A rhetorical legacy: the art of memory's place in literature and semiotics




Halford, Donna Allard

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Classical rhetoric's five parts consist of invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery. The first three now enjoy privileged status in modern rhetorics, whereas the latter two have all but disappeared from view. Cicero's rhetoric certainly included all five canons of rhetoric. In De Oratore, his version of the art of memory focuses on order, place, and symbol. Using Cicero's three terms, this study investigates semiotics (as an offshoot of memoria) and representative literary works, and provides that the art of memory has a multitude of heirs and forms.

This dissertation touches on many aspects of memoria, eventually linking the art to metacognition and semiotics. The study examines the poetic theory of Chaucer as exemplified by his dream visions, revealing the connection between the art of memory and Chaucer's invention practice. The study also places Renaissance memoria in its proper context--as genesis of the commonplace book and the emblem. But in the examination process, I discovered memoria's contribution to alchemy, Hermeticism, the metaphysical conceit, and that uniquely seventeenth-century production--wit.

The study also examines the relationships between the Romantics and the seventeenth-century poet, John Donne, proving that Romanticism and the metaphysical conceit both contain elements from the art of memory. The Romantics' affinity for memory also stems, in part, from the work of George Campbell, an eighteenth-century rhetorician, whose faculty psychology theories move memory to a place between the understanding and the will. Finally, Umberto Eco's novel, The Name of the Rose, containing a semiotic-based memory labyrinth, illustrates the timelessness of the art of memory.

This work raises questions about the relationship between the classical/rhetorical concept of memory and the processes of creativity and writing. Further study of the classical art of memory can enhance the writing process.



Communication and the arts, Education, Language, literature, and linguistics, Chaucer, Donne, John, Eco, Umberto, Italy