Tuesday, June 17, 2008

The Craft of Thought with Mary Carruthers

This astonishing book was the subject of one of our workshops: Mary Carruthers, The The Craft of Thought. Meditation, Rhetoric, and the Making of Images, 400-1200. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. Pp. 399. ISBN 0-521-58232-6. $59.95.

One reviewer points out that the only word missing from the title is "memory."

The goal of memory -- which Augustine conceived as the "first person" of the trinitarian human soul (the second and third being intellect and will) -- is to remember what is ontologically, and not chronologically, prior to our present being in the world. It is through the proper exercise of memory that the timeless being of God becomes present in time to humanity, and the remembrance of God may be achieved only by careful practice, an "orthopraxis [which] emphasizes a set of experiences and techniques, conceived as a 'way' to be followed, leading one to relive the founder's path to enlightenment." (1) Memory, in the meditative technique of early Christianity, must remain oriented toward an eschaton, a future not in time but at the end of time.

For medieval monastic culture, meditation, and not rational argument, is the path to proper remembrance. And for monks as for artisans, the notion of "craft" implies the proper use of the body as well as a craftiness of mind. So, this is a book about meditation as a "craft" that presupposes the mastery of all of the mind's "tools" that are appropriate to the soul's own special vocation, which is to employ proper books, "places" and buildings, and images (all of which involve as well the participation of a pure and well trained body) in the quest to know God.

This book is made up of long chapters that are like mosaics composed from tesserae garnered from MC's excursions into an unusual variety of very old books, churches, cities. One cannot miss in her writing a personal presence an authorial "I" or "we" that often rises to the surface of her scholarly prose. As readers we are almost in a classroom -- one nicely free from conventional departmental and disciplinary boundaries that can often cramp the modern study of the Humanities. As a reader, "I" welcome this intellectual freedom.

I wonder if the Temple Scroll from the DSS is a very early example of this kind of thinking?

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