So sorry. The day job has been extra busy since mid-December, but I finally took some vacation time to catch up on my project(s). Here's an update and projection of what 2015 has in store for this blog.
Heroic History part 6 is 95% done and part 7 is in progress. Expect 9 or 10 parts altogether. As you may or may not have noticed, Heroic History is a follow-up series to the one called Memory & Narrative, which focused largely on the memorability of Plot and the informational efficiency of Causality. All of these posts were from 2014 and have links indexed in the sidebar at right.
So what's next?
After Heroic History I'm planning a third series on Story & Memory called Representing Transitions, about visual memory & non-verbal narrativity; about the visual contingency of location in Setting; about the contingency of travel between Settings and about location's ironic tendency to evoke past presence via present absence. More fundamentally, Representing Transitions is going to be about the mnemonic compression of observed physical movement (against a static background), and how continuous change is re-envisioned (via cognitive information compression) as a series of hypothetically discrete meta-changes. In such light, Forgetting is not contrary to Memory but a handservant and byproduct of Memory; that is, forgetting both accommodates remembering and results as the ancillary after-effect of mnemonic compression towards utmost efficiency, which involves the truncated implication of transition. The past is subsumed within a recursively transforming series of transitions between previously perceived continuities (large or small); those continuities get reduced to the implication of a logical contingency (whether that contingency might be genuinely recalled or imaginatively reconstructed, or both). And so, this is how human beings remember historical time, as a sort of temporal orientation. More forgetting takes place when a particular "landmark" of the past is no longer required, or when recompression becomes more needful as overall temporal distance expands. But in methodological terms, all of this put together looks to be my erstwhile attempt to invert the present relationship between Narratology and Cognitive Science. We've got brilliant narratologists recently showing us how a reader's mind engages with literary narrative. What I mean to produce is a theory of how individual minds construct mnemonic narratives without using words, by compressing visual perception. Individually, Focalization makes this process unhelpful, but collectively, this process repeated across a large population can begin to explain why "history" tends to focus on the most widely impactful events, and why historians know which aspects of the past they must write about, in order to be widely recognized as historians.
Got all that? That's going to be series three, Representing Transitions, hopefully kicking off by early April.
But what's after that?
I should say less about the fourth series on Story & Memory, but I hope to begin it sometime over the summer, tentatively called Memory & Irony. This one looks to be about contradiction of expectations, but it's also about differentiating intentions versus expectations and other types of internal narrative projections of the future. We not only project futures, we dwell upon them and relive them even after they go bust. This contrast between intention and expectation also relates to the difference between Plot and Conflict, which I see primarily depending on the relative degree of an individual's (or literary character's) personal power. Perhaps it was fine for Collingwood to speak of Julius Caesar's intentions, but on a large scale the Roman mob could have little more than circumstantially imposed expectations. On a collective scale, then, the disruption of a widely perceived "equilibrium" becomes a memory event - not just because of the contingent dynamics in Representing Transition, but also because of Irony's complete subversive and redefining power over Narrative. To put that in brief, it means that surprise is not memorable because of uniqueness, but because it contradicts a previously long-held envisioning. The reinforcement of that vision (expectation) over time is what primes human memory to imprint on a disruption of that equilibrium. Thus, the surprising moment becomes causally related to the narrative which it overturns and redefines. In terms of Information Theory, remembering that surprising moment itself is the ultimate mnemonic efficiency, because one succinct transition now entails a remembering of not only (1) the previously held set of expectations and related narrative projections, all of which are now lost, but also (2) the resulting chain of events (if any) which participant observers have since set about to mnemonically narrativize. In terms of causality (See Memory & Narrative Series, along with Five Variations of the "post hoc" Fallacy) the resulting narrative constantly reminds one of the surprising disruption as a triggering contingency, and in terms of visual irony (See Representing Transition, above) the previously projected narrative is also recalled because it was the conditioning basis for the negation event (the ironic disruption), and so presence is recalled via absence, as with Location (above). At least, this explains the basic concept of my growing hypothesis for the planned fourth series, Memory & Irony. Perhaps not incidentally, the process I just described may also be considered as an explanation for the mnemonic power of trauma.
Hopefully the fourth series will build successfully upon all the concepts developed since the original Memory & Narrrative series began in June 2014, including some ideas I'd been trying to tease out since January of 2013, but after that fourth series one remaining task will be to synthesize these concepts under the banner of Mnemonic Temporality.
And that's the first place where all this is leading us to, hopefully: a theoretical synthesis.
My basic thesis - as I first blogged in October - is that human beings remember historical times (either macro-chronology or micro-chronology) through these processes of temporal orientation. We use perceived causality or imagined consequence to embed sequence. That's mnemonic time, filtered through Plot. We use typical benchmarks of biological, psychological, sociological, and political phases of development (either natural or conventional watershed markers) to embed sequence. That's mnemonic time, filtered through Character. We use observed movement between physical locations to embed sequence. That's mnemonic time, filtered through Setting. We use the ironic negation of projected expectations as a watershed memory, to embed sequence, the transition from one supposed time "period" to another. That's mnemonic time, filtered through Conflict.
Although our perceptions are not always reliable, the transition between unaltered and adjusted perceptions is itself very real. Furthermore, applying the cognitive science of memory as focused through the lens of information theory, we can demonstrate that such transitions are extremely rememberable. Therefore, through this recursive mnemonic procedure of ongoing temporal orientation, human beings keep track of time, times, and Time by relying on these special types of compressed memories, which may themselves be described as the cognitive equivalents of Plot, Character, Setting, and Conflict. In other words, long before these were "discovered" as the standard conventions of fiction or non-fiction literature, these four cognitive patterns comprised a way to observe and recall vast sets of change with the utmost efficiency. Altogether, I refer to this process as Mnemonic Temporality, and I consider it to be the cognitive foundation of the human ability to think narratively about anything. If we do not remember change, how could we ever tell stories?
That's almost all that I have, currently in development. But the synthesis of all my theorizing is not yet an application.
Here is one possible application. It may be a foot-hold, perhaps, on a much larger project.
Oddly enough, all this began because I was trying to find practical ways to reconstruct just how much Matthew's Gospel Audience might have been expected to Remember the Chronology of Archelaus' political transition, from the death of King Herod in March of 4 BC through the Herodian Prince's return from Rome in the early or middle part of the following year, 3 BC. Treating Matthew 2:22 as either historical fiction or historical non-fiction - either of which must be chronologized in allignment with audience memory, and both of which I therefore define as a "Historical Narrative: a story set in the recognizable past" - my central question became, How do readers remember chronology?
I'll repeat that. It's the linchpin of all that I've done. "How do readers remember chronology?"
[Clarification: I mean how do they remember historical chronology, while reading historical narrative.]
That basic question expanded somewhat, can be restated as such: Practically speaking, how is it that human beings manage to remember Time, or form memories of past times, and how does that Remembered Past (in our minds) manage to take on the form of a Story? And my tentative answer is all that I just said, above.
So that's what I'm up to. That's the idea in a nutshell.
Here's just a few more closing thoughts:
In all this, I have come to believe that importing Narratological concepts and terminology into the cognitive study of Memory is an untapped and possibly an essential strategy for expanding horizons about the nubile frontier of non-fiction narratology. In one sentence: any Author of History must engage (both with and against) the Collective Historical Memory of an Audience, not only in order to be more rhetorically effective within one's emplotment of a narrativizing polemic, but also in order to take advantage of literary retrospection, which inevitably takes the form of Dramatic Irony, which necessarily (in historical narratives) depends upon Audience Memory. Thus, the road to a new and improved non-fiction narratology must run through a more rigorous application of narrative theory to the cognitive production of individual memories about the past.
Or maybe something like that. I'm still working out all the bugs. Feel free to send copious feedback, both now and as I work through the process in series three (Representing Transition) and series four (Memory & Irony), as well as the synthesis and applications which must follow thereafter.
And then what?
Someday, after all this, I really intend to write an actual history of the years 4 and 3 BC. And then - only then - I will finally have begun what I set out to do, eight or ten years ago, which was to compose a defensibly non-fiction account of the New Testament situation, as a Story.