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Excerpt from “The Sound of Story:  An Inquiry Into Literature and Ethos,” Narrative III.1 (January 1995): 33-56.

Once the people and events of narratives are ingested, the memory of them does not go off and lie down in some special comer designated for historical or literary memories. Instead, the memory of the people we have come to know, sometimes to love and sometimes to hate, and the memory of events that sometimes arouse us to great indignation or pull at us with great poignancy, enter and mingle with that store of memories we have stock-piled from first-hand experience. Once there, memories of people and events from narratives are stored with real-life memories as are our mind's-eye and first-hand memories. Moreover, memories of narratives are as easily accessible to us as memories from any other source, and we are just as likely to draw on them in solving problems and identifying new experiences as we are likely to draw on the memory of first-hand experiences. It is just as easy to remember a character from a movie, television program, autobiography, or novel as it is to remember people that we know firsthand—sometimes easier, in fact—because characters in narratives are frequently more vivid than people we meet in our routine, everyday activities.

Moreover, the function of memories we have stored from vicarious imaginings matches the function of other memories. That is, the use we make of our memories is much the same regardless of whether they are memories of narratives or of life, and narrative memories often serve us just as reliably, forcefully, or vividly (often more vividly) as do memories rooted in first-hand experience. Memories of people or events in narratives may help us illustrate the truth of propositions or arguments that we are attempting to advance in the world, or they may serve as points of reference or comparison as we test new experiences against memories of analogous experiences. They may enrich a present moment by jogging memories of other moments from historical or literary narratives that resonate with significance. They may help us understand human motives and feelings foreign to our own. They may help us recognize human types that we seldom meet in real life. On and on, in these and hundreds of other ways, the enriching of memory by historical and literary narratives plays a crucial role in the development of our cognitive resources, intellectual endeavors, and moral judgments.

© 2005 Copyright Marshall Gregory