Published on February 1st, 2012 | by Thompson0
The Rise of Dogmatic Brainwashing
“We try to rediscover in things, now precious because of it, the glimmer that our soul projected on them; we are disappointed to find that they seem to lack in nature the charm they derived in our thoughts from the proximity of certain ideas; at times we convert all the forces of that soul into cunning, into magnificence, in order to have an effect on people who are outside us, as we are well aware, and whom we will never reach. Thus, if I always imagined the woman I loved surrounded by the places I longed for the most at that time, if I would have liked her to be the one who took me to visit them, who opened the way for me into an unknown world, it was not because of a simple chance association of thought; no, it was because my dreams of travel and of love were only moments–which I am separating artificially today as if I were cutting sections at different heights of an apparently motionless iridescent jet of water–in a single inflexible upsurge of all the forces of my life.” -Marcel Proust, Swann’s Way
Marcel Proust is investigating the soul’s inevitable force to produce striking imagery within the memory. It is an inescapable force. Our subconscious devises memorable images without the help of our conscious selves. Our mind knows what it likes and what it wants to hold on to. We organize and classify our memories through the use of a natural habit we’ve nurtured since the dawn of humanity. Is it strictly human nature that forces us to put the entire universe into little boxes? According to Frances Yates, even some animals are capable of remembering, and pack animals certainly classify their members based on strengths and weaknesses. I happen to believe classification to be the oldest of natural human habits. I can see our earliest primate ancestors discussing who should hunt, who should gather, and who should draw on the cave walls. I also believe it to be the most unfortunate of natural human habits, since classification leads to classism, which leads to racism, which leads to rich, white folks stepping all over the rest of the world. It seems memory has played a larger role in the development of civilization than I had earlier realized.
The power of memory was held in very high regard throughout the Middle Ages and long before, and it seems humans found a way to exploit it. Frances Yates writes, “We have been thoroughly trained to understand that memory as a part of Prudence justifies the use of the artificial memory as an ethical duty. We have been taught by Albertus Magnus that poetic metaphors, including the fables of the pagan gods, may be used in memory for their ‘moving’ power. Ridevall is, it may be suggested, instructing the preacher how to use ‘moving’ inner memory images of the gods to memorise a sermon on the virtues and their parts” (98-99). So religion exploits the use of memory to plant ideas of virtue and vice into society to presumably keep order and instill goodness in mankind, right? Or is it simply dogmatic brainwashing to keep asses in the pews?
Yates also theorizes that painting within a third dimension, or the arrival of depth to painting, arose from the idea that it’s easier to recall images that stand out from the background. The Church took this idea and ran with it, from paintings to architecture, the Church wanted be sure the images of vice and virtue were well-planted in the minds of the people, allowing for ultimate power and control over society. Proust makes this very clear when describing the church in Combray. “I believe above all that, confusedly, my grandmother found in the steeple of Combray what for her had the highest value in the world, an air of naturalness and an air of distinction…and looking at it, following with her eyes the gentle tension, the fervent inclination of its slopes of stone, which approached each other as they rose like hands meeting in prayer, she would join so fully in the effusion of the spire that her gaze seemed to soar with it” (65). There’s a reason churches are beautiful and penitentiaries are not. The idea that utilizing just the right imagery can instill an inescapable memory can be more powerful than any sermon or prison sentence. This idea of self-governance, or hegemony, allowed the ruling class to more easily control its people. So through the use of a memory gimmick, society was brainwashed into “knowing” right and wrong so they would stay in line.