Remembering To Forget

Augustine, Confessions 10.3.24

“When I utter the word “forgetfulness” and I similarly see what I am naming, how would I acknowledge it if I have not remembered it? I don’t mean the word’s sound, but the thing that it means. If I had forgotten it, I would not be able to connect the meaning with the sound. So when I remember memory, then it is present in itself for itself at that moment. But when I recall forgetfulness, both memory and forgetfulness are there at the same time. Memory in allowing me to remember and forgetfulness is the thing I recall.

But what is forgetfulness if it isn’t the negation of memory? How can it be there in order to be remembered when I cannot remember it in its true presence? But if we retain what we have remembered in our memory, then if we did not remember forgetfulness, we would never be able to acknowledge that that word means when we hear it spoken. Forgetfulness is preserved by memory.”

16. (24) Quid, cum oblivionem nomino atque itidem agnosco quod nomino, unde agnoscerem nisi meminissem? non eundem sonum nominis dico, sed rem quam significat. quam si oblitus essem, quid ille valeret sonus agnoscere utique non valerem. ergo cum memoriam memini, per se ipsam sibi praesto est ipsa memoria. cum vero memini oblivionem, et memoria praesto est et oblivio, memoria qua meminerim, oblivio quam meminerim. Sed quid est oblivio nisi privatio memoriae? quomodo ergo adest ut eam meminerim, quando cum adest meminisse non possum? at si quod meminimus memoria retinemus, oblivionem autem nisi meminissemus, nequaquam possemus audito isto nomine rem quae illo significatur agnoscere, memoria retinetur oblivio.

John Martin, “Sadak in Search of the Waters of Oblivion” 1812

Speech and Its Corresponding Meaning

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 36-38

“Next, let’s consider the way we learn, since learning happens wither through experience or through speech. But of these two approaches, experience comes from this which are demonstrable, the demonstrable is clear, and the clear—because it is obvious—is available to all in common. Such perception which is available to all in common is unteachable. Hence, anything apprehended through experience is not teachable.

Speech either corresponds to some meaning or it does not. If it corresponds to no meaning at all, then it teaches nothing. When it does correspond to some meaning it does it either by intrinsic nature or by established convention. It cannot, in truth correspond to meaning by intrinsic nature since not all people understand the same meaning when they hear it (as when the Greeks listen to barbarians or the barbarians listen to Greeks).

If speech signals meaning by convention, it is clear that people who have absorbed before the meanings to which these words correspond will also comprehend them now, and not because they have learned from them something which was not known—it is more like they are resuscitating what they knew before, while those who lack learning of what they don’t know will not do the same.”

τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο ἀπαιτῶμεν τὸν τρόπον τῆς μαθήσεως. ἢ γὰρ ἐναργείᾳ γίνεται ἢ λόγῳ τὰ τῆς διδασκαλίας. ἀλλὰ τούτων ἡ μὲν ἐνάργεια τῶν δεικτῶν ἐστί, τὸ δὲ δεικτὸν φαινόμενον, τὸ δὲ φαινόμενον, ᾗ φαίνεται, κοινῶς πᾶσι ληπτόν, τὸ δὲ κοινῶς πᾶσι ληπτὸν ἀδίδακτον· οὐκ ἄρα τὸ ἐναργείᾳ δεικτὸν διδακτόν. ὁ δὲ λόγος ἤτοι σημαίνει τι ἢ οὐ σημαίνει. καὶ μηδὲν μὲν σημαίνων οὐδὲ διδάσκαλός τινὸς ἐστι, σημαίνων δὲ ἤτοι φύσει σημαίνει τι ἢ θέσει. καὶ φύσει μὲν οὐ σημαίνει διὰ τὸ μὴ πάντας πάντων ἀκούειν, Ἕλληνας βαρβάρων καὶ βαρβάρους Ἑλλήνων ἢ Ἕλληνας Ἑλλήνων ἢ βαρβάρους βαρβάρων· θέσει δὲ εἴπερ σημαίνει, δῆλον ὡς οἱ μὲν προκατειληφότες τὰ καθ᾿ ὧν αἱ λέξεις κεῖνται καὶ ἀντιλήψονται τούτων, οὐ τὸ ἀγνοούμενον ἐξ αὐτῶν διδασκόμενοι, τὸ δ᾿ ὅπερ ᾔδεισαν ἀνανεούμενοι, οἱ δὲ χρῄζοντες τῆς τῶν ἀγνοουμένων μαθήσεως οὐκέτι.

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Speech and Its Corresponding Meaning

Sextus Empiricus, Against the Professors 36-38

“Next, let’s consider the way we learn, since learning happens wither through experience or through speech. But of these two approaches, experience comes from this which are demonstrable, the demonstrable is clear, and the clear—because it is obvious—is available to all in common. Such perception which is available to all in common is unteachable. Hence, anything apprehended through experience is not teachable.

Speech either corresponds to some meaning or it does not. If it corresponds to no meaning at all, then it teaches nothing. When it does correspond to some meaning it does it either by intrinsic nature or by established convention. It cannot, in truth correspond to meaning by intrinsic nature since not all people understand the same meaning when they hear it (as when the Greeks listen to barbarians or the barbarians listen to Greeks).

If speech signals meaning by convention, it is clear that people who have absorbed before the meanings to which these words correspond will also comprehend them now, and not because they have learned from them something which was not known—it is more like they are resuscitating what they knew before, while those who lack learning of what they don’t know will not do the same.”

τὸ μετὰ τοῦτο ἀπαιτῶμεν τὸν τρόπον τῆς μαθήσεως. ἢ γὰρ ἐναργείᾳ γίνεται ἢ λόγῳ τὰ τῆς διδασκαλίας. ἀλλὰ τούτων ἡ μὲν ἐνάργεια τῶν δεικτῶν ἐστί, τὸ δὲ δεικτὸν φαινόμενον, τὸ δὲ φαινόμενον, ᾗ φαίνεται, κοινῶς πᾶσι ληπτόν, τὸ δὲ κοινῶς πᾶσι ληπτὸν ἀδίδακτον· οὐκ ἄρα τὸ ἐναργείᾳ δεικτὸν διδακτόν. ὁ δὲ λόγος ἤτοι σημαίνει τι ἢ οὐ σημαίνει. καὶ μηδὲν μὲν σημαίνων οὐδὲ διδάσκαλός τινὸς ἐστι, σημαίνων δὲ ἤτοι φύσει σημαίνει τι ἢ θέσει. καὶ φύσει μὲν οὐ σημαίνει διὰ τὸ μὴ πάντας πάντων ἀκούειν, Ἕλληνας βαρβάρων καὶ βαρβάρους Ἑλλήνων ἢ Ἕλληνας Ἑλλήνων ἢ βαρβάρους βαρβάρων· θέσει δὲ εἴπερ σημαίνει, δῆλον ὡς οἱ μὲν προκατειληφότες τὰ καθ᾿ ὧν αἱ λέξεις κεῖνται καὶ ἀντιλήψονται τούτων, οὐ τὸ ἀγνοούμενον ἐξ αὐτῶν διδασκόμενοι, τὸ δ᾿ ὅπερ ᾔδεισαν ἀνανεούμενοι, οἱ δὲ χρῄζοντες τῆς τῶν ἀγνοουμένων μαθήσεως οὐκέτι.

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Surpassing the Signs of All Others

Homer, Odyssey 8.186-200

“So he spoke, and stripping off his cloak he grabbed a discus,
Larger and wider, not a little heavier than the ones
Which the Phaeacians where throwing among one another.
He turned around and whirled it from his strong hand
And the stone boomed. Then the oar-wielding Phaeacians
Leapt to the ground, those men famous for their ships,
At the hurl of the stone. Then it flew past all of their markers,
Swiftly hurling it from his hand. Then Athena set the boundary
After taking on the form of a man, and she spoke a word and called out:

“Even a blind person, friend, could find this marker
As he felt all around, since it is not at all mixed in with the others—
No, it is first by far. Be happy at this competition–
None of the Phaeacians will come close or surpass it.”

So much-enduring Odysseus said and he laughed
Taking pleasure in the fact that he had a real friend in the game.”

ἦ ῥα, καὶ αὐτῷ φάρει ἀναΐξας λάβε δίσκον
μείζονα καὶ πάχετον, στιβαρώτερον οὐκ ὀλίγον περ
ἢ οἵῳ Φαίηκες ἐδίσκεον ἀλλήλοισι.
τόν ῥα περιστρέψας ἧκε στιβαρῆς ἀπὸ χειρός·
βόμβησεν δὲ λίθος· κατὰ δ’ ἔπτηξαν ποτὶ γαίῃ
Φαίηκες δολιχήρετμοι, ναυσικλυτοὶ ἄνδρες,
λᾶος ὑπὸ ῥιπῆς· ὁ δ’ ὑπέρπτατο σήματα πάντων,
ῥίμφα θέων ἀπὸ χειρός· ἔθηκε δὲ τέρματ’ ᾿Αθήνη
ἀνδρὶ δέμας εἰκυῖα, ἔπος τ’ ἔφατ’ ἔκ τ’ ὀνόμαζε·

“καί κ’ ἀλαός τοι, ξεῖνε, διακρίνειε τὸ σῆμα
ἀμφαφόων, ἐπεὶ οὔ τι μεμιγμένον ἐστὶν ὁμίλῳ,
ἀλλὰ πολὺ πρῶτον. σὺ δὲ θάρσει τόνδε γ’ ἄεθλον·
οὔ τις Φαιήκων τόν γ’ ἵξεται οὐδ’ ὑπερήσει.”

ὣς φάτο, γήθησεν δὲ πολύτλας δῖος ᾿Οδυσσεύς,
χαίρων οὕνεχ’ ἑταῖρον ἐνηέα λεῦσσ’ ἐν ἀγῶνι.

Schol. VT ad Od. 8.192 ex

“Signs, footprints. For many were hurling the discus previously. The signs are the impressions left by the discuses”

σήματα] σημεῖα. τινὲς δὲ, βήματα. V. πολλοὶ γὰρ προεδίσκευσαν. σήματα δὲ τὰ πηγνύμενα τοῖς δίσκοις. T.

 

Red-Figure Kylix, MFA Boston