August 11, 2014

Memory Distortion vs Efficiency in Remembering

Causality provides mnemonic ordering within a narrative sequence. Where a story reduces the experience of real life to a manageable collection of "events", causality keeps those story elements connected and sequenced. By definition, causality distorts actual causation, just as maps distort geographical features and stories distort lived experience (personal, vicarious, or imaginary) in their respective domains of figural representation. But since the particular advantage provided by causality is a mnemonic efficiency, it may be that causality itself should be characterized as an instance of memory distortion.

The above paragraph summarizes my recent blog series and explains why I must now dive briefly into the category of memory distortion, per se. So, without further ado...

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The study of memory distortion is currently centered within cognitive psychology, a field I have barely begun to scratch personally, but Anthony Le Donne (in The Historiographical Jesus, 2009) provides a helpful summary of work by Michael Schudson, who offers four categories of memory distortion, two of  which bear specific mention here, briefly. [Note: Schudson's work was included in an interdisciplinary study by prominent research psychologist Daniel Schacter; Schudson himself taught graduate level journalism at Columbia with a PhD in Sociology.] The first category is called "truncation" or "distanciation", in which memories grow vague and lose detail. The fourth category is "narrativization" in which memories become "conventionalized through the constraints of storytelling. Without space to review the helpful aspects of both these scholars' valuable work, I will merely note that "truncation" seems to fit my own thinking about the basic "reduction" from experience to story, and "narrativization" seems primarily oriented around what Hayden White called "emplotment", or what Seymour Chatman called "discourse". In fact, Le Donne discusses "truncation" (p.62) as the narrative curtailing of time by a storyteller's selection of "beginning", "middle" and "end", and Le Donne cites Hayden White multiple times in discussing the distortion category of "narrativization".

These are valuable and practical observations of storying memories - or, are they valuable and theoretical observations of memorializing particular narratives? - and they will remain so even if Schudson's categories could be further scrutinized in comparison with narratological theory. But for that matter, as things currently stand within the larger field of cog-psych, the suggested taxonomies of memory type and distortion type seem to proliferate easily, and perhaps endlessly. For instance, Schudson's suggested categories appear in an edited volume by Daniel Schacter, an eminent psychologist and prolific researcher of memory distortion. But Schacter's edited volume alone (Memory Distortion, 1995), contains a daunting volume and (to me, at least) a bewildering array of research, theories, and categorizations, based on the contributions of over two dozen scholars. There is obviously some refining work yet to be done in this field.

One pleasant discovery, just two weeks ago, was the following statement in the abstract of a recent paper by Schacter (et al) on Memory Distortion (2011): (emphasis mine)
Here we integrate emerging evidence that several types of memory distortions - imagination inflation, gist-based and associative memory errors, and post-event misinformation - reflect adaptive cognitive processes that contribute to the efficient functioning of memory, but produce distortions as a consequence of doing so.
While I can't begin to explain what these listed "types of memory distortions" might entail, I was happily flabbergasted to find these words: "processes that contribute to the efficient functioning of memory, but produce distortions as a consequence of doing so". Even though I'm not entirely sure what Schacter means by "efficiency" - his recent paper remains less than clear to me until I learn the referential meanings of cutting edge cog-psych jargon; but thank you, God, for that abstract! - or whether Schacter's "efficiency" is anything like the kind of "efficiency" I've been thinking about since March and blogging about since June, this has been an encouraging reason to bring cognitive psychology into my radar. I will pursue memory distortion anon.

For the moment, here are a few helpful, significant gleanings.

One of Anthony Le Donne's personal innovations is frequently to substitute the word "refraction" instead of distortion, citing the brilliant metaphor of a telescope, which refracts starlight and "distorts an imaged object in order to magnify it." He goes on, "the viewer is able to perceive an approximate distortion of distant objects not visible to the naked eye" and points out that the modified nature of a refracted image is precisely the reason astronomers find their telescopes to be so valuable. The lens refracts, but it magnifies, and thus provides images which could never be seen at all, otherwise. Drawing the metaphor back on point, Le Donne says, "memory's primary function is to render the past (which is invisible to the naked eye) intelligible to the present" even if this requires an "acceptable approximation".

As I said in part 1 of my recent blog series, Anthony's work has been a primary inspiration for my re-thinking of narrative function. Add to that my own peculiar passion for chronological study and I found myself wondering how "Memory" might encapsulate "Time", as in "Time itself". That led to my recent series of posts, in which I've been discussing how Story and Causality increase the efficiency of Memory, specifically how consequence embeds sequence, allowing the mnemonic ordering of time, as I said at the top.

In that series, I have paused just after promising to illustrate more thoroughly how this "mnemonic efficiency" works. Before I could do that, I felt it was important to compare my own thoughts on "efficiency" with the literature on "distortion" (at least, as per my budding and brief forays into cognitive psychology, as indicated above). In concluding this post, therefore, here is what I feel tentatively confident enough to declare, regarding my own developing project.

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First, by definition, causality is a representational distortion of actual causation. Regardless of whether causality distorts due to the imperfections of human perception, or the authorial bias of narrativization, or the cognitive processes of psychological "distortions", the distortion of causality is primarily akin to the distortions of other representations, such as maps and narratives and telescopes. (Though Le Donne applied his metaphor to memory, proper, the technology itself is a tool of representation, as are binoculars, cameras, some convex mirrors, eyeglasses, and perhaps even the human eyeball itself, all of which distort the appearance of objects in order to make them more visible, or indirectly visible despite handicap or obstruction.)

Second, causality is a distortion with a specifically mnemonic advantage, in that it more easily accommodates the remembering of sequential events. This is not like Schudson's categories in which (per Le Donne) distortion is what enables memory to exist at all in the first place, because "Memory is distortion." (LD p.51) or as Le Donne quotes Jan Assmann as saying: "The notion of 'distorted memory' seems to presuppose that there is something like "undistorted memory." As it happens, I completely agree with these points. Nevertheless, the advantage of causality (as I tend to see it) is not something which allows memory to exist. Rather, causality allows a single memory to encompass more data.

Third, this accomodated efficiency of causality is, itself, an enhancement of what I've described as the efficient accomodation provided to memory by "story". However, more in line with the previous point, the phenomenon of "story" may itself be classifiable as a memory distortion, in that "story" allows memory to exist in the first place. Again, the difficulties here are more taxonomic than pragmatic, but we do need to find ways of discussing such things.

((***For instance, there arise at this point further questions about Schudson's first and fourth categories (Cf. Le Donne's citation of Fentress and Wickham on story and "plot", LD p.55) which closely mirrors the subjectivity of dividing "story/plot" from "discourse/narrativization". If memory theory is brought more in line with narratology, these categories of distortion may prove as incrementally subjective as the division between "plot and emplotment", or "story and discourse".  (See my Memory & Narrative, parts 1-6, and especially my "Story is Subjective, Temporality is not".) In trying to identify the plot points of a narrative sketch, it almost seems like we might as well work towards a calculus of narrativity, but there is no "instantaneous rate of change" in a narrative arc, because all the points we might "plot" are entirely subjective. On the other hand, by that precise logic, there might well be a point of change to be seen, by some level of perception, at ANY particular point in a narrative arc. Thus, again, Schudson's first and forth categories can blur just as much as Chatman's categories. However, in the end, these two categories - "truncation" (what I would rephrase "reduction") and "narrativization" are every bit as useful as "story" and "discourse" when viewed more as rough approximations than precise categorizations. One wonders if all taxonomists in cognitive psychology will be willing to hold loosely to categorizations without letting go of their efforts to understand and to illustrate memory distortion. ***))

Fourth, as causality increases the efficiency of storied remembering, so there are degrees of perceiving causality which can further enhance both the strength and efficiency of remembering extensive sequences. What this means, in simpler terms, is that mnemonic efficiency increases with the strength of causality.

Fifth, and finally, it is worth noting again the severe dubiousness of dividing between "story" and "discourse" as a way of observing that causality can arguably be identified with both categories. On the one hand, given its role as the central aspect of plot, causality can be aligned most closely with "story" (or Schudson's first category). On the other hand, given that the prioritization of causes (the relationship between "necessary" and "sufficient" causality) is in large part what's generally being provided by narrativization (aka emplotment, aka "discourse"), causality can also be aligned very closely with "discourse" (or Schudson's fourth category).

Ultimately, therefore, it seems causality can be defined either as a category of memory distortion - in that a Plot is the basic form of a Story, which is one kind of representational distortion that allows Memory to exist - or as a mere enhancement of mnemonic efficiency, as I've been describing it in my previous work.

If there is to be any definitive taxonomy here, I will leave it to much greater minds than my own.

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What seems most workable for my own purposes, therefore, is to persist with the metaphors of distortion but focus on aspects of story and narrative which increase the efficiency of remembering. This emphasis cuts straight to the heart of my ongoing project. As I said in Memory & Narrative, 2:
Which comes first? Do we construct a story with immediate gestalt perceptivity and then work to remember it? Or do we form short-term memories of experience and then construct a story selectively from among that material?
My working concept begins with the process of daily, tacit autobiography. We experience things, forming short term memories, most of which fade quickly. The outstanding patterns of memory persist most vividly. Then we narrativize, or more properly speaking, we "story-ize" from those memories. We reduce, we conflate, we amalgamate, we truncate, we summarize, and we eventually narrativize. (Perhaps we narrativize slightly after we story-ize, albeit not long after, or infinitesimally "not long after", in neurological time). As time continues to pass, we repeatedly re-narrativize, but the initial "storying" of immediate memory is what tends to cement the most lastlingly. This may indeed corresponds with the cognitive study of forgetting in psychology, in which memory content is reduced geometrically, in proportions resembling the graph of a logarithm function. But on that note, I'm once again slightly over my head.

But, dear reader, you've got all that, right?

In short, I believe we need to start looking at memory and story within multiple layers. We remember. Then we story. Then we memorialize the story. Then we re-narrativize that memory. And so on, ad infinitium.

But anyway.

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What is the relationship between "Memory Distortion" vs "Efficiency in Remembering"?

For now I will continue to write about story and discourse as being ways to increase memorability that also cause some distortion.

My next post will be part 7 of the ongoing series, in which I plan to illustrate ways that popular views of the past mimic memory distortion in the ways they generate efficiency in remembering stories.

See you then...

August 10, 2014

Did Jesus bring the Twelve with him to Nazareth?

Two of three synoptic Gospels present a peaceful homecoming scene. Luke presents a mob that should have been able to kill Jesus. In narrative terms, there are two key distinctions between these very different depictions. The first is which characters were involved. The second is which phase of 'story time' in each overall narrative does or doesn't align with the episode under discussion.

To sketch briefly the theory I've been developing recently: Narrative contingencies purport watershed moments. For instance, the Gospels represent the time period of Jesus' rise to popularity in Galilee as being in strict correlation to John the Baptists's imprisonment. Whether that correlation is judged to be plausibly historical (or precisely historical) or not, what the correlation does inarguably accomplish is creating a strict point of demarcation within narrative story time. In the narrative structure, Jesus is not popular in Galilee *before* Antipas arrests John, but Jesus begins to get popular in Galilee *after* Antipas arrests John.

One effect of such contingent narrative developments is to restrict compositional selectivity. Whether or not this watershed moment depicts historical events accurately is a separate question. From a narrative standpoint, once the writer has laid down a plot and demarcated the "narrative timeline" of particular developments, any deviation from the narrative causality - in which plot implies temporal sequence, either with or against the flow of narrative sequence - creates a crisis of continuity. Again, this is merely a brief sketch, but it may suffice to point out that readers notice continuity errors. If the writer wants to talk about John *after* the beheading, he must clearly mention "when" such an episode happened. Apart from such cases, episodes are generally constructed to ensure they "fit" within the current phase of a developing continuity.

Now, apply this basic idea to the disciples. Matthew, Mark, and Luke each depict an early phase in Galilee during which Jesus was gaining notoriety. Whatever we call this, the "early phase" I have in mind is defined (de facto) as being *after* John's imprisonment but *before* Jesus calls his disciples. Of course, in a historical study it would be critical to note how the fourth Gospel nuances this somewhat, giving Jesus even earlier occasions for brief activity in Galilee and his introduction to some of the men he would eventually call. But whether John's account can be reconciled with the synoptic narrative structure (or its potential reflection in chronological events) is not in issue at the moment.

The issue at the moment is that three Gospels each present a homecoming scene within Nazareth. The question at the moment is whether each of these Gospel presentations is consistent internally, according to the continuity and contingencies of its own narratively constructed story world. Have these Gospels each successfully narrated a homecoming scene that belongs appropriately at the particular phase of the narrative storyline into which each writer has placed it?

In Mark and Matthew, the homecoming scene falls during John's imprisonment and several episodes after the disciples have been called and begun following Jesus consistently. In Mark's Gospel, the disciples are explicitly mentioned as being present (6:1), although no such mention appears in Matthew's nearly identical version (13:54-58). As mentioned above, the most obvious difference between these and Luke's presentation is that nobody tries to kill Jesus in Mark or Matthew's homecoming scene. In narrative terms, the key distinctions are character and story time. Mark and Matthew feature their scene in alignment with continuity, which is during the phase of the storyline when Jesus is normally accompanied by his disciples. Again, Mark even states this explicitly. They have all come to Nazareth with him.

However, in Luke's version, the homecoming scene is the first particular episode narrated upon Jesus' return into Galilee. Two brief episodes later, Jesus meets and calls Peter, James, and John. From that moment on in Luke's narrative, the disciples are regular fixtures in most scenes. Prior to that moment, Luke has only narrated two episodes of ministry in Galilee, but there is no reason to suppose an extremely unprecedented "flash forward" at Nazareth was the Gospel writer's secret intention. To the contrary, the nature of Jesus' homecoming scene in Luke's Gospel is such that inclusion *after* the disciples had been called would seem utterly problematic.

From a narrative standpoint, Luke cannot - without elaborate justification - selectively locate the homecoming mob scene within any phase of story time *after* the twelve have begun following Jesus. This point applies equally to the arresting scene in Gethsemane, where Luke goes through an elaborate explanation about Jesus' rebuking his followers' swordsmanship and then speaks to the chief priests before going away with them peacefully. If the soldiers came to arrest Jesus and his twelve 'blue collar' fishermen *didn't* make some kind of a protest, we'd rightfully take serious issue with Luke on that point. As it happens, Luke's homecoming mob scene is not encumbered by this same necessity of narrative explanation.

In short, Luke doesn't have to explain why the twelve don't interact with the Nazarene mob because Luke has located this scene in the phase of Galilean story time *before* Jesus had called his disciples to begin following him. There are two ways of looking at this narrative convenience. On the one hand, if Luke believed the mob action was an historical event, then its inclusion in the scene (de facto) has rather dictated to Luke precisely which phases of story time would or would not be appropriate for the temporal location of this scene, continuity-wise. If a mob really got to Jesus in Galilee, that kind of thing most plausibly would have occurred *before* Jesus called the disciples. On the other hand, if Luke has consciously invented the mob action ("from whole cloth" as it were) then the mob's inclusion likewise imposes the very same requirement as above. Fact or fiction, a narrative is representation of a plausible reality. Fact or fiction, when Luke determines to feature the mob seizing Jesus, Luke must place this episode in the phase of story time *before* Jesus' twelve (!) disciples begin following him everywhere. (How many Nazarene men, should the reader suppose, would have stood up against Jesus' whole entourage? And how many would it take to push past them and hold them back while dragging Jesus up towards a cliff?)

The story presented by Luke is entirely different than the story presented by Mark and Matthew.

Now, to answer the question at top: Did the disciples go with Jesus when he went to Nazareth?

Without appealing to historicity, the first answer is obviously that in Luke's story they did NOT go to Nazareth and yet in Mark or Matthew's story they did. Without appealing to historicity, that's the end of this inquiry. However, with considerations of historicity, this question's answer would depend upon whether one or both scenes might reflect one or more historical events. The old debates on this point were generally based in positivism, framing themselves as "Did Jesus visit Nazareth once or twice?" and so forth. As a matter of fact, that framing is actually as helpful as anything for illustrating why positivism ought to get buried forever. In the Gospel texts, we have possibly one or two accounts of Jesus' homecoming/s. But in real life - which does not necessarily align with OR automatically contradict the accounts of our texts - Jesus may have had zero homecomings, or three, or possibly more. As the fourth Gospel notes, "Jesus did and said many things..." so who's to say he did not have five, twelve, or seventeen ministerial homecomings? At any rate, whether historically or purely narrative-wise, the idea that each potential homecoming could have gone differently is entirely plausible, especially if you change the major practical conditions of each visit from one event to the next.

Finally, to return strictly and purely to narrative concerns, I will close with a related observation.

It is probably due to heavily entrenched positivism that scholars have long tended to speak about these two very differently narrated scenes as if they referred to one single homecoming event. From the standpoint of redaction criticism, even Darrell Bock discussed the literary issues as a matter of pure compositional selectivity, leaving tangible issues of situation and character strictly within the domain of historical concerns.

As should be apparent by now, I believe the category of narrative is more of a crossover that contains something of both the traditional literary world and the actual physical world. Narrative is not automatically history, but narrative is not merely linguistic, either. Narrative is the linguistic representation of a plausible story world that follows physical and historical rules. We can no longer subscribe to positivism that restricts the story world to being merely the precise words of a text. Aside from that not being how historical narrative works, that's not even how fictional narrative works.

From a narrative standpoint, we must conclude these two scenes depict two very different potential realities. We conclude this because of the narrative elements in each which are so completely divergent from one another. If Luke has "modified the content of Mark's text", he has also modified the characters involved, adjusted which phase of story time the episode belongs in, and introduced a major conflict that did not exist in the previous version. One could also argue for differing focalizations and themes, but character, setting and plot/conflict are the major elements in any story world so the argument as is should be easily granted.

Considering why Luke adapts much of the text of Marks' episode remains a valid exegetical concern, and perhaps primarily a philological concern. Considering why Luke would cut and paste so meticulously as few ancient authors before Tatian had ever attempted or would ever imagine attempting, that's a valid concern for textual criticism and historical reasoning. But considering aspects of grammar or textual conflation to be more important or equally important to these narrative concerns in which the entire character of a basic story - not an elaborate emplotment or slanted narrativization, mind you, but three of the most basic elements of any story: setting, characters, and plot/conflict - that seems invalid in the extreme.

Historical narrative does not always or automatically convey a fair, honest, or accurate representation of historical events. Discussing these things in narrative terms can sometimes be a step towards making historical judgments but such discussion of narrative as narrative also has great value in itself, as this post is attempting to illustrate.

If the Gospel writer is viewed primarily as a textual editor or as a theologically minded exegete, then the Gospel redaction process will be reconstructed with such concerns being supposedly primary in the mind of the Gospel writer himself. But if the Gospel writer is viewed primarily as a storyteller - as someone who employed textual conflation and theological nuance when it suited their ends, but someone whose main objective was to construct a plausible, inspiring, and realisitc account of things which he wanted people to believe Jesus had actually done - then narrative concerns may possibly and perhaps normally hold greater value for interpretation, as opposed to previous ways of examining these issues.

All in all, these points should leave critics and scholars without further justification for discussing the homecoming scenes of Luke and Matthew & Mark as if Luke's presentation is merely a doctored version of Mark's. Although much text was borrowed, the narrative structure and content is so drastically altered that the narrative questions must trump. At the very least, once these issues are recognized, no scholar who believes Luke has begun from Mark's text should ever speak in terms of Luke telling a different version of Mark's story. With character, plot/conflict and temporal setting being so completely different, the only remaining commonality, apart from a bit of narration and dialogue, is their physical location.

In other words, in proper narrative terms, these episodes do not present the same story at all.

August 7, 2014

Memory & Narrative, 6

In terms of narrative and causality, history and memory are usually somewhat at odds. The task of historians is to explain complex reality but the first task of memory, of remembering the infinitely unwieldy past, is to retain much by a little. Memory must be efficient - to reduce a life into a story, to retain words and images merely representative of an experience, to preserve by conflating and distorting when necessary. Where historians proliferate documents and look to say as much as possible, remembering can only hope to wrap everything up inside of whatever stands out. Historians can talk for centuries about a day, and memory can hold a precious world within a name.

In other words, history is endlessly complicated while memory is constantly simplifying.

For better or worse, this rabbit hole seems to go pretty far down. 

To explain the past more accurately requires greater complexity, but to remember the past more indelibly (and, as always, efficiently) requires greater simplicity. However, complexity and simplicity are strictly relative concepts, and this point leaves both history and memory in need of some reliable grounding for their, shall we say, respective perspectives. We can say "the truth is usually more complicated" and we can say "memory distorts helpfully" (like maps, or stories, or drawings, or most any figural representations) but in each of these statements we imply something of an opposite pole. Yet those opposites do not exist. Reality is more complex than perception, okay, and the interpreted past is all that can be preserved, quite correct. But where is the nexus, or the root of this strange "past/reality", this more complex, always interpreted past and/or reality?

What miraculous quantum bedrock allows that we can both realize the past was more complex than it seemed and yet also recognize the remembered past as that same past in some form despite both misperceptions and memory distortions?

If simplicity and complexity were purely relative, to one another, then how could we succeed at such cross-purposed contortions?

If Memory and History are opposed in their narrativizations, then how can they be so very closely related? What "reality" do they both begin trying to re-present? Or, at what point can our analysis of all this find a practical landing to settle on? Is there some non-relative point between too much complexity and too much simplicity? How do we both realize there was so much more and yet also recognize all that as so much less? What is our 'homing frequency' (so to speak) for knowing anything with confidence about the remembered past, in reality?

Causality provides one way of examining this problem, and I believe it provides a very worthy solution. We advance by considering contingency.

Causality has an underlying objectivity. This foundation stands out, empirically and on its own merits, despite both philosophical idealism and subjective prioritizing. As is well known, historians locate this aspect of objectivity in their distinction between causes "necessary" and "sufficient". They say, we can often observe that basic contingent conditions are "necessary" for a result to occur, although those conditions alone were not "sufficient" to cause the result. In common experience, we know that sometimes Point A precedes Point B by necessity. If there had not been A,there could not have come B. In such cases, of course, we cannot say that A causes B but we can see a way in which A leads to B. In terms of causality, we call A "necessary but not sufficient" for B to occur as a result. In other words, B was contingent on A, or Point A was itself an observable contingency of the eventual result at Point B.

Such contingency, I declare, is the aforementioned "quantum bedrock" - the critical root of real narrativity (lived experience) that human beings can freely minimize or inflate. In less dramatic terminology, I am merely suggesting this contingency* is just "necessary causality" - the root of causality which can be made more complex by historians and which can alternately be simplified in our personal, collective, and cultural memories. 

(Note: As a more general term, philosophically speaking, contingency itself can be quite a relative property. I'll address that view as well in the near future, the application of which may bear Leibniz-ian significance, but for now it should be clear enough what I mean. A "contingency" is any dynamic condition which allows possible change, or any static condition which holds potential for change. Think about anything larger than marbles and we should understand one another, I think.)

Now, consider a case in which A leads to B. The historian's job is to explain how that eventual development or progression took place. The historian asks questions and finds more to examine. Causation grows in complexity, but the critical root of Point A's basic contingency remains plainly the same, throughout any rational analysis. However, in popular memory, we find the same critical root being processed by the precise inverse of the function of history. Instead of challenging or explaining the relation between point A and point B, the task of memory is simply to preserve that progression, to remember points A and B, both as a relation together as well as each for their own sake. Therefore, the mnemonic function simplifies.

If a mnemonic narrative of this event happens to 'inflate' causality, so that "necessary" is seen as "sufficient", so that Point B now becomes the presumed consequence of Point A, that mnemonic story becomes informationally twice as memorable, if not more so. As I hope you recall we established during post #3, this increase comes not because causality is a magic bullet for remembering things but demonstrably because the declaration of causality embeds both sequence and connectedness into the nature of these 'facts' themselves.

The historian fusses correctly that sequence does not imply consequence, but the mnemonic narrative features dubious consequence that absolutely implies actual sequence, and that, by the way is narrativity. Sequence is the experience of temporality. Sequence is order, the only logical aspect which 'makes sense' of the past. What is more, sequence happens to be the sole, solitary commonality between both form and content of our narrative recollections. It is how we tell stories. It is how we think, shape and understand stories. Sequence is the only comprehensible way we ever manage to keep track of time, times, and Time. However, sequence without consequence requires records and archives and studies and libraries. To remember the past without emphasizing causality would be like trying to memorize the library of congress by the Dewey Decimal System. There is too much of it all to remember without sequence. To recall sequence also would become exponentially demanding.

Sequence without consequence is like being asked to memorize the order in which Van Gough produced all his paintings, but without knowing any details about how he progressed as an artist or what motivated his creative development, taste, and choices. Even with consequence, Van Gough's oeuvre may not be easily memorized per chronology, but even concocting a story, inventing explanations with his sequenced paintings at hand, would vastly reduce the amount of mnemonic work needed.

Sequence does not imply consequence, but contingency does imply sequence. To increase memorability, we inflate baseline contingencies jnto full blown causalities. Necessities inflate to sufficiencies. Thus, consequence orders the past. 

To successfully remember the past, as a four-dimensional past, as a developing story, as a reality that was narratively shaped and progressively experienced in sequence... the most efficient method of mnemonic preservation is to presume, to entrench, and to reify causality.

Memory inflates sequence into consequence for multiple reasons, one of which is the preservation of sequence. But the 'quantum bedrock' beneath all our narrativizings and oversimplifications is any reasonably observable series of contingencies. This is what journalists most often describe. This is the practical parallel of logical proof. This is what historians typically argue about least. ("If not a cause, A was at least B's antecedent." We literally back off from causality by deflation to sequence!)

When causality feels certain, from a subjective position, then "Plot" can be the stability within variations of memory. When causality seems dubious, from an objective position, then contingency yet preserves a stability of order. Without subjectivity, perhaps all change is to some degree stabilizing for memory... But I'm getting ahead of myself with that bit.

To conclude:

Hume was fully correct about causation being inscrutable. To a large degree, in the historical sense, causality is just "a gag we use to hold the game together". What we're actually doing, mnemonically, is "perceiving time in terms of change". We're orienting and re-orienting ourselves within time by remembering change

The truth is, there is no (objective) causality, there is no such thing as Time, and there is no actuality for "the past" (so to speak). But absolutely, profoundly, and unequivocally (albeit equivocatingly), we most definitely do find ways to preserve memories about change. And mostly, we do this by observing contingencies.

Let all that sink in for as long as you like.

In my next post, I plan to illustrate these phenomena thoroughly...

August 3, 2014

Remembering Contingencies

Almost five months ago I read a line in Richard Bauckham's "John for Readers of Mark" (1997) that stopped me cold - that John's audience would not be likely "to know from oral Gospel traditions" that Jesus' ministry in Galilee "followed the imprisonment of John". The day I read that, I blogged about it, here. But I kept re-reading the chapter. Bauckham was talking about reader knowledge and oral tradition, but my mind was thinking in terms of memory theory. He suggested John 3:24 enabled Mark's readers to realize the story was "still in the period between Mark 1:13 and Mark 1:14". 

He was so right and so very wrong at the same time. And I hadn't expected that. But that's not why this surprise was such a strange experience for me.

On the one hand, this was personal. I have shared the experience of sitting down at a desk with papers all spread out, figuring out how the chronology could/would align, that is, of course, assuming the content itself to be valid. In fact, for those who accept historicity of the datum in question, Bauckham is absolutely correct that John 3:24 enables us to fit that episode between Mark 1:13 & 1:14. For those of us who can sit down and examine these things with materials and sophistication, these are valid points to observe. In some ways, I'd been waiting a long time to find anyone else writing intelligently about this kind of undertaking.

On the other hand, to speak in such terms sounded almost as if Bauckham thought John's readers were sitting down to access the Gospel texts like we might today. Honestly, it began to seem that RB wasn't nearly as interested in what John's readers did with Mark as he wanted to suggest that it's what we should be doing with the Gospels. So while I trusted that his thesis was sincere, and that he knew ancient readers weren't working on texts quite like modern folks do. What kept bothering me, at the most basic level, was neither of those points. The troublesome idea was that RB was suggesting John's original readers could do this kind of precise feathering in their minds, simply because they had previously read or listened to readings of Mark. 

This was no longer a question of the early christians' knowledge, literacy or scholarship. This was now a question of memory. Of course, in 1997, RB wasn't talking about "memory" and if I'd discovered this article some years previously, I wouldn't have been thinking about memory. But to consider in practical terms what readers knew about history, about stories, about the past? That's a memory issue.

On the one hand, it made sense for Bauchkam to frame the issue as a question of familiarity. It's about "the way in which John's narrative would be read/heard by an audience very familiar with Mark." Rather than promoting harmonization, he suggests readers "familiar with Mark" could easily see the two narratives as being "complementary". Again, the historical combination in view here is an idea well worth promoting, these days. But is this what early christians were doing back then? In less than 25 pages, I counted eighteen times RB talks about what was or wasn't "familiar". Again, it's obvious RB wasn't actually suggesting they were sitting down at desks using modern methods to test the compatibility of chronological references in the Gospels. But then, what exactly did he think they were doing?

Familiarity is about what someone knows well from experience. It's about what someone, or what some group of people, collectively, remembers from personal experience. But memory isn't quite so photographic. And even if they had memorized Mark's narrative sequence verbatim, that still isn't quite the same thing as equating it to "the past" (neither the remembered past nor the actual past). The challenge for me very quickly surpassed figuring out what Bauckham really thought they'd been doing. The important question, in the light of both memory and narrative theory of recent years, was to ask for myself: what did *I* think that John's readers had actually been doing.

Bauckahm's salient point is to look at John 3:24 and inquire. "For John had not yet been thrown into prison". What is that clarification doing here? 

Later on, Bauckham correlates the accounts of Jesus' feeding the 5,000 and points out that the fourth gospel next features Jesus speaking of John the Baptist in past tense, while Mark's Gospel places the beheading of John just before that miraculous feeding. It's at this point Bauckham lost me, and convinced me for certain that another hypothesis is required, when he said, "readers/hearers are likely to have been very familiar indeed with the narrative sequence of the only written Gospel they had previously known." (emphasis mine). 

Oh, good grief! Chronology and historical reference do not simply equate to a narrative sequence. I've blogged about this many times in years past and a few times more recently. I'm according this topic new vigor, of late, but it's hardly a new opinion of mine. At any rate, while the "narrative sequence" of John's death and feeding the 5,000 isn't a valid reason to conclude anything about history, the contingency of John's death, as a necessary precursor for subsequent developments, absolutely is a valid reason. 

It's not about one particular picnic, although if we grant the picnic historicity then it's popularity wouldn't hurt. But that's just to be fair. No, what is far more important is that there are clues in the background of that story and the subsequent narrativizations which follow that story in all four of the Gospels. There are aspects of historical context which befit a time after John had been killed. If Antipas started looking for Jesus because John was dead; If Jesus crossed over to Bethsaida because Philip's region was safe; If the advancing plot - Jesus skirting around Galilee for a while and then finally heading into Judea - reflects all of these details in a historical progression of developing circumstance; If all that has merit, then - and only then - can we begin to work with the idea that John's narrative at this point may align in some ways with Mark's narrative at this point. 

But again, the realistic push from all this, for Bauckham, seems to remain focused on what we can do with our historical study of these texts, today. And I'm for that. But these days I'm more interested in considering what the Gospels' original readers may have remembered.

If John's original readers were able to make use of the reference at 3:24 - and it's existence alone seems like a good enough reason to suppose that (the writer expected, at least) that they could - then perhaps my illustration of contingency, above, might also illustrate how we ought to expect readers to mentally join together such particular "plot points" of two narratives.

We do not become photo-mnemonically "familiar" with the "narrative sequence" of two texts.

Rather, we remember the basic contingencies of a story. Then, hearing a new version of that story, we can compare only the logical consequence of events, using one previously remembered rendition to judge the contents of a current oral performance presenting a second version of the same basic story.

It's obvious Bauckham wanted to work from the text, and for various reasons. But at one step he said readers "knew" that Jesus' rise to popularity in Galilee had corresponded with John's imprisonment, saying this reader knowledge was not from oral tradition but from familiarity with Mark. And then we find Bauckham's hypothetical audience has remembered an entire "narrative sequence" verbatim, from simply hearing a text (however repeatedly) but somehow this same remembering audience cannot hold in mind a simple one-to-one correspondence between major contingencies, simply because those stories were renditions from non-text-based oral tradition?

On that day, I felt I'd determined something for sure that I'd been leaning toward for a while. A story's audience doesn't remember verbatim any narrative sequence. We don't remember full narratives. We remember contingency.

That one thought has governed virtually all of my thinking in daily research, since then.

  **********

And now we come to the part of this post where most who are still reading will jump off.

For the five people who may come along someday in the near or far future, and actually care strongly about such things... Or on the random chance that something happens to me and none of this comes to a culminating fruition... In other words, so that someone else can pick up where I leave off if they care to... And since this is far shorter than sharing the dozens and dozens of pages I've journaled since then...

Here is a timeline of my tweets since that day. Most of them are directly relevant here.

No, seriously. I've been using twitter since then as a "poor man's copyright" and as a personal trail of breadcrumbs for the development of my thinking. Like a blog, it's also a challenge to post tentative thoughts that were clear and succinct and worth sharing. By that measure, of course, perhaps not quite all the below tweets should be here. But here they are. Soon, hopefully, I'll get back to making progress on the substantive arguments I've been tentatively building and sharing here, recently. From March 18 to August 3, many of the blog posts (also tweeted below) are related, as well.

This probably ought to be a book, or three. But someone else may have to write it.

I admit, this feels slightly ridiculous, but that's what time capsules are like.

Without further ado... Here's the relevant tweet archive:

Mar 18    
Jesus and John's Dungeon Days: Did oral tradition align Jesus' chronology with John's… http://goo.gl/fb/fPFI7 

A "narrative sequence" is linear and selective, distinctly unlike real time event sequence. But technically, the term is redundant.

To narrate is to sequence. Even "nonlinear" n's are linear to the reader, a literary time-traveler whose wristwatch is the page count.

Contingency is what links story with history. Fate vs Agency. Some see winners & losers, some see *how* the cards were played.

Misapprehending contingency leads to the 'Great Man' theory. Cause of change? Alexander. Napoleon. Reagan. Perception > Bias.

Perception bends storytelling like gravity bends light. Was Jesus THE cause of his movement or were conditions 'just ripe for it'? Yes.

Mar 22    
"the [ancient] author cited texts from memory.. often introducing a slight change to show that he had done so" Grafton, via Whittaker

Mar 24    
Constructive Misquotation in Antiquity: This is not a paraphrase, not a mistake, not an… http://goo.gl/fb/oMbVA 

Mar 25    
Narrating the past engages reader memory to gain credibility. No audience is wholly ignorant of attention worthy non-fiction.

Mar 26    
A story of the past must challenge and affirm audience memory. The more it aims to challenge, the more it needs to affirm.

It should therefore be axiomatic that history writers always bear in mind some accounting for non-ignorant readers.

*Assuming the story in question proved relevant or worth preserving or was at least recognizably about the past. #tautology #axiom

Mar 27    
The Future of Historiology: Where is the study of "doing History" headed? Three books I've… http://goo.gl/fb/M8sLv 

Mar 28    
The narcissist sees past and present in his own image. Mature historical thinking teaches us to do the opposite. - S.Wineburg

Mar 29    
A Liturgy of Literality… Uniformity in Language… & Protestant Positivism: The more Christians… http://goo.gl/fb/AjzHU 

Apr 2      
for a historian of memory, the "truth" of a given memory lies not so much in its "factuality" as in its "actuality". - Jan Assmann, 1997

Apr 3      
Why is Nazareth not Amazed?: Luke 4 *doesn't* say the Nazarenes were amazed at Jesus… http://goo.gl/fb/bC4x3 

Apr 5      
To explain is to redress the surprising until it seems unsurprising. Shallow history is therapy for the traumatically perplexed. (1/2)

(2/2) To research is to review the familiar until it becomes unfamiliar. Mature history tests our ability to fathom differentiation.

Apr 6      
Chronology in the Fourth Gospel: As Narrative isn't quite History, so narrative Sequence is… http://goo.gl/fb/heVJ8 

Apr 8      
Time is an aspect of narrative, not nature. We debate this bc Physicists struggle to accept that much of what they do is Poetic.

"Light is both wave and particle" is science and poetry. To understand and describe the indescribable, a Physicist must be a Poet.

Apr 11    
Memorialized causality typically refracts genuine temporal contingencies. Narrative propter hoc, ergo historical post hoc.

T/F? For a historical narrative to be competitively plausible, it must frame itself within a recognizable chronology. T/F?

Apr 13    
Present Needs that drive Antiquarianism: History "for its own sake" isn't popular until it… http://goo.gl/fb/Cs6eD 

Inasmuch as theologians have undertaken to account for implications found in the Gospels, it seems fitting for historians also...

Apr 15    
Impressionist horses beat realist unicorns.

Narrator: "propter hoc". Ergo, post hoc.

The claim 'A caused B' fails immediately if an audience knows B preceded A. Credibility depends on aligning with recognized timelines.

Apr 17    
"Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood." GGM

to transform something fantastic into something credible, tell it straight, like reporters and country folk - GGM

Apr 20    
"A genuine historical approach should allow for change and innovation as well as indebtedness and derivation..." Larry Hurtado

Apr 25    
A world of constant change. A deep psychological need for stability. Well played, God. #HoldMeJesus

Apr 27    
Time is a Story. Position is Relative. Relationship is Activity. Movement is Change. So if God is and does, then Everlasting is Dynamic.

Apr 28    
Chronology (chronography) is contrary to real temporality. - Ricoeur
If we think in pictures, do they move or are they GIFs?
Are non-static visual memories more like a motion picture or a graphic novel?

Apr 29    
Ancient reckoning by regnal years was most concise accounting of major continuities AND contingencies. Stability, Turnover, Stability, ...

A.U.C. (Roman Chronology) was a radical shift in timekeeping, asserting state continuity as supreme despite leadership turnover.

In History & Memory, major contingencies sequence themselves, leaving Emplotment to characterize and embellish, or else entirely fabricate.

D.K.Goodwin may/must Emplot Lincoln's journey from Emancipation to Ammendment, but she cannot alter that sequence. "Inherent Contingency"

For a contingent sequencing to be false, the contingency must be fabricated, but if the contingency is historical, then so is the sequence.

The "contrived connections" of Emplotment sometimes create sequence but sometimes merely build upon inherent contingency.

Any Social Memory aims at continuity, so its acknowledged discontinuities must reveal key historical contingencies, too big to ignore.

If any point I just tweeted has already been argued, then please, someone please tell me where...

Apr 30    
Basic Chronology is not troubled by narrative selectivity. We build upon the inherent contingency of reliable claims.

May 4     
Pulpit & Cathedral were once High Technology, the cutting edge device for mass communications in late antiquity.

A congregation being an audience is like a dinner party sucked into their phones. Disengage from the stage. Gather together.

five Impressionist Horses vs one Realist Pegasus: Which painting best represents what horses… http://goo.gl/fb/B3ziQ 

May 5     
A non-fiction artist must alter genre & style to fit substantive essentials. Otherwise, just write fiction. - Pyne, Voice & Vision

"Falsifications to make a text 'read better' are the result not of too much literary imagination but of too little." Pyne, Voice & Vision

May 8     
Willful ignorance is intellectually invincible. And so is determined belief.

Be deeply skeptical and keep a positive attitude. Doubt, but hope. Build. Don't destroy.

May 9     
On some level, History is just Literature plus Logistics. #oversimplified #butonlyslightly #whengrantingtextualreliability

*if there are such things as social and emotional and ideological "logistics". #sotospeak

If God's name is not hallowed, then whose kingdom is it you expect is coming?

May 10   
Contesting History's Banishment of Characterization: In once sentence: Biography is valid, so… http://goo.gl/fb/vcgCG 

May 12   
Our concept of Time is an illusion created by stories. Linear sequence is a restriction natural only to word flow.

Four Ways the Gospels Chronologize: OR: How Historical Fiction and Non-fiction Narratives… http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls 

The Gospels and Forrest Gump: Storytelling within the boundaries of Historical Background http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls 

The Gospels and Forrest Gump: Setting Stories against History's Backdrop http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls 

Gump saw Elvis, JFK, Nixon; Jesus met JtB, Antipas, Pilate. This is how historical narratives chronologize http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls 

What if most chronology is informal, non-numerical, and literary? http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls 

4 ways the Gospels Chronologize Story: Numbers, Names, Death & Irreversibility http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls 

May 21   
Historical narratives and how they informally chronologize http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls 

May 24   
on Sculpting Motion, or Narrating the Past: Quoting Jean-Paul Sartre in his conclusion of… http://goo.gl/fb/E3L4p 

1776, in London. The Americans declared Independence. Also, Gibbon published The Decline and Fall of the ***** Empire, Vol.1

May 25   
Understanding Time: Time is a central aspect of Narrative, and Narrative is the primary… http://goo.gl/fb/lkamn 

Carr observed that historians "must work through simplification, as well as through the multiplication of causes". And often, they do. (1/2)

So if simplifying causation is what historians do (or did) then we "must" un-simplify, but not discard, such kinds of explanations. (2/2)

"Professor Popper uses "historicism" as a catch-all for any opinion about history which he dislikes" (Carr, 1961) Rawr. Fshhht. #lovethis

Determinism: "If that had been different, this would be different." Realism: "If that had different, this MIGHT be different."

Carr disclaimed determinism by discussing "might-have-beens", but said different results *would* have required different causes. Um. Dude?

Carr, contra "Cleopatra's Nose", rightly sees accidents as causality, yet misses the point. We cannot account for all causes. Or free will.

Carr's advice, balanced, is good. Past developments had causes which we may observe but not fully prioritize. (Necessary. Never Sufficient.)

Carr is absolutely correct that "accident" causality prevails among history's "losers". And Marx (optimistically?) minimized "chance".

Carr brilliantly compares his critics' objections to causality (vs free will) to religious objections (vs divine will). #FalseDichotomies

"when somebody tells me that history is a chapter of accidents, I tend to suspect him of intellectual laziness or low intellectual vitality"

Carr: prioritizing causes is historical interpretation (yes) and accidents are causes (good) but accidents make poor interpretation (Whaa?)

Carr was not defending the possibility of historical knowledge but the right of historical authority, caring less for History than Story.

Carr rightly decried overemphasis on accidents but trivialized them categorically - not defending causality but his own storying preference.

Carr's open insistence that History should teach lessons shocks me, but I suppose promoting 'relevance' was fairly conservative in '61. (?)

Final thought - it's fun to see the holes in this debate anticipating both chaos theory and talk of emplotment. A History of Historiography!

Just finished Live Tweeting my reading of E.H. Carr's famous fifth chapter (on Causation) in What is History? (1961) #nowthistooishistory

May 26   
One more fun quote: "The nightmare quality of Kafka's novels lies in the fact that nothing... has any apparent cause" #trueenough #OOHscary

Narrative is linear. The past is continuous. Chronology is #piecewise.

May 28   
How to further Historical Thinking?: If "logistics" can be applied to social change… http://goo.gl/fb/QfWOX 

May 30   
"Fabula" - a memorial trace of a story that remains with the reader Mieke Bal, Narratology (3rd Ed.)

May 31   
"Only through stories and histories do we gain a catalogue of the humanly possible." - Vanhoozer, on Ricoeur http://bit.ly/RRk5s1 

"Ricoeur answers Kant's query: What is Man? by reading stories and histories which display the whole gamut of human possibilities." (2/2)

"The Gospels and Acts... theological documents, their accuracy cannot be taken for granted" As opposed to non-theological ancient docs?

Jun 1      
Correlation/Causation, Post hoc/Propter hoc, subsequent/consequent. A claim of the latter *DOES* at least evidence the former.

Purported causation is at least evidence of correlation. Blame or credit depends at *minimum* on position and timing.

Purported Causation, as Evidence of Correlation: Bad history often builds on good chronology… http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

Spin doctors muck less with chronology. They usually depend on it. http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

"Propter hoc", ergo post hoc. Historical fallacies as evidence of #RememberedChronology http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

Is Yoko to blame? No. But that bad history sells well because it's built upon good chronology. http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

Eisenhower campaigned on TV in '56, but JFK got 70 mil. views. Who did you think was first? #RememberedChronology. http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

Narrators inflate causality. Necessary becomes Sufficient. Thus, purported causation may imply actual correlation. http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

Rock 'n Roll predates Elvis Presley, but not as far as most people knew. #RememberedChronology http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

Past narratives are most vulnerable on event sequence. Good & bad histories all build on #RememberedChronology http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

#RememberedChronology is kind of mostly a narrative thing. http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

Before Reagan, Cold War. After Reagan, No Cold War. That's BAD HISTORY... but a recognizable chronology. http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

"One needs to show, on any hypothesis... how we ended up with all the ancient portraits that we have." - Steve Mason (2008)

Scholars cherry picked Josephus bc he "was not viewed as an intelligent craftsmen" but we must explain how J came to his views - Mason (2/2)

Jun 2      
Historical narratives set stories against the known past. http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls  #RememberedChronology

Narrative vs Chronology in the Fourth Gospel http://goo.gl/fb/heVJ8 

Storytelling within the boundaries of Historical Background http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls  #RememberedChronology

Chronology in the Fourth Gospel is NOT the same as Narrative Sequence http://goo.gl/fb/heVJ8 

Forrest Gump saw Elvis, JFK, Nixon; Jesus met JtB, Antipas, Pilate. http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls  #RememberedChronology

I don't always get by @TCULibrary but whenever I do they are always fantastic!!!

"Propter hoc" ergo, post hoc. Purported causality implies actual correlation. http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI  #RememberedChronology

Necessary though not sufficient - Inflated Causality builds on reliable chronology http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI 

The writer has rhetoric and the reader has memory. Their interplay *IS* the tension between narrative and irony.

...because a writer attempts to be definite and precise, but a reader's knowledge is always fuzzy and personalized. (2/2)

Spin doctors engage reader memory to gain credibility. Bad history builds on good timelines. http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI  #RememberedChronology

Consequent or Subsequent, a proffered causality expects audience agreement on timeline. http://goo.gl/fb/VYTAI  #RememberedChronology

Narrative agendas have to contend against audience memory. Most obvious pitfall? Sequence. http://goo.gl/fb/FYTAI  #RememberedChronology

One psycho-social advantage of causality is efficiency. With reasons for things, there's less to explain, less to remember, less to re-tell.

If it walks (&tc) like a duck, it might not be a duck, but it should be impossible to conclude that nobody *thought* it was a duck.

Jun 3      
Ricoeur: "Knowing that people of the past formulated expectations, predictions, desires, fears, and projects..." (1/2)

"...is to fracture historical determinism by retrospectively reintroducing contingency into history,” - Ricoeur (2/2)

Jun 5      
If the first hearers of Gospel texts had been oral tradents, how much of the plot line ('fabula') had been spoilered?

Did the first hearers of Gospel texts have any prior knowledge about Jesus or his basic life story?

Jun 6      
What narratives are neither rhetorical nor historical?: Narrative criticism seems designed to… http://goo.gl/fb/dnDw9 

Jun 7      
Don't most historical narratives deliberately engage reader knowledge about the past? http://goo.gl/fb/dnDw9 

"Not being what it is a picture of is not a defect in pictures" - Arthur Danto, Narration and Knowledge (ch.7)

"an artist who thinks of painting as actually duplicating his subjects... does not want to do art, he wants to be God" - Danto, N&K ch.7

Jun 8      
How can Irony oppose Narrative when we've had ironic narrators? True authority can be interrupted & contradicted, yet maintain perspective.

What if Irony only opposes Narrative when we insist on a single story, a single voice, a single author?

Found online: "I went to a talk about [X] which was very interesting, but of course I mention it here only to nitpick."

It is what it is, if you know what I mean, but don't take my word for it.

"The relevance of dramatic irony for historical narratives is obvious... the gap between intentions and outcomes." - Martin Jay

Political statements of police states are polyvalent statutes against the polyform status of hoi polloi statures. But people aren't stable.

Jun 9      
Language is for (1) representing reality and (2) achieving social objectives. Our management of this tension defines our position in life.

"to understand unintended consequences makes sense only if we can identify what the original intentions were" - M.Jay, translating W.Booth

No irony w/o authorial intention - Booth, on any Text :: No irony w/o action having intention - Jay, on the Past

"Skinner’s stress on the matrix of necessary conventions in which acts take place allows us to get beyond... (1/2)

...the idea, as he puts it, that 'every agent has a privileged access to his own intentions'" - M.Jay

Jun 14    
Exercise: write a story without time-words (hour, day, time, a while, etc) in which a precise amount of time, having passed, matters.

Fiction is History's "compliment and ally in the universal human effort to reflect on the mystery of temporality." P. Ricoeur, via H. White

Early Jesus FAQs: How did Jesus engage thousands? Consider the twelve. When asked about Jesus… http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

Jun 15    
"There is no relation which... makes one idea more readily recall another than the relation between cause and effect." Hume

The earliest stories about Jesus are whatever Galileans told one another about Jesus while he was still alive. http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

Which FAQs did Jesus' disciples hear most? The Gospels might know. http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

"our physical experience of motion in space is the source of our conceptualization of a temporal sequence." M.Horsdal, Telling Lives

"Community FAQs" asked of Jesus' disciples, as loosely preserved by the Gospels http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

Jun 16    
Jesus' Disciples must have fielded FAQs. The Gospels likely preserve some of those Questions. http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

Do questions for Jesus in the Gospels *represent* FAQs actually fielded by Jesus' Disciples? http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

The *kinds* of Frequently Asked Questions actually fielded by Jesus... AND his Galilean entourage. http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

Suppose the Twelve fielded FAQs with varying answers. The FAQ patterns may be preserved in the Gospels. http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

in a certain way, Homer's Odyssey is only a rhetorical amplification of the statement, "Ulysses comes home to Ithaca" - G.Genette

Dramatic Irony is frequently temporal. Not merely what did characters know, but *when* did they know it?

Jun 17    
When the crowd had to ask Jesus' disciples about Jesus, what were their FAQs? http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

What questions did people ask Jesus' disciples? Gospel traces of Jesus Community FAQs http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

Jun 18    
Archelaus' brief reign and the district of Galilee - an exercise in rhetoric, irony and… http://goo.gl/fb/VnRtG 

Jun 19    
Causality and Story-shaped Memories: We observe subsequence, perceive it as consequence, and… http://goo.gl/fb/5Rp9c 

Jun 20    
Story - a coping strategy to deal with the fact that we'd like to remember the past but there's too much of it.

Jun 21    
Narrative as Sequential Art, always "linear" to the audience http://goo.gl/fb/hnoCY 

Narrative - story Narration - storytelling Narrativity - story-likeness Narratology - soup to effing nuts

Jun 22    
Two NF Rules - Don't make stuff up & don't omit relevant stuff. Otherwise, DO craft your presentation artfully. Capture whatever you can.

A Jesus made in our image will die with our movement. The Jesus who Resurrects is not ours but God's. The Gospels' otherness reveals him.

Ankersmit's philosophy of history began from "the fact that historians were quite successful at what they did" http://bit.ly/1nvLKHL 

"Ankersmit tries to assimilate the useful aspects of the linguistic turn to the current body of historical theory" http://bit.ly/1m2v0Xl 

"the real revolution over the past 40 years or so in historical theory has not been postmodernism [but] memory studies" (2/3)

"we are now in the post-postmodernist period of historical theory – hadn’t someone better tell the postmodernists?" (3/3)

If someone is twisting the past to suit a present agenda, their methodology isn't the problem. http://bit.ly/1uV1Uyt 

Purporting causation *is* evidence of correlation. Bad history often relies on good chronology. http://bit.ly/1qDm2rf 

Memory & Narrative, 1: A story is a coping strategy to deal with the fact that we'd like to… http://goo.gl/fb/5HxPo 

Jun 23    
The author can choose his disguises, but never to disappear - Wayne Booth, 1961

"We're bound to learn from the past... we might as well try to do so systematically." J. L. Gaddis

Jun 24    
"maps have in common [w/] the works of historians, a packaging of vicarious experience" John Lewis Gaddis

Jun 25    
"The philosophy of history has had far more attention than its philology." http://goo.gl/fb/M8sLv 

Gaddis: "historical sciences" include geology, astronomy, paleontology, evol.biology – deriving processes from structures (& vice versa)

Jun 26    
Recognizably "historical" narratives *must* conform in *some* ways with reader knowledge. #RememberedChronology

Jun 27    
If you know the basic outline of a character's personal history, then story-location can indicate historical-time. (1/2)

Alexander at Pella. Napoleon on Elba. Washington at Valley Forge. JFK in Dallas. Story location --> #RememberedChronology (2/2)

Archelaus, in Judea, had not yet sailed to Rome. Story location --> Chronological Moment (3/2!)

And thus, Galilee was still a 'merh' (district, subregion) of the kingdom. So God, in Mt.2:22, *foreknew* Galilean independence. (4/2!!)

A rhetoric of historical narrative plays on reader knowledge. I re-emplot your mnemonic outline of history, your fabula of prior chronicles.


The historical background in Mt.2 is not merely scenery or symbol. It engages reader memory of a watershed year for dramatic-ironic effect.

Questons posed to Jesus in the Gospels... as written up FAQs the twelve had to answer when Jesus wasn't available. http://goo.gl/fb/WqCJ5 

Jun 29    
Memory & Narrative, 2: Intentional remembering requires efficiency. That's my primary… http://goo.gl/fb/CUj0o 

Jun 30    
Is it possible that the nature of Memory is responsible for the invention of Story? http://goo.gl/fb/CUj0o 

20th century: social science sought Newtonian predictability while actual sciences embraced storying. Meanwhile, history became literature.

Chaos theory scuttles forecasting in soc.sci. & history, except in *retrospect*, so Narrative can be a "sophisticated research tool" -Gaddis

Gaddis - re: learning no lessons from 'accidental causation', Carr "managed to confuse not only his readers but himself."

The Gospels and Forrest Gump: How writers chronologize historical narrative http://goo.gl/fb/X7wls 

Jul 1       
Gaddis: "I would go so far as to define the word 'context' as the dependency of sufficient causes upon necessary causes." Wow.

Who would bother explaining "how we got from A to B" unless their audience already knew *something* about points A and B?

Jul 2       
A sequence is a story but a plot makes it memorable. #intention #projection #causation Connectedness makes remembering more efficient.

"The king died and the queen died" makes 4 points to remember: King died, queen died, this is connected, which thing happened first. (1/3)

Introduce causality - "The queen died of grief when the king died". Now story-memory requires only two points: what happened & why. (2/3)

Since causality implies both connectedness and order, it facilitates efficient remembering of multiple details as one single story. (3/3)

To chronologize any historical narrative is to interact (knowingly or otherwise) with an audience's memory of pivotal transitions.


Jul 7       
Memory & Narrative can rescue "Reader Knowledge" from Positivism. Historical characters/events invoke story-shaped memories, not "facts".

Historical writing is constrained by what writers believe readers think they recall. Surviving texts have often picked 'low hanging fruit'.

Jul 8       
Historical narrative (Def'n): a foregrounded emplotment, fiction or non, set [w/in or vs] a mnemo-chronicle (fabula) of a recognizable past.

Historical fiction and non-fiction narratives can be analyzed similarly in terms of the relationship between foreground and background.

Jul 11     
Memory & Narrative can rescue "Reader Knowledge" from Positivism. Historical characters/events invoke story-shaped memories, not "facts". 2

Jul 12     
Memory & Narrative, 3: We design stories to accommodate mnemonic limitations. We pass on… http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Causality, Narratology & Memory - Why do we construct "Why" stories? Maybe bc they're more memorable. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Story aids Memory. What if Memory defines Story? http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

To me, the phrase "women in the pulpit" is a bit like "slaves running the plantation". #slowdown #thinkaboutit #radical #notradical

What if Narrative strengthens Memory because we designed it to do so in the first place? http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Causality implies sequence, creates cohesion. Narratives are built for enabling Memory. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Consequence implies sequence, which makes remembering easier. Perceiving causality makes a story remember-able. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Forster, Chatman, Hume & Heroman - Narrative highlights causality to accommodate our mnemonic limitations. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Narrative is the servant of Memory. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Jul 13     
Storytelling distorts memory, sometimes on purpose, to gain memorability. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Memory & Narrative, 4: Stories, like maps, always bear some distortion. A key difference… http://goo.gl/fb/5MDMti 

Plot, Causality, Narrative, Memory. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Story condenses the Past to facilitate Memory, and Story does this most efficiently via Plot, via Causality. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Stories self-distort to gain memorability. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Jul 14     
Remembering is driven by present needs, and the primary need of Remembering, itself, is efficiency.

Mnemonic Time is divided by contingencies of widest impact. Before we had kids. Since 9/11. Back in high school. While John was imprisoned.

Post #4, Memory & Narrative Plot as the stability within variations. http://goo.gl/fb/5MDMti 

Jul 15     
Memory & Narrative, Post #4 CLEANED AND UPDATED Historical emplotment works against Mnemonic chronicles. http://goo.gl/fb/5MDMti 

In historical narratives, foreground and background may correspond roughly to sufficient and necessary causes, a plot and its context.

In historical narratives, ideally, the foreground contains the authorial emplotment and the background evokes or confronts reader memory.

What if "fiction vs non-fiction" is the wrong dichotomy for analysis of narratives set in the past?

Jul 16     
I have constantly rewritten my autobiography. Occasionally I even put some bits into prose.

Narrative Chronology is memory based & specifically relative. Formal accounting, in non-official discourse, is comparatively rare.

Time is a literary convention. Time only exists in the stories we tell and the physics equations we write.

Mt.2's Plot Device is not that Herod's death gets Jesus back from Egypt, but that Egypt freezes #StoryTime until Archelaus' infamous debut.

Jul 17     
Summarizing or Rewriting the Gospels is unconscious, personal, inevitable. A commonplace, it happens mostly without proper guidance.

The child must be told, sometimes, where to look. The adult matures, gradually, by learning how to see.

All narration is chronological as performance, and sequential as art. http://goo.gl/fb/hnoCY 

Jul 18     
Memory & Narrative, 5: Causality tends to be a central feature of memorable stories. To have… http://goo.gl/fb/0QoVJ4 

Memory & Narrative, 5 Oversimplified plots are rememberable. http://goo.gl/fb/0QoVJ4 

Historians' narratives feature complex causality. Mnemonic narratives prefer to oversimplify. http://goo.gl/fb/0QoVJ4 

Jul 19     
John was a preacher, imprisoned & executed. These 3 contingencies make 1 historical outline, anchoring the Gospels' #RememberedChronology.

Jul 20     
The synoptic plot line simplifies Jesus' timeline to fit audience memory of his geographical identity: from Galilee, crucified in Judea.

Stories self-distort to increase memorability. http://goo.gl/fb/vJVwg0 

Marianne Horsdal - "continuity and change are indissoluble" (e.g. children growing); People are always "in a state of becoming."

Velocity and acceleration make sense, but the third removed function, a curve measuring m/s/s/s is meaningless. (1/2)

And that's how I feel when reading a commentary on a commentary on a commentary of a (dubious to begin with) textual phenomenon. (2/2)

Jumping from narratology to philosophy... #sundaynightblues #closingouttabs

"All of our understandings of time are relative to other concepts such as motion, space, and events." Lakoff & Johnson, P. in the Flesh

Time: "that which is measured by regular iterated events" Also: "time is conceptualized through the comparison of events" Lakoff & Johnson

L&J - the Cartesian coordinate plane "allows us to use the metaphor that times are locations in space" Yes!! Graphs & equations = Literature

L&J: Time is a metaphor. Taken literally, it leads to silliness. General relativity puts past & future 'all at once' & rules out Big Bang.

L&J: Much truth is expressed through the metaphor of Time. We cannot think about time without metaphor.

L&J: "Does time exist..? We reject [this] loaded question. The word time names a human concept... yet it structures our real experience"

Time to make the doughnuts. Lakoff & Johnson are spot on for Time. Philosophy in the Flesh So many books, so little....

Jul 21     
Relativity is the *objective* standard of *all* measurement. Comparison is king.

"Story" is Subjective, Temporality is not: I've been enjoying David Herman's work on the… http://goo.gl/fb/23tPoe 

Loving John Pier's "After this..." in Theorizing Narrativity. Must read more Meir Sternberg and begin Brian Richardson, Emma Kafalenos.

Jul 22     
Posit standard forgetting as a fractal, inverted. Temporal re-orientation reduces *sets* of changes to 'transition points'. Ad infinitum.

Memory as temporal re-orientation: minor contingencies as short-term 'landmarks' in time, subsuming gradually into definitive transitions.

Thus, Memory as the machine that transforms chaos into "plot", an outline for autobiog. narrativizing. *Tweet 3 of 3, in hindsight

An obituary synopsis, Directions given succinctly, Recounting the day at bedtime, Strongest memories of a given vacation; All 4 show...(1/2)

...how Memory/Story reduces life experience to broadest consistencies and most drastic transitions, w/ or w/o special bonus features. (2/2)

The 'story' of memory can be somewhat predictable. Mnemonic 'discourse' is not. Basic distortion, kinda. Cultivated re-narrativization, not.

Jul 27     
Memory & Narrative can rescue "Reader Knowledge" from Positivism. Historical characters/events invoke story-shaped memories, not "facts". 3

Jul 29     
As Matthew uses Herod's death to move the story's location, Egypt is a filler that moves the story up to Archelaus' time.

Jul 30     
"The value of information does not survive the moment... A story is different. It does not expend itself" - Walter Benjamin, 1936

Jul 31     
"how a society chooses to remember her origins betrays a great deal about her current stage of development" Anthony Le Donne

PLOT has ruled histories because causality embeds sequence, and thus progressive development. Only change leaves a record of TIME.

Aug3      
"Periods, like centuries, are arbitrary divisions for convenience" - Barzun & Graff (1970) Yes indeed, but I say... (1/2)

Contingencies of wide impact are convenient for arbitrating divisions, as mnemonic end points between relative continuities. (2/2)

Periodization is bad storying because it begins and ends with contingencies, each of which is more like a climax. (1/2)

Better histories can center on a transition, beginning from a prior equilibrium & ending 'in media res' of the next major 'period'. (2/2)

9/11 did not begin an historical period, but gave climax to previous developments which, altogether, set conditions of subsequent dynamics.

Periodization seeks to historicize equilibria. In full contrast, proper Narratives center on meaningful transitions, carrying readers (1/2)

from the status quo ante towards a transformed situation. History is best as meta-dynamic. What altered the *conditions* of change? (2/2)

Memory focuses on equilibria while History must address punctuation. Yet, memory bounds each continuity between 2 sequenced contingencies.

Memory focuses on continuity, as defined by the presence or absence of contingent effects. Periodization is good for nostalgia.

History as Memory should avoid relying on narrative. Periodization is a collage, an assortment, a category of experiences. But... (1/2)

History as Narrative *should* emphasize memorable transitions, the widespread contingencies by which one period gave way to another. (2/2)


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