I was recently introduced to the writings of Mary Carruthers. In the introduction to A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture she uses the specificity of the topic, the idea of memory in the Middle Ages, to touch on broader notions of the function of memory within culture. I like the use of the specific as a tool for looking at bigger pictures. Diana Taylor also used this mechanism nicely in The Archive and the Repertoire-Performing Cultural Memory in the Americas.
Carruthers describes the Middle Ages as a culture of the “memorial’ and contrasts that to our current understanding of memory as based in the “documentary.” This is an interesting way to look at modernity.
She sites various uses of the metaphor of memory as a wax tablet. I find this visually poetic and somehow currently relevant. The archival nature of wax (encaustic paintings endure) combined with how easilty it is transformed (just add pressure or heat) captures the elusive nature of memory.
While the introduction is wonderful, the body of the book becomes so overly specific I found it, well, dull. This is also true of one of my favorite pieces of writing- the introduction by Simon Schama to Landscape and Memory. I never could get through the book, but I have read and re-read the introduction. I would place this in a similar category.