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This article is taken from PN Review 205, Volume 38 Number 5, May - June 2012.

Death and the Mnemonic Muse Chris Miller
Complex texts are in our blood. They have to be texts; we return to them again and again, hypothesising sense then attempting to confirm it and therefore reading back as often as we read forward. This is the condition of literacy. We live, too, in an Alexandrian age in which the anxiety of influence is stiflingly pervasive and we are told that poetry must be difficult because the times are not simple. Perhaps this is not only the uncertain privilege of retrospect; perhaps difficulty is also a product of those ages in which the past surges up as a creative inspiration, a companionable challenge, and the present begins to proliferate with new words and theories. And perhaps, in retrospect, our own age will be so described even if it is not always so experienced, at least in Western Europe. But ours is surely an age of textuality. And this is alien to at least two canons. We cannot rewind live theatre, the medium for which some of our greatest poetry was written. And many of the criteria associated with classical poetic values have been derived over the centuries of literacy from poetry of oral origin, notably Homer, on whom the categories of rhetoric were based. There is surely a mnemonic component to the composition of dramatic verse and in oral poetry it is of the essence; the heroic essentialism of Homeric epic owes much, for example, to the consistency with which oral epithets accompany particular nouns in rhythmic phrases that formed ...


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