Book: Re-Reading the Visions in The Shepherd of Hermas
Chapter: Sticky Thoughts: Making Presence from Absence
Chapter Three explores how the cognitive process known as rumination is generated and exploited in the Book of Visions in a way that further grips the readerly imagination. Rumination is the on-going, involuntary contemplation associated with various cognitive processes: decentering, problem-solving, and the mind’s ability to make presence from absence. Here we consider the different ways the Book of Visions uses scenarios and scenes to generate the cognitive state of rumination experientially within the reader. In addition to describing the ways ancient texts sought to place narrative scenes before the eyes of the reader by using rhetorical strategies like ekphrasis and energeia, this chapter proposes that the cognitive processes associated with rumination can shed light on two elements of Hermas’s visions: (1) the excessive desire that Hermas has for the bathing Rhoda, and (2) the regret and longing that Hermas experiences through his recurring acts of compunction. While often connected to grief, rumination is a way of speaking about the cognitive processes associated with problem-solving and pining for romantic love. Rumination includes the cognitive processes that are associated with different varieties of recurrent thinking, “sticky thoughts” that persist and create palpable experiences for the reader.
Chapter Three explores how the arresting scene of the bathing Rhoda that opens the Book of Visions can be said to generate “sticky thoughts” that stay with Hermas and create the opportunity for him to be confronted by his excessive desire in the form of the heavenly Lady. This provides a model whereby readers can examine their own innermost thoughts, perhaps especially necessary for evaluating those thoughts that were not acted upon. Hermas’s recurring weeping and remorse-filled actions throughout the Book of Visions resemble those of early Jewish apocalypticists whose practices can be said to have contributed to the ruminative states that led to the experiencing of visions, in which presence is made from absence.