This chapter will look at some of the texts from the classical and early-modern periods which helped to construct the dominant discourse of memory in the West. These texts posit an inextricable connection between memory and the means used to record that memory. From the very outset, then, remembering is intimately bound to figures of writing and inscription. The most obvious starting point is Plato’s description of memory

in the Theaetetus (c. 360 BC), which established an important and influential model for later thinkers. This text comprises a dialogue between Socrates (an Athenian philosopher), Theodorus (a mathematician), and Theaetetus (a young aristocrat), which is concerned with the nature of knowledge and the difference between knowledge and perception. In seeking to distinguish between thought and perception, Socrates explains that objects of perception are a succession of constantly changing awarenesses, whereas objects of thought are those objects of perception to which we have given some degree of stability by imprinting them on the mind. In order to explain further, Socrates asks Theaetetus to imagine that

the mind contains object of under the perception and imprint it, stamping the mind with an impression of the object as with a seal ring. We remember and know what has been imprinted for as long as the impression of it remains. Plato’s model of the wax tablet introduces into the discourse of

memory a series of distinct, if related, questions. First, memory seems to have both active and passive components. For Socrates, the act of remembering is primarily active: it is when we ‘want to remember’ that we ‘subject the block to the perception or the idea and stamp the impression into it’ (1987: 99-100). However, as Paul Ricoeur points out, the notion of the imprint also involves ‘the external causality of an impetus … which is itself at the origin of pressing the seal into the wax’ (2004: 51). Memory, then, seems to be uncertainly suspended between that which we wish to retain, making a conscious effort to do so, and that which impresses itself upon us so that it is more passively experienced or undergone. The second question which arises is that of the truth of

memory. How is it possible to know whether what we remember in the present corresponds with what we once perceived? Plato makes clear that error can be caused either by the erasing of the marks on the wax or by matching the wrong imprint with a present perception, an error akin to that of someone placing his feet in the wrong footprints. Socrates explains to Theaetetus that the wax tablet in our minds is of varying and uneven quality in different individuals. Some people are fortunate and have a wax that is smooth and of the right consistency, so that impressions are clear, deep, and lasting. These individuals are quick to learn and also have good memories. For others, however, the wax is too soft, so that the impressions are indistinct and easily blurred: these people are quick to learn but forgetful. If the wax is too hard, however, it is difficult to make an impression but, once there, it is lasting: individuals with these types of minds are slow to learn but retain memories well. The problem of forgetting is thus posed in the first instance as an effacement of traces, either because they are unclear at the moment of imprinting or insufficiently deep. It is then re-posed as a defect in adjusting the

present image to quality of the The wax tablets also differ in size from one person to another: if impressions are crowded together in a small mind, they are more likely to become blurred and confused. In either case, people are unable to assign what they hear or see or think quickly to the proper impression; they are slow-witted and hold false or erroneous beliefs. In introducing the model of the wax tablet, on which marks were temporary and could be easily erased, Plato was thus as intimately concerned with the nature of forgetting as with the nature of remembering. The final question which is posed by Plato’s metaphor of the

wax tablet is the physical nature of the images that are inscribed. Plato’s model of the memory process implies that the images or objects of thought are to some degree material: they are stamped or incised into matter and are stored there so that they can be available for subsequent recall. Later writers, including Aristotle, were highly attentive to the physical or sensory foundations of remembering. Plato, too, initially seems to be interested in questions of materiality, in his extended discussion of the physical variations of different minds and their resulting capacity for storing and recalling images. However, his metaphor is notably distinct from the later Aristotelian model. Unlike Aristotle, Plato believes that there is a knowledge that is not derived from sense impressions. For Plato, there are latent in our minds the forms or impressions of the Ideas, the realities which the soul knew before its descent into the body. True knowledge, then, consists of matching sense impressions onto the imprint of the higher reality of which physical forms are mere reflections. In a complex dialectic of remembering and forgetting, Plato posits a three-stage process in which the pre-birth glimpse of the Ideas is succeeded by birth, a forgetting of what was previously seen. The soul enters at birth into oblivion and is covered with a layer of wax on which there is as yet no impression. However, it seems that the wax tablet is not completely wiped clean: there remain imprints of the Ideas, so that we retain a latent knowledge of them. Central to Plato’s philosophy is that knowledge of the truth consists in remembering or recollecting the Ideas which were once seen by the soul. All knowledge

and all learning recollect these concerned is thus of a very specific and distinct type. Plato is not concerned with individual facts and events nor a personal, subjective memory. Although he recognizes that we have the capacity to preserve sensibly experienced memories, he is primarily interested in an immaterial, impersonal reality, which is not tied to the concrete world of things and so is unchanging and eternal. For Plato, the only route to knowledge of the Ideas or eternal

realities is through dialectical enquiry. Plato believes that there are two distinct kinds of learning. The learner can simply absorb information transmitted from a teacher or, alternatively, the learner can work things out for himself. Dialectics conforms to the second kind of learning. In a process of repeated questioning, the learner has to decide the right answer to the questions posed. In this way, he works out an explanation for understanding why something is true, rather than relying on opinion, received information or trust. The standard subjects of dialectical enquiry are directly linked to the higher reality of the Ideas, encompassing such topics as the Equal, the Greater and the Less, the Beautiful, the Good, the Just, and the Holy. Recollection is integral to the dialectical process because the conduct of the discussion requires the participants to recollect relevant data. However, as Richard Sorabji points out, dialectical discussion is not only accompanied by but also culminates in recollection. Through questioning, the learner uncovers in himself the knowledge that is latent in him. Knowledge is thus derived not from the external world, or from someone else, but from within oneself. Richard Sorabji observes:

Recollection is also integral to the dialectical process because it works analogously to it. Just as dialectical reasoning involves a

succession of recollection this world and the Ideas in the world above. Plato’s fullest demonstration of the importance of recollection to

dialectical enquiry is in his Meno (c. 387 BC). In conversation with Socrates, Meno (a young aristocrat) argues that one can never find out anything new: either one knows it already, in which case there is no need to find it out, or else one does not, and in that case one would not be able to recognize it when it was found. As a way out of this either/or dilemma, Socrates proposes the idea that knowledge is recollection, which recognizes that we can know something in an imperfectly conscious way, so that it is both known and not known at the same time. He argues that in this life, it is possible to start from something that we consciously know, and by a process of association, be reminded of all the rest of the knowledge that is latent in our minds. In demonstration of this, Socrates shows that Meno’s uneducated slave boy implicitly knows the truths of geometry and can recollect them merely by being asked the right questions. Socrates insists no less than four times that he is not teaching the boy, but simply posing questions to him. In responding, the slave boy reasons out the principles of geometry, and Socrates concludes that ‘the spontaneous recovery of knowledge that is in him is recollection’ (1956: 138). Although at present the boy’s knowledge, newly awakened, has a provisional or tentative quality, Socrates argues that if the same questions are put to him on many occasions and in different ways, he will have as firm a grasp of geometry as anybody else. It is worth noting, however, that the slave boy would not have ‘recovered’ the principles of geometry without skilful prompting by Socrates: although the latter claims that he is not teaching, it seems that the boy’s knowledge comes as much from without as from within, so that Plato’s dichotomy of internal/external is not as straightforward as it at first appears. For Plato, then, memory is an art that is inherently dialectical,

enacted through an oral question-and-answer process. The medium of speech is privileged because it offers both immediate connection and the intimate understanding that can come from prolonged personal contact. Confusions and misunderstandings can be uncovered and cleared up in the questioning process, and

the type or form the learner. In arguing that it will lead individuals to rely on external letters and signs, and to lose the ability to recollect that which is within. This view was most forcefully articulated in Plato’s Phaedrus (c. 370 BC), a conversation between Socrates and Phaedrus, an upper-class Athenian who is a devotee of the new rhetorical learning. Socrates is critical of rhetoric and seeks to establish dialectic as the true art of speaking. In order to do this, Socrates tells Phaedrus a story which is precisely concerned to elucidate the value of speech over writing in relation to the activity of remembering. Socrates’ story relates how the Egyptian god Theuth, who

invented number and calculation, geometry and astronomy, also discovered writing. He presented this new branch of expertise to the Egyptian king Thamus, suggesting that it should be spread throughout the land. When asked by Thamus to elaborate on the advantages and disadvantages of writing, Theuth replied: ‘But this study, King Thamus, will make Egyptians wiser and improve their memory; what I have discovered is an elixir of memory and wisdom’ (Plato 2005: 62; original emphasis). Thamus, however, argued that it would have precisely the opposite effect. Writing would atrophy memory, because rather than trusting on their inner resources, individuals would rely on external marks made by others. Writing could act as a prompt for recollection, but not as an aid for true remembering. Thamus also contended that writing could not respond to questioning nor could it defend itself against contradiction or argument; it gives the appearance of intelligence but is not concerned with true explanation. As Jack Goody and Ian Watt have pointed out, Socrates delivers his attack on writing in the form of a fable or myth, ‘a distinctively oral … mode of discourse’ (1968: 50). Although they warn that it would be wrong to represent Plato as a wholehearted protagonist of the oral tradition, they nevertheless state:

It is also the dominantly oral logue. Arguably for him the highest form of communication is that of living dialectic in speech, but the next best thing is the written dialogue form which, in posing questions rather than giving answers and in evoking the rhythms and forms of speech, responds to at least some of Thamus’ criticisms. Plato, then, opposes speech and writing in the Phaedrus and

privileges the former over the latter. However, as Jacques Derrida has eloquently argued in ‘Plato’s Pharmacy’, there is a further opposition at play in Plato’s work, which precisely contrasts ‘good’ and ‘bad’ writing. ‘Bad’ writing is the script of texts, a form of writing which is opposed in the Phaedrus. As Socrates makes clear in the dialogue, this writing is resolutely external; it is a supplement, an appendage, and as such is mechanical and lifeless. In Plato, however, as we have seen, writing also insinuates itself as metaphor into the act of true remembering. ‘Good’ writing describes the act of inscription outlined in the Theaetetus, the impressions that are stamped or inscribed into the wax of the soul. Plato seeks to emphasize that these ‘written’ marks or traces are entirely internal, spontaneous; independent of external agency or control. Plato’s philosophy is marked for Derrida, then, by a kind of ‘dream’, a fantasy that the ‘good’ scripture of remembering can be distilled or separated from the ‘bad’ script of texts. Writing as text is expelled from the soul, and remembrance is accordingly interiorized. The problem, as Derrida points out, is that a principle of contamination is nevertheless at work. Plato would seek to separate the oppositions internal-external, naturalartificial, essential-supplementary, eternal-contingent, living-dead. However, writing repeatedly resists his own intention, so that the inside is invaded or intruded upon by the outside. Derrida observes: ‘The outside is already within the work of memory’ (1981: 109). In order to recall that which is not present, memory needs signs and so is always already contaminated by the signifier, the surrogate, the supplement. For Derrida, the word pharmakon acts in Plato’s text to embody

this principle of resistance or contamination. In classical Greek pharmakon takes on a double meaning, for it signifies both remedy

and poison. Thamus, he memory. Thamus’ response makes clear, however, that Theuth is deceiving either himself or the king in giving only one side of the story, and repressing the alternative signification. Thamus accordingly elaborates the different ways in which writing is a poison. Derrida points out that the overdetermination of the word marks a problem for translators, who in fixing its meaning as either ‘remedy’ or ‘poison’ inevitably skew our reading of the text. However, for Derrida this is a problem which does not arise by chance but is rather characteristic of Plato’s discourse. In Plato, the same word will often take on alternative meanings and significations at different places in the text, according to its context. It is characteristic of Plato himself to neutralize this textual play, to attempt to master ambiguity by inserting simple, clear-cut oppositions. According to the logic of the Phaedrus, then, the pharmakon is passed off (by Theuth) as a helpful remedy, whereas it is in truth harmful. For Derrida, Plato’s most lasting legacy to the tradition of Western philosophy is to determine signification within the play of thematic oppositions. Plato, in particular, inaugurated an opposition between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ forms of writing, which acted to relegate script to a subordinate and subservient position. Derrida is, in turn, concerned to read Plato against the grain, in order to demonstrate that textuality is constituted by differences and that it is by nature both heterogeneous and excessive. As a model for thinking about memory, Plato has exerted a

powerful influence over the Western tradition. His opposition to writing can be traced in a lasting and persistent distrust of the archive as constituted by written records, in contrast to living memory. In Chapter 4 I will accordingly consider whether the written form of the archive constitutes, for a writer such as Pierre Nora, more of a ‘poison’ than a ‘remedy’. Through the metaphor of the image that is imprinted, Plato also places emphasis, as Paul Ricoeur has pointed out, on ‘the presence of an absent thing’ and so is not explicitly concerned with ‘the reference to past time’ (2004: 6). The ‘marks’ to which memory is attached are absent forms which are implicitly anterior, but Plato does not reflect on

this at any length. myth by the relearning of that which was forgotten at birth. Plato’s emphasis on immaterial forms, the Ideas, exerted a particularly strong influence on the Christian Latin West through the writings of Augustine. Platonic Idealism also influenced the development of Renaissance Platonism, as will be discussed in the next section. Plato’s writing on memory was, however, only one of two rival and complementary discourses to emerge out of Socratic philosophy. The second was advanced by Plato’s student Aristotle (384-322 BC), who set out his ideas in the brief text De memoria et reminiscentia [Of Memory and Recollection] (350 BC). It is to this work that I will turn for the remainder of this section, in order to explore the ways in which Aristotle both extends and breaks with the Platonic model of remembering. Aristotle inherits in his writing Plato’s model of the wax tablet.

Douwe Draaisma points out, however, that Aristotle ‘gives the metaphor … which in Plato is still a playful image, a more literal meaning’ (2000: 25). For Aristotle, who is more influenced than Plato by the empirical notion that knowledge comes through the senses, the material forms of external things are somehow impressed upon the receiving sense organ. In a secondary process, which takes place when perception is over, the sense image is then transferred into the soul in order to provide a vehicle for remembering and thinking. There is, then, a distinction between sense images and memory images; the latter are produced or derived from the former by a kind of secondary imprinting process. For Aristotle, memory necessarily contains images of what has entered through the senses; he does not believe, like Plato, that the objects of thought can exist separately from the sensible, material world. Aristotelian memory is a physical process, during which, as Draaisma notes: ‘[s]omething is literally stamped into the body, an impression with physiological features, a material trace’ (2000: 25). Aristotle focuses on the connection between the body and the

soul, in contrast to Plato’s Theaetetus where attention is quickly diverted from the imprinting of objects of perception to the imprinting of the soul with the divine Ideas. From this basis he goes on to elaborate why some individuals have a disposition to

remember, while recalls Plato’s Aristotle points out that memory is weak in those who are either very quick or very slow; in the former, the wax is too fluid and so the image does not remain, while in the latter the wax is too hard and so the image does not take hold. However, Aristotle goes beyond Plato in attributing poor memory to medico-physical causes. Thus he points out that the imprint of the image is neither clearly nor distinctly impressed if the soul is ‘subject to a lot of movement’. This can be caused either by illness (‘some trouble’) or by the age of the person concerned. In both the very young and the very old, memory is weak because the individual is ‘in a state of flux’, either because he is growing or because he is wasting away. For these people, then, the changes that are taking place within them make it as if ‘the seal were falling on running water’ (Aristotle 1972: 50). The memory image is for Aristotle intimately linked to the physical, although Richard Sorabji cautions that it cannot be entirely reduced to this level. He observes of Aristotle: ‘The memory image is a physiological affection, in some sense of “is” analogous to that in which a house is bricks. But it is not “simply” this’ (Sorabji 1972: 16). Aristotle is also concerned with the question of what makes a

memory image distinct from an image in the imagination. In response, he points out unequivocally, memory is ‘of the past’ (Aristotle 1972: 48). It thus contrasts with perception which is of the present, and prediction which is of the future. Whenever an individual remembers, the image is accompanied in the soul by the awareness that one has heard, or perceived, or thought this before. It is thus distinct from an imagined image because one recognizes it from the past. Second, the remembered image is a true copy of something. Aristotle’s two-stage model of impression, which transforms the object perceived into a sense image and then into a memory image, posits a causal link between the physical object and one’s present mental image of it. One’s memory image of a scene is thus for Aristotle a copy of that scene, although he sometimes seems to imply that the memory image is a copy of one’s view or perception of that scene rather than what was necessarily there. The memory image, then, is derived from a past

(object of) that which is distinct difference between Aristotle and later mnemonic systems, for the images in these systems often symbolize the objects remembered and are indeed very unlike them. Mnemonic systems, Sorabji points out, tend to operate with ‘images for, rather than … images of, what is remembered’ (1972: 3; original emphasis). Aristotle’s notion of the memory image as a copy or likeness

leads him into a further question. How, while perceiving an image, can we simultaneously remember something distinct from it, namely the thing that it represents? How, in other words, do we remember that which we no longer perceive at the same time as we perceive the memory image? Aristotle answers this by turning to a metaphor of inscription. He cites the example of a figure drawn on a panel, which can be seen both as something to be contemplated in its own right and as a copy of another thing. So with the memory image, we can view it both in and of itself or in relation to an object earlier perceived. Although Aristotle seems confident that we can clearly distinguish the remembered from the imagined image, there is here a notable equivocation in his account. If the memory image is both autonomous (like the imagined image) and bears a relation to an original, there seems to be a degree of ambiguity in finally distinguishing between memory and the imagination. I have so far elaborated that part of Aristotle’s account of

memory which emphasizes memory as a fundamentally passive process. The second half of his treatise is concerned, however, to distinguish memory from recollection, which comprises the active and deliberate search for a memory. This is a much more intellectual endeavour and is more akin to Plato’s account of memory, which was concerned with recollecting the Ideal forms that we encountered before birth. For Aristotle, though, recollection as a process of reasoning is concerned to recover something that one has previously learned or experienced in this life. Aristotle also seems to disagree with Plato’s emphasis on dialectical questioning, in which the process of recollection inevitably involves somebody else. For Aristotle, by contrast, recollection is an autonomous, independent, and self-motivated search.