Catalogue


Saint Augustine's Memory /
[introduction, translation, and commentary by] Garry Wills.
imprint
New York : Viking, 2002.
description
xii, 228 p. ; 20 cm.
ISBN
0670031275 (alk. paper)
format(s)
Book
Holdings
More Details
added author
series title
imprint
New York : Viking, 2002.
isbn
0670031275 (alk. paper)
general note
Includes Wills' translation of Book Eleven of the Confessiones in an appendix.
catalogue key
4771700
A Look Inside
First Chapter

part i

Introduction: The Book of Memory

A friend of mine says he finds Augustine's stress on memory a great disappointment. It seems to orient the Bishop of Hippo toward his own past, while my friend looks to the future-he calls himself a progressive, and Augustine a nostalgist. That friend, I am sure, speaks for many. We tend to be critical of people "living in the past," who are by definition conservative or reactionary. They have closed off new ideas in order to fondle previously experienced (or imagined) glories. America, by contrast, is thought of as a country that has rejected the past and turned confidently to a future that will be greater than anything that went before.

A first impression of Augustine's Book Ten might be taken as confirmation of this judgment against memory. He introduces the subject with a venture into memory as a huge warehouse, the storage place of old experiences, a passive place of deposit, a kind of glorified dump. The imagery at times is of a filing system slightly jumbled, where pieces may be out of order but are nonetheless static things being slotted into stable repositories, "everything ticketed [commendatum] here and stored for preservation" [12]. "Here all these things are stored, individually and by type, according to their means of acces- sion . . . all received for deposit in or withdrawal from memory's huge vault" [13]. But these passing references, suggestive of a mental filing system, are belied in the general treatment of Augustine's memory. This memory is dynamic, constructive, predictive, constitutive of identity, the meeting place with other humans, and the pathway to God.

1. Memory as Dynamic

The interior that Augustine describes is far from having the air of an office or warehouse. Its "internal scenery" fluctuates as eerily as the landscape in Winsor McCay's Little Nemo comic strips.

The scope of memory is vast, my God, in some way scary, with its depths, its endless adaptabilities-yet what are they but my own mind, my self? Then what can that self be, my God? What is my makeup? A divided one, shifting, fierce in scale. In memory alone there are uncountable expanses, hollows, caverns uncountably filled with uncountable things of all types [26].

This is a place that recedes as he proceeds into it [65]. "I rummage through all these things, darting this way and that, plunging down as far as I can go, and reaching no bottom" [26]. It is a "terrain of trouble" [14]. He bumps into himself in this scenery [14]. His inner self, dwarfed by the mountains and star systems held in memory, has inner eyes and ears, even an inner hand [12], a mental mouth and stomach [22]. Augustine's inner Nemo crawls about in perilous situations that recall Gerard Manley Hopkins's sonnet "No Worst":

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there.

The memories themselves are in motion, eluding him, flying in his face unbidden, like bats in a cave: "Jumbled memories flirt out on their own, interrupting the search for what I want" [12]. Laboriously pieced-together concepts deliquesce and must be reassembled:

[I]f I forgo their retrieval, even for brief intervals, they sink out of sight again, sliding deep into some inner windings, and they must be pressed up out of that place (for where else could they have gone?) and pressed again into knowable form. We must, that is, reconnect them after their dispersion [18].

The things deposited in memory do not just lie there passively. When they are not disintegrating from neglect, they are being reshaped by each recurrence to them. The Augustine remembering is different from the one who remembered any matter in the first place, or re-remembered in preceding recurrences to it; and the matter itself is being altered by cognate things all around it. Here, for instance, Augustine discusses the immutable truths of the numerical sciences:

All these things I not only remember but remember learning them. And many arguments against them I remember hearing; and however false the arguments may be, my memories of hearing them are not false. And I remember distinguishing between what was true and what was said against the truth-an act of distinguishing I remember one way now, which is different from the way I remember often going over the distinction while I was expressing it. I remember these frequent acts from the past, and what I distinguish and conclude now I am laying away in memory, so I can remember in the future what I concluded at this moment. So, just as I have a memory of past remembering, so in the future, if I recall what I conclude now, I shall be recalling it by the power of memory [20].

Remembering is a process that never rests. Things can never be fixed in memory-and no wonder: they were not fixed in the original experience that is being remembered. That too, was a process, one that Augustine considers in Book Eleven's treatment of time. If you commit a sentence to memory, it is not acquired as a single thing and then turned over intact to memory. When you pronounce the second word of the sentence, you are already remembering the first one, which is now in the past. Unless you remember it you cannot tell what the subject is or how the sentence should end. And so with each word, and each element of sound in each word.

If we suppose some particle of time which could not be divided into a smaller particle, that alone deserves to be called the present. Yet it flies in so headlong a way out of the future and into the past that no slightest moment of rest can reach itself out in pause. If it paused, its earlier part could be divided from its later. Thus the present itself has no length (T 11.20).

This process leaves a representation (imago) of itself in the mind, and that is what enters the memory. It is sufficiently detached from its cause to be recalled in isolation from the original experience. Yet it involves a kind of reliving of that experience, which was a temporal event, involving succession to reach completion. Imago in this context is usually translated (or transliterated) as "image," which gives a misleading suggestion that the sense-experience prints a facsimile in the mind, of the seal-in-wax sort. But Augustine remembers states and conditions that are temporally articulated and would not leave a single imprint. He speaks, for instance, of remembering happiness, his boyhood, health, sickness, and emotional reactions like fear and desire, and complicated historical developments. I choose the term "re-presentation" because the remembering is for him a literal re-presentizing, a living through again of what was a process at every stage of the mind's engagement. In fact, he argues that the past no longer exists except in representations of it in our minds. And that representation is always a present one when we have recourse to it. He would agree with the saying "The past is not dead, it is not even past."

What should be clear and obvious by now is that we cannot properly say that the future or the past exists, or that there are three times, past, present, and future. Perhaps we can say that there are three tenses, but that they are the present of the past, the present of the present, and the present of the future. This would correspond, in some sense, with a triad I find in the soul and nowhere else, where the past is present to memory, the present is present to observation [contuitus], and the future is present to anticipation (T 11.26).

The past, therefore, is not an inert structure in which we can deposit a remembered item to remain unchanged until called up again. The original experience must be re-presentized by a rememberer, with all the accumulated alterations in that rememberer since his last encounter with the memory-with, perhaps, new insights, or with deeper prejudices. And the thing remembered is as charged with emotional content as is the person remembering. In fact, what is being recalled is the experience that a person underwent in acquiring anything to be remembered. That is why conditions that surrounded the first acquirement come along with it, or even precede it-which is Proust's madeleine effect. Augustine instructs his own mind on this point:

So time is measured, my mind, in you. Raise no clamor against me-I mean against yourself-out of your jostling reactions [affectiones]. I measure time in you, I tell you, because I measure the reactions that things caused in you by their passage, reactions that remain when the things that occasioned them have passed on (T 11.36).

Affectiones in that passage is often translated "emotions" or "impressions," but those words give a wrong impression if they imply that an ad-fectio is something done to a a soul by the impact of other things on it. For Augustine the soul is always active. It "goes out" through the senses to apprehend things, for instance. It reacts to occasions given it (to learn, to feel, to accept, to reject), but the stimulation or provocation just calls up the soul's own action. So, in remembering, the soul actively relives its putting together of future and past in the first place.

This concept of the memory as a reliving of original experience helps Augustine with the mysterious fact that he remembers forgetting things. "What can forgetting be but a lack of memory? And then how can forgetting be present, for me to remember it, when its very presence makes me lack it?" [24]. Some sense of the process involved in the lost memory's acquisition or retention may persist as a kinetic tilt in the mind's motion, "as if the memory had some feeling that it was not moving with something it had moved with before, but was limping, as it were, from the lack of what it was used to, and trying to recover what was missing" [28]. What is important, and characteristic, is that Augustine thinks in dynamic terms, as if going through the motion of a memory would revive it-his way of eating the madeleine to find what it will bring back.

This dynamic view of memory can be read, today, as a destabilizing of memory. It certainly fits in with modern research that finds memory "unreliable." In popular usage we still distinguish between one who is "really" remembering and one who is fabricating. But for Augustine, all memory is fabrication-that is one of its glories.

--from Saint Augustine's Memoryby Garry Wills, Copyright © November 2002, Viking Press, a member of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.

Full Text Reviews
Appeared in Publishers Weekly on 2002-10-28:
In this second volume of The Confessions ("Confessiones") of St. Augustine, the author of Papal Sin continues his work of translating one of Christianity's great classics. Augustine of Hippo, whose conversion is often credited to the prayers of his saintly mother, Monica, wrote The Confessions at mid-life in the form of a conversation with God. Memory includes Book 10, which Wills considers a key to the work's other 12 books in that it links Augustine's accounts of his life before and after his baptism in 387 A.D. He also has added Book 11, in which Augustine reflects on time. Wills's translations are very readable, though they occasionally lose the poetic beauty of earlier versions. For example, Augustine's famous lament, rendered in Sheed's 1943 familiar translation as "Late have I loved Thee, O Beauty so ancient and so new; late have I loved Thee!" emerges in Wills's work as "Slow was I, Lord, too slow in loving you. To you, earliest and latest beauty, I was slow in love." Also, in Augustine's meditation on the flesh's urges, Wills uses "alcoholism" to describe what others have translated as "drunkenness," a debatable point since even those who do not suffer from the disease of alcoholism can be guilty of excessive drinking. Because such revisions breathe new life into the Confessions, Wills's work may attract additional readers to Augustine. Purists, however, will prefer Sheed's and others' more classic translations to this contemporary update. (Nov. 11) Forecast: Fresh from his successful autobiographical apologia Why I Am a Catholic (#5 on PW's September Religion Bestsellers list), Wills's name is a powerful draw, even for a scholarly work such as this. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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Publishers Weekly, October 2002
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Summaries
Main Description
Garry Wills's "sizzling" (The New York Review of Books) renditions of Saint Augustine's prose in his Penguin Lives biography of the great thinker foreshadowed his translation of Saint Augustine's Childhood, the first book in Augustine's Confessiones. Now, in Saint Augustine's Memory, Wills brings his superb gifts of language and intellect to this important chapter. Acting as the hinge volume of Augustine's confessional opus, Saint Augustine's Memory makes the turn between the writer's life before and after baptism and stands as a meditation on the Confessiones's central concept. Here in private, Augustine seeks to fathom himself-to emerge later as a visionary for others on a large public stage. To him the "vast treasure store of memory" is where identity is forged, the context of present and future in which we continually relive original experience and refashion everything we remember. It is a place where we remake ourselves, interact with others, and glimpse God. Masterfully rendered and beautifully designed, Saint Augustine's Memoryis sure to fascinate academics, Christians, and the general reader.
Unpaid Annotation
Garry Wills's "sizzling" (The New York Review of Books) renditions of Saint Augustine's prose in his Penguin Lives biography of the great thinker foreshadowed his translation of Saint Augustine's Childhood, the first book in Augustine's Confessiones. Now, in Saint Augustine's Memory, Wills brings his superb gifts of language and intellect to this important chapter. Acting as the hinge volume of Augustine's confessional opus, Saint Augustine's Memory makes the turn between the writer's life before and after baptism and stands as a meditation on the Confessiones's central concept.Here in private, Augustine seeks to fathom himself -- to emerge later as a visionary for others on a large public stage. To him the "vast treasure store of memory" is where identity is forged, the context of present and future in which we continually relive original experience and refashion everything we remember. It is a place where we remake ourselves, interact with others, and glimpse God. Masterfully rendered andbeautifully designed, Saint Augustine's Memory is sure to fascinate academics, Christians, and the general reader.
Main Description
Garry Wills's "sizzling" ( The New York Review of Books) renditions of Saint Augustine's prose in his Penguin Lives biography of the great thinker foreshadowed his translation of Saint Augustine's Childhood, the first book in Augustine's Confessiones. Now, in Saint Augustine's Memory, Wills brings his superb gifts of language and intellect to this important chapter. Acting as the hinge volume of Augustine's confessional opus, Saint Augustine's Memory makes the turn between the writer's life before and after baptism and stands as a meditation on the Confessiones's central concept. Here in private, Augustine seeks to fathom himself-to emerge later as a visionary for others on a large public stage. To him the "vast treasure store of memory" is where identity is forged, the context of present and future in which we continually relive original experience and refashion everything we remember. It is a place where we remake ourselves, interact with others, and glimpse God. Masterfully rendered and beautifully designed, Saint Augustine's Memoryis sure to fascinate academics, Christians, and the general reader.
Table of Contents
Key to Brief Citations
Foreword
Introduction: The Book of Memoryp. 1
Memory as Dynamicp. 4
Memory as Constructivep. 10
Memory as the Selfp. 11
Memory as Guide to Conductp. 14
Memory as the Basis of Communityp. 18
The Pathos of Memoryp. 20
God in Memoryp. 22
Memory in Book Ten of The Testimonyp. 26
The Testimony, Book Tenp. 27
Why Should Others Overhear Me?p. 29
The Current Search for Godp. 41
The Contents of Memoryp. 49
Representations (imagines)p. 49
Rules (percepta)p. 55
Axioms (rationes)p. 61
Reactions (affectiones)p. 63
Forgetting (oblivio)p. 69
Happiness (beata vita)p. 77
God (Deus)p. 89
The Flesh's Urgesp. 93
The Five Senses: Touchp. 95
The Five Senses: Tastep. 99
The Five Senses: Smellp. 105
The Five Senses: Hearingp. 107
The Five Senses: Sightp. 109
Transgressive Knowledge (curiositas)p. 117
Worldly Designsp. 125
Conclusionp. 135
Commentaryp. 145
Appendix: The Testimony, Book Elevenp. 191
List of Basic Termsp. 225
Table of Contents provided by Blackwell. All Rights Reserved.

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