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Schematic Remembrance; Or: What if memories become universal?


Madeleine Scherer. University of Warwick. UK.

Schematic Remembrance; Or: What if memories become universal?

Madeleine Scherer. University of Warwick. England. UK.

This paper attempts to find and explore the intersections between Classical Reception and Memory Studies. It argues that both disciplines, which have thus far operated independently from one another, are increasingly preoccupied with overlapping concerns, whereby Classical Reception offers many examples for the exploration of transcultural and global memory, and Memory Studies can provide a framework for analysing these instances. Thereby I look at Twentieth century and contemporary instances of literary Classical Reception in an attempt to formulate a methodology for understanding how classical tropes and images are used in global, transcultural contexts.

I propose that with the increasing decline of Classical education and the weakening prominence of a “Classical Tradition”, the use of Graeco-Roman tropes has become increasingly more universal in nature. As a result, I propose that the concept of schemata, originally a model from psychology and Memory Studies, can be useful for understanding why certain Classical images seem to be adapted in similar ways in spite of – at times quite significant – variations in context. A memory schema, as the term is typically used today, describes a cluster of knowledge which, upon closer investigation, branches out to more complex and frequently encountered concepts.[1] However, the definition of schema which is pertinent to my project is that which encapsulates various forms of memories recovered in literary or conversational discourse. Bartlett’s 1932 Remembering first proposed the idea that stories use schemata and plot frameworks whose inherent associations can provide further information through continued research or abstractions.[2] Astrid Erll includes Bartlett’s term within her research on ‘premediation', wherein she investigates how certain thought and knowledge structures are received into certain cultures; they are “patterns and structures of knowledge on the basis of which we make assumptions regarding specific objects, people, situations and the relation between them”.[3]

Classical Reception has since its conception struggled with the question of how to comprehensively select and analyse the subjects that fall within its category and, particularly, to decide why certain images, narratives and tropes continue to be revised across such a huge variety of cultures and environments. But while, for instance, in German Rezeptionsgeschichte has long sought for examples of Classical reception within text, Memory Studies' Rezeptionsästhetik is largely concerned with the relationship between text and mnemonic recipient. At their core I suggest that both disciplines are interested in the same receptive dynamic; as Classical Reception reads the transmission of earlier narratives and myths, Memory Studies argues how the “[r]efiguration” of memories “manifests itself in remediating activities such as intertextuality and different forms of intermedial references”[4] Even the term 'refiguration' is used by both disciplines; in Mimesis III Jean Paul Ricœur first coined the term ‘refiguration‘, writing how “the concrete process by which the textual configuration mediates between the prefiguration of the practical field and its refiguration through the reception of the work.”[5] Within the discipline of Classical Reception, Lorna Hardwick likewise speaks of “refiguration” when she describes the adaptation of earlier myths into new contexts within antiquity.[6] Like her, it is specifically the reception of Classical tropes in modernity which I here present as a case of refiguration, one that is based on Ricœur and Erll’s ideas around reception and intertextuality, but within a larger approach which emphasises the schematisation inherent to such adaptation when it comes to Classical motifs and tropes.

In this paper, then, I argue that in Reception pieces, Classical schemata are used as transcultural and cross-temporal memory building blocks through which certain resonances associated with the respective image or narrative from its ancient Graeco-Roman cultural origin are integrated into the local context of the adaptation's source-culture. Using the example of katabasis narratives, I utilise a horizontal analysis to show some of the instances in which this form of adaptation can be seen. Thereby, I also focus on examples which showcase how parts of the Classical model are either lost through the universalising nature of the adaptation process or are deliberately distorted to fit the agenda of the author. Lastly, I formulate some conclusions on what this schematic use of the Classics means for their new role in contemporary literature – and for the discipline of Classical Reception itself.

Bartlett, F.C. Remembering: A study in experimental and social psychology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1932.

Erll, Astrid. “From ‘Distric Six’ to District 9 and Back: The Plurimedial Production of Travelling Schemata”. Transnational Memory. Circulation, Articulation, Scales. Eds. Chiara De Cesari and Ann Rigney. Berlin; New York: De Gruyter, 2014.

—-. Memory in Culture. Transl. Sara B. Young. Basingstoke; New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2011.

Hardwick, Lorna. Reception Studies (New Surveys in the Classics No. 33): Greece and Rome. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003.

Thorndyke, Perry W. and Hayes-Roth, Barbara. “The use of schemata in the acquisition and transfer of knowledge”. Cognitive Psychology 11.1 (1979): 82-106.

[1] Thorndyke and Heyes-Roth “The use of schemata” 82

[2] Ibid 83; Bartlett Remembering

[3] Erll “From ‘District Six’ to District 9" 31. While one may suggest simply relying on the broader term of ‘intertextuality’, the schema as an interpretative tool is also more precise in describing the mnemonically specific processes of transmission which are investigated within Classical Reception.

[4] Astrid Erll Memory in Culture 156

[5] Ricœur Time and Narrative, 3 vols, Chicago; London: University of Chicago Press, 1984, 53; qdt. in Erll Memory in Culture 154

[6] Reception Studies 14

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