
> regard the process of assigning meaning to literary texts and the
> techniques by which we do so, however rigorous they seem to us, no more
> genuinely the kind of knowledge they value than a recited poem would be,
> which still leaves us "no-place" in their eyes.
> So I wonder if we oughtn't take a different approach to manifesting the
> value of our discipline, not to scientists per se, but to the culture at
> large.	And this approach would have a place for memorization.	If we
> presented literary works as the kind of cultural productions so beautiful,
> so meaningful, so valuable as to prompt some people (us) to commit them to
> memory, I feel it might go further toward convincing outsiders of the value
> of our field than simply stressing those elements of our discipline that
> are most like the hegemonic discipline.  I know this sounds belletristic,
> but it would be a kind of strategic belletrism, founded on the Girardian
> principle that love for something tends to be aroused by seeing someone
> else love that thing.
> Now, I'm pretty sure that Professor Fleming manifests to students his love
> for literature *by* the care with which he assigns it meaning.	But
> memorization and recitation (with the best locution I can manage, though
> I've never thought of it as a matter of locution primarily) represents for
> me one way of manifesting to students the value of literary texts, and I
> would want to argue for its usefulness even in the struggle against other
> disciplines for institutional recognition, prestige, funding, etc.
> Greg Machacek
> Marist College
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Dr. James Dougal Fleming,
Assistant Professor of English,
Simon Fraser University,
(604) 291-4713

Laissez parler les faits.

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