The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400–1200 (Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, Series Number 34) Illustrated Edition
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'… Carruthers puts forward at a quick pace, a wealth of intuitions and ideas about the function of pictures which are liable to stimulate further research in the fields both of classics and of medieval studies.' Classical World
‘This is a vigorous and learned book.’ David Griffith, Expository Times
'… The Craft of Thought is an important contribution to our understanding of memory, the medieval world, and how our image of the world today both converges and diverges from our past. By showing how medieval monastic meditation influences literature, art, and architecture … [the book] underscores the importance of memory in bringing these disparate disciplines together as a unitary whole. Remarkable and learned … [this] is a book to be read and recollected again and again.' Lee Trepanier, VoegelinView (www.voegelinview.com)
- Publisher : Cambridge University Press; Illustrated edition (November 6, 2000)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 456 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0521795419
- ISBN-13 : 978-0521795418
- Item Weight : 1.34 pounds
- Dimensions : 5.99 x 1.15 x 8.97 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #848,808 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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The book argues that monastic practices were rhetorical devices that lead their followers step by step to a point where they were able to meditate in ways that illuminated the canonical teachings of their faith. Her point that cultural practices can serve rhetorical functions is well illustrated in the book.
The monks were highly disciplined. They developed specialized memory techniques and applied them to learning scriptures. They were skillful in creating and recalling visual images. Meditation put these skills and others in play. First the monk established facilitating conditions - prostrating oneself while weeping, for example - then he recalled scriptures and used them to devise new visions to better capture the glory of God.
The book was a difficult read for me because of my weak background in medieval studies. Professor Carruthers wrote primarily for her colleagues in this area, and so she omitted contextual and historical background information. I also found the organization of her chapters somewhat loose so that the various bits and pieces did not always come together for me. However, overall I was pleased with the book. It gave me a learned scholar's insights into the cognitive techniques of medieval monastic life.
Top reviews from other countries
‘Orthopraxis and orthodoxy often co-exist in the same religion Christianity, though a religion primarily of orthodoxy, has always had groups within it who have created for themselves an orthopraxis. Monasticism is one such practice.’
‘Yet orthopraxis is a concept not unique to religion. Any craft develops an orthopraxis, a ‘craft knowledge,’ which is learned, and indeed can only be learned, by the painstaking practical imitation and complete familiarization of exemplary masters’ techniques and experiences.’
The route that Prof. Carruthers takes is through illustrates an empathy with an age, and a perspective that is eclectic. Just taking key words in its title: The practice of what we would call meditation, the Desert Fathers would have seen as the craft of making prayer continuously (sacra pagina), the aim of which, with other practices, was to remember God continuously (mneme theou), in which ‘emotion, imagination, and cogitation within the activity of recollection.’ Another aspect of monastic meditation is that it was also a craft of thinking. While monastic rhetoric emphasized ‘invention,’ and was seen more of an art of composition than an art of persuasion. The use of images as a memory tool goes back to the pre-Socratic poet Simonides’ observation that visual memory is much more immediate than oral memory, which was developed by Roman writers such as Quintillian and Cicero as a mnemonic strategy. What Carruthers also taps into is contemporary Jewish practices, for example, the technique by which the Psalms could be learnt by heart. Modern performers who amaze audiences by apparently impossible memory tricks, follow the system of ‘memory palace’s created by Renaissance writers. (see The Art of Memory, Frances Yates). The reason Caruthers ends with the 12th.c. is, she says, because ‘European demography changed significantly,’ the Augustinian Canons of St Victor adapted to the increase of an increasingly more urban audience, Citeaux continued to address an elite,’ and the contrasts are emphasized by the arguments between St Bernard and Abbe Sugar, about Sugar’s rebuilding of St. Denis; history tells us that Sugar won the argument.
One of the unintentional ironies of CS Lewis’s excellent ‘The Discarded Image,’ is that it helped to reinforce the perception that the ethos of the Middle Ages was connate with an ‘otherness,’ promoting the view that everything started with the Renaissance, which itself totally forgets that both the Florentine and Northern Renaissances, would not have happened without previous Renaissances; this book covering the period from the Carolingian Renaissance to the dawn of the Renaissance that produced the Cathedral building period across the whole of Europe. Yes the Church was beginning to ignore abuses done in its name, which eventually led to the need for a Reformation, but scholasticism was much more than deciding how many angels could dance on a pin. The anecdote of Aquinas saying near his death, that everything he had done was as worthless as straw, can of course be interpreted in two ways. This book is one of a series by Cambridge University Press, entitled Cambridge Studies in Medieval Literature, and complements the authors ‘The Book of Memory’ (now in its second edition), and arguably will attract thoughtful readers from across an even wider range of disciplines apart from being an exemplar of scholarship.
Written with clarity and a richness of understanding this is a book to treasure and one I will be recommending to my advanced students, supervisors, and initiates.
Director of Studies Servants of the The Light School of Occult Science.