From The Teachings of Silvanus: "Do not be a sausage which is full of useless things."
Friday, January 22, 2010
How memory works
This week's New Yorker has a fascinating article about the popularity of memoirs by Daniel Mendelsohn. The article focuses on Ben Yagoda's Memoirs: A History. Towards the end of the article, there are some insights into how memory works.
The psychologist F. C. Bartlett, whom Yagoda quotes without discussing his work, once conducted an experiment in which people were told fables into which illogical or non-sequitur elements had been introduced; when asked to repeat the tales, they omitted or smoothed over the anomalous bits. More recently, graduate students who were asked to recall what their anxiety level had been before an important examination consistently exaggerated that anxiety. As Yagoda puts it, “That little tale—‘I was really worried, but I passed’—would be memoir-worthy. The ‘truth’—‘I wasn’t that worried, and I passed’—would not.” In other words, we always manage to turn our memories into good stories—even if those stories aren’t quite true.
It's not difficult to see how this works with Mark's Gospel which (especially in Greek) is full of anomalies, infelicities and loose ends, the most obvious of which is the prepositional ending at 16:8. Most are eliminated by Matthew and Luke in their gospel retellings using (versions of) Mark. Thus making Mark's infelicities all the more valuable.