Anamnesis


Anamnesis (an’-am-nee’-sis): Calling to memory past matters. More specifically, citing a past author [apparently] from memory. Anamnesis helps to establish ethos [credibility], since it conveys the idea that the speaker is knowledgeable of the received wisdom from the past.


“My grandmother’s over eighty and she doesn’t need glasses. She drinks out of the bottle.” Henny Youngman

When I first heard this, I thought of my own grandmother, holding a bottle with two hands and taking a shot. She’d do that three times a day—breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Due to her age, she could hardly walk, but she took a walk every day up and down the driveway shuffling along supported by two aluminum canes we had found cast off by the curb on the day of the month when people are permitted to put non-garbage in the gutter. One day on her morning walk, Grandma tripped over my brother Billy’s toy truck. As she was falling, she yelled, “Who the fuck left that goddamn piece of shit in the driveway?” Then she hit the pavement. Billy peed his pants and ran away. He didn’t come back for two days. The police found him hiding in the rubbish pile by the middle school. He had gone a little crazy after the incident. He had smashed his toy truck to pieces at the playground parking lot and was wearing only white socks, and had covered himself with mud. What’s worse, Billy had gotten really bad diarrhea from drinking out of the little creek that runs through the playground. Dad brought Billy home from the police station with a blanket wrapped across his shoulders, containing the smell and affording him some warmth and coverage.

I was shocked at Grandma’s swearing. But it will always be hard to understand why Billy responded like he did. I can see being very upset and begging Grandma’s forgiveness, but what Billy did was crazy. And this was just the start. Billy started making snorting sounds at the dinner table and sticking his face in his dinner plate like a dog would stick it’s face in it’s dog bowl. He would go out in the back yard when he thought nobody was watching and do his “thing,” actually taking off his pants and lifting his leg toward the big maple tree. Billy was institutionalized when he started sniffing his classmates’ butts. We never had a dog, and hardly ever saw a dog. We always wondered where Billy’s dog identity came from. Then one afternoon, I noticed a picture of a dog by Grandma’s bed—it was Whizzer, her companion for many years. Maybe Billy became a dog because he wanted to take Whizzer’s place as a way of atoning for the driveway incident. I asked Grandma what she thought of my theory. She said, “Keep that up and you’ll be sharing a room with my nutcase grandson.” Then I asked her why she swore like she did that day. “None of your fucking business,” she said as she looked out the window.


Definition courtesy of “Silva Rhetoricae” (rhetoric.byu.edu). Gorgias has inserted the bracketed words [apparently] and [credibility].

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