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The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200

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A companion to Mary Carruthers' earlier study of memory in medieval culture, The Book of Memory, this book, The Craft of Thought, examines medieval monastic meditation as a discipline for making thoughts, and discusses its influence on literature, art, and architecture, deriving examples from a variety of late antique and medieval sources, with excursions into modern archi A companion to Mary Carruthers' earlier study of memory in medieval culture, The Book of Memory, this book, The Craft of Thought, examines medieval monastic meditation as a discipline for making thoughts, and discusses its influence on literature, art, and architecture, deriving examples from a variety of late antique and medieval sources, with excursions into modern architectural memorials. The study emphasizes meditation as an act of literary composition or invention, the techniques of which notably involved both words and making mental "pictures" for thinking and composing.


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A companion to Mary Carruthers' earlier study of memory in medieval culture, The Book of Memory, this book, The Craft of Thought, examines medieval monastic meditation as a discipline for making thoughts, and discusses its influence on literature, art, and architecture, deriving examples from a variety of late antique and medieval sources, with excursions into modern archi A companion to Mary Carruthers' earlier study of memory in medieval culture, The Book of Memory, this book, The Craft of Thought, examines medieval monastic meditation as a discipline for making thoughts, and discusses its influence on literature, art, and architecture, deriving examples from a variety of late antique and medieval sources, with excursions into modern architectural memorials. The study emphasizes meditation as an act of literary composition or invention, the techniques of which notably involved both words and making mental "pictures" for thinking and composing.

30 review for The Craft of Thought: Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200

  1. 5 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    The Real Glass Bead Game Have you ever seen the party trick in which the trembling amateur magician sits down to run through a deck of cards and memorise their order instantly? Or two decks? Or four? He remembers them flawlessly. Must be a set-up, right? Turns out it’s a pretty straightforward technique, developed in, of all places, medieval monasteries. One of many ways the monks had for remembering everything from the details of the yearly round of liturgy to who owed what to whom among their m The Real Glass Bead Game Have you ever seen the party trick in which the trembling amateur magician sits down to run through a deck of cards and memorise their order instantly? Or two decks? Or four? He remembers them flawlessly. Must be a set-up, right? Turns out it’s a pretty straightforward technique, developed in, of all places, medieval monasteries. One of many ways the monks had for remembering everything from the details of the yearly round of liturgy to who owed what to whom among their monastic tenant-farmers. Simple really when you know how. This is one of those cases in which the inspiration for developing such ability came directly from scripture, even though it was a misinterpretation. In the first letter of Paul to the Corinthians he mentions a “wise master-builder.” In the manner of these things, some cleric reckoned this provided authorization for reviving the ancient Roman idea of using architecture as a mnemonic tool - sticking factoids or sequences in the spaces of imaginary castles that could be recalled by ‘walking through’ at a later date. The monks took to it, quite literally, on a monumental scale. Architecture became the dominant aesthetic for an entire monastic civilization. Also in typical fashion, the quote from Paul is clearly about inventive memory, but it is willfully misinterpreted by the monks to refer to storage memory. An early confusion then between RAM and the hard drive. Pretty handy skill set nevertheless, particularly if you were illiterate. A good technology just begs for new applications. The monks started using architectural plans not just to help keep the details of their lives and histories orderly, but to do research into the connections among things that were occurring in the natural world. Very much in the manner described by Hermann Hesse in his book, The Glass Bead Game, the architectural mnemonic was used to suggest meaningful relationships - we call them hypotheses today - among various phenomena. What was stored, for example, in the upstairs front bedroom might hold a clue about why all the red table clothes always seemed to end up in the basement cupboard. Or how the flaming pink of flamingoes might derive from the same source as the red flames in the hearth. Particularly large, elaborate and complicated buildings were use as a penance to discipline wayward monks - under the apparent presumption that these would not be used to store up more illicit desires. Memorizing these extensive plans must have made four decks of cards a snap. Connections arrived at through the plans could even point to possibilities beyond the architectural plans as known, to hidden basements, secret passageways, or false ceilings for example - quite literally ‘out of the box’ thinking. Of course the discovery of such hidden gems required a sort of Kabbalistic faith that something was there to be discovered. But this was to be expected: all knowledge depended on such faith; and real knowledge didn’t just jump into the eye, it demanded strenuous effort to uncover. Wasn’t this the nature of all divine revelation after all? What the technique of ‘architectural exegesis’ subtly but thoroughly taught was the “interdependence of aspects.” Nothing was entirely separate from anything else. Fantasy might generate numerous dead ends but occasionally an implausible shaft sunk into a random wing of an edifice would yield an intellectual bonanza in its “convergent totality”, particularly in the arcane poetic language of Christian metaphysics. By using complex building plans as a focus for meditative thought, even theology could be considered as an empirical discipline. And, since both the object of meditation as well as the timing of its exercise was the same for everyone in the community, meditation was not a solitary but a communal activity.* Charles Peguy, the French essayist and poet, inherited from this monastic tradition an almost sacred idea of architectural space. “Prophecy means,” he says, “knowing how, from the standpoint of God, to assign to things and to human beings, to events and their configurations, their place in the overall pattern.” He goes on to explain the relevance of the moral order to space: “What is just is exactly placed in relation to the axis of what is truly important , and it is therefore the beautiful coincidence of heaven and earth, time and eternity, flesh and spirit, grace and achievement, contemplation and action.” But a beautiful space is measurable; a just space is not. In the ancient writings of Plato it is clear that the notion specifying beauty is ‘measure’ or as he sometimes writes ‘inner measuredness’. That is, the aesthetical implies measurement just as does manifestation of an aesthetic in architecture implies dimensional plans. Aesthetics is the study, therefore, of the relation of measure to the measureless. It is these three skills - meditation, the systematic arrangement of memory, and measurement - which are the principle components of the craft of medieval thought according to Carruthers. Using the unlikely focus of architectural drawings, plans, and models, these skills could be taught. Since they were skills independent of any particular knowledge but directed toward the acquisition of knowledge in general, they could rightly be called a philosophy. It was a benign and tolerant philosophy even though it was created within a religiously dogmatic environment. The Craft of Thought is a remarkable achievement. To enter into the medieval world not as a tourist but a resident demands an ability to appreciate not only what is there, but what might be carried in to contaminate the experience. It’s a strange world but a not altogether unfamiliar one. I suspect that, if Carruthers was never influenced by Hesse’s fantasy, she certainly must share his artistic sensibilities. *This correlates remarkably with E I Watkin’s social conception of ‘contemplation’. See https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

  2. 5 out of 5

    Deniz

    After reading her first book, I had to read this one! Building on her work on the art of memory during the medieval period, Carruthers next examines invention. We often contrast memorization with imagination but Carruthers shows how deeply intertwined these concepts are. What I enjoyed the most about this book was how it sheds light on “meditation”.

  3. 4 out of 5

    James of the Redwoods

    This book is a must read for Freemasons for reasons that they will understand within the first 50 pages. This book is a companion to Professor Carruthers', The Book of Memory, The Craft of Thought. These are among my favorite books and have had an enormous impact on my thinking. I especially like her insights on the works of Hugh of Saint Victor.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Summers-Stay

    In the middle ages, creativity was thought of in terms of the faculty of memory. The Ars Memoria was a central idea in their understanding of the working of the mind. I like the idea of them inventing and memorizing entire fantasy worlds that they would then literally walk through in their imaginations in order to learn abstract concepts. It sounds like it would make a great magic system.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Hollie L.S.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Michele P. Olender

  7. 4 out of 5

    Eric Anderson

  8. 4 out of 5

    Nathaniel

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    Kathrin

  10. 4 out of 5

    Patrick Keilty

  11. 5 out of 5

    Krisztina

  12. 4 out of 5

    Maud Kozodoy

  13. 4 out of 5

    Kappie

  14. 5 out of 5

    Pedro

  15. 4 out of 5

    Nicole von Buelow

  16. 4 out of 5

    Cassian Russell

  17. 4 out of 5

    Simon Vigneault

  18. 4 out of 5

    Michael Helvey

  19. 5 out of 5

    Joan

  20. 4 out of 5

    Nathan Howe

  21. 5 out of 5

    Erica

  22. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Malina

  23. 5 out of 5

    Olli Lampinen-Enqvist

  24. 5 out of 5

    Sebastian Blaise

  25. 4 out of 5

    Roberto Rossi

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    Shawn

  27. 5 out of 5

    John Amador

  28. 4 out of 5

    Rin Ron

  29. 5 out of 5

    Gary Hoffman

  30. 5 out of 5

    cpm

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