On Mon, 21 Dec 2009 07:12:31 -0600, Suzanne Stauffer wrote:
>There are several underlying fallacies in this entire argument.
>The first is that everyone in a pre-literate culture memorized everything. As Suzanne notes, there were a few storytellers/oral historians for the entire group. People memorized what they needed to memorize to get through the day, just as we still do today.
>The second is that, once we learn to read, we stop memorizing. If nothing else, we memorize the alphabet. We memorize the written word. We memorize grammar and syntax and spelling (woe to the student who relies solely on electronic checkers). We still memorize our names and the names and faces of those close to us. We memorize our favorite foods, as well as those that disgust us.
There is a difference between “remembering” and “memorizing.” I can remember to call a friend when I get off work, but I don’t memorize it. I need to forget it as soon as I call him. As far as “memorizing” grammar, Noam Chomsky claims that our brains are genetically wired for language somehow, and we assimilate the rules of language in a special way, because it is impossible to memorize all of the rules for a language, and if you don’t learn them by a certain age, you will never learn them as well.
But to get back on the topic, it is well known that memories are notoriously untrustworthy. By its very nature, the human mind places thoughts into relationships with an individual’s other feelings and experiences, and these relationships naturally vary tremendously from one person to another. We see this happen even today with “recovered memories” that can be extremely bizarre and although they are fervently believed by those who have them, it often turns out that these memories have nothing whatever to do with any kind of reality.
I think our remote ancestors understood this very well, and this is the reason they came up with “memorization,” so that relatively few deviations from the original could be made. But memorization was different from our idea: there were still variants, as when a bard would sing the story of Beowulf, it was half-memory and half-creation, and he would sing it slightly differently each time using certain methods, based on his imperfect memory, but also perhaps changing it for his audience. Writing something down, as Homer finally did with the Iliad and Odyssey, turns it into something different.
We probably see this most clearly today in music, which is written down but no musician would ever say that the notes on a piece of paper equals the music itself. The music is made up of sound which must be heard and experienced during a performance, so the music is not even a record or a CD-ROM. And each musician will interpret the same piece of music in a slightly different way that others can hear and appreciate.
What is the library’s role in all of this? Especially in this day of virtual, mixed culture, creating things that could never have happened before? For example, here is Elvis Presley singing a Christmas song “with” Martina McBride, but this never happened in reality since she was only ten years old when he died: http://release.theplatform.com/content.select?pid=5mCzgDf_lCZ3uKBDkKLY2_dqmD4_S0yF&UserName=Unknown (I hope the link works)
I think the role of libraries is changing somehow, but it’s still very unclear how. I do think it will be highly interesting and exciting, and if we do it right, could be very important for all of society.