09/15 – In Other Words

In Sessions on September 15, 2010 at 4:09 pm

In lieu of editing this into something more lecturesque, here (after the cut) is the first half of the essay Kim Lacey and I wrote on rhetoric, memory, and affect in the present sense (get it?) that we were working through towards the end of class. As mentioned, this essay is at least in part an implicit extension/response to Rotman’s work in BBO.

The Future of Forgetting: Rhetoric, Memory, Affect

The difficulty of the current conjuncture is to think memory and amnesia together rather than simply to oppose them.

– Andreas Huyssen, Twilight Memories (7)

Of the five original “Ciceronian” canons of rhetoric—invention, style, arrangement, delivery, and memory—memory has by far suffered the largest scholarly decline over the intervening centuries. [1] In almost all subsequent revivals of rhetoric that have invoked the canons, memory has traditionally been, as is often claimed in another context, “the first thing to go.” [2] Perhaps most famously, in the return of rhetorical theory and pedagogy in the Renaissance, Ramus reduced rhetoric’s share of the canons to only two—style and delivery—and, in assigning the remaining canons to the field of dialectic, alternately configured memory as mere memorization or “good memory” as an adjunct to “good judgment.” Ramus’ reduction of memoria from its vaunted status in the Ad Herennium as “the treasure-house of the ideas …the guardian of all the parts of rhetoric” to a supporting role in rhetoric and logic would largely set the tone for its successive treatment (205); sixteenth- and seventeenth-century works by such writers as Bacon, Vico, and Thomas Wilson similarly conceived rhetorical memory as little more than the practicing of effective mnemonic techniques, a conception that survives with little emendation today. [3] Indeed, in the most recent resurgence of rhetoric in the twentieth century within the academic domains of English and Speech Communication departments, rhetorical memory is approached largely as an historical interest, implicitly foregrounding how foreign the importance of memory in early rhetoric now seems in our own time.

Nor has memory weathered a renaissance in more recent years, unlike the two other most “forgotten” canons, delivery and invention. Although the manipulation of vocalization and gesture was so important in public oral culture of the fourth century that Demosthenes once confidently claimed, hyperbolically, that the canons of rhetoric contained only three identical categories—“Delivery, delivery, delivery”—it too fell on hard times during the transition to public literacy and the concomitant reduction in public oratory. However, the rapid rise of other technologies—television, and desktop and web publishing—made the canon newly relevant. On the one hand, our traditional notion of rhetorical delivery became a crucial component of the increasingly spectacular notion of public politics and the 24-hour news cycle; on the other, delivery was conceptually expanded to encompass strategies of presentation and transmission in multimedia realms. The same changes in media, however, appeared to further degrade memory as a rhetorical skill, one outpaced and made obsolete by PowerPoint, satellite feeds, and teleprompters. Similarly, while the increased concentration on the relationship between rhetoric and aesthetics as well as the relatively rapid professionalization of composition pedagogy have foregrounded the importance of invention in rhetorical praxis (Crowley, Muckelbauer, Ulmer), the same trends have further obscured the value of rhetorical memory.

It is all the more surprising that early rhetorical theories of memory have fallen on such difficult times within the disciplinary boundaries of rhetoric given the renewed interest in the topic in the humanities as a whole over the last two decades. During this time Derrida “returned” to his interest in memory (Specters of Marx, Archive Fever, The Work of Mourning), Halbwach’s landmark work on memory was collected and translated (as On Collective Memory), and Ricoeur’s final text was released (Memory, History, Forgetting), as were numerous well-received studies of cultural memory (Boym, Huyssen, Olick) and the effect of mass media on contemporary memory (Hoskins, Landsberg, Van Dijck). Indeed, “memory studies” has emerged as a recognized field with its own degree granting and interdisciplinary programs, book series (Studies in Memory and Narrative, Cultural Memory in the Present) and newly-minted journal (Memory Studies). Scholars in rhetoric have, of course, made many important contributions to this field, particularly in analyzing how material monuments function as manifestations of collective memory (Blair and Michel, Jorgensen-Earp and Lanzilotti, Marback) and the rhetorical function of “memory texts,” discursive and visual representations of historical events (Biesecker, Hasian, Haskins). Such analyses have identified the complex intersections of rhetoric and memory in contemporary culture, the ways in which these phenomena operate as instances of communication and persuasion and/or can best be read via analysis of their planned or unplanned persuasive import.  Our interest here, however, is in recuperating the connections between rhetoric and memory not only through direct representations of historical events or collective experiences, but primarily as forces that are co-implicated generally in everyday subjective experience and rhetorical performance, a conception of rhetorical memory perhaps best represented by memory as rhetorical canon, or, as we suggest below, by looking even further back into the early rhetorical tradition. [4]

Dante Gabriel Rossetti's "Mnemosyne" (aka "The Lamp of Memory"), late 19th C

Indeed, one of the reasons rhetorical memory has been so hard to recuperate is likely that it was already an impoverished concept at the time of its “canonization,” particularly when compared to its previous status in the early Greek cultural scene that midwifed Western metaphysics and rhetoric. As numerous scholars have emphasized, in its manifestation in the Greek concept of mnemosyne (both the name of a goddess in Greek mythology and the abstract term for “remembrance”), memory was consistently invoked to both assay the divides and bridges between human interiority and cultural exteriority as well as to delineate the spiritual or intellectual capacities of humans from their affective and biological facilities (Davis, Loraux, Notopoulos). [5] As Vernant (115-153) and Detienne (39-52) have outlined, mnemosyne went through at least four important and often overlapping functions in Greek culture and philosophy: memory as a divine source of creative inspiration and access to “eternal truth” (the “Hesiodic” conception of memory); mnemosyne partnered with lethe (forgetfulness, oblivion) in esoteric rituals focused on death and immortality; practices of memory and recollection developed by the Pythagoreans and in the writings of Empedocles aimed toward discovering the entirety of one’s soul; and, finally, the Platonic conception of revelation and learning as practices of recollection. In all of these stages, mnemosyne and memory practices are positioned as interfaces between the “inside” and “outside” of human subjectivity, the barrier or entry used to determine how motivation, persuasion, and knowledge emerge from within or without; thus, theorizing memory was a crucial tool for determining the “objective” or “subjective” status of personal and cultural knowledge as well how human desires and beliefs emerge or are installed within humans.

In this article we argue for the value of recuperating such an expanded notion of rhetorical memory for understanding the interactions of subjectivity, sociality, and persuasion today. In particular, we argue that the rhetorical force of “memory” in the present moment – the aspects of memory that make it a vector of motivation and persuasion – has shifted in response to the increasing ubiquity of information technology and “New Media” forms as well as the increasing reliance on affective “memories” and precognitive associations in the rhetorical strategies that dominate the use of persuasion in contemporary politics and economics.  In both of these cases, we mark a shift in emphasis from what we propose to call the “content” of memory – the particular image or experience that is formed or recollected – to what we propose to call the “program” of current ecologies of memory – the broad systems in which past experiences and associations are captured and/or strategically leveraged for persuasive effects. This shift, we suggest, shows the most influential forms of current rhetorical memory to have more in common with the early Greek interest in the non-cognitive and asignifying vectors of persuasion associated with mnemosyne than subsequent considerations of rhetorical memory as processes for the individual or collective “storage” and “retrieval” of particular texts or ideas.

More specifically, in what follows we thematize this shift in contemporary rhetorical memory from two directions: an “externalization” of memory and commonplace rhetorical structures through information networks and technologies, and an “internalization” of memory that takes place in human affective systems. Our overall argument is that such an expanded view of rhetorical memory as it functions in the present may be one of our best ways to understand and respond to the intersection of (individual) subjectivity and (collective) sociality today.

Much like the pre-modern import of mnemosyne, we will also suggest that contemporary rhetorical memory is similarly bound up with broader questions of persuasion (how we are persuaded or motivated to adopt particular beliefs or perform certain actions), ethics (who we “are” and the communities we are a part of), and politics (how we are implicated in or integrated into large processes of social power). We return to this question in our conclusion by arguing for the roles that rhetoric as a domain and rhetorical memory as a resource might play in tracing relatively recent changes in the role and function of persuasion in contemporary culture.

Remembrance of Things Present: External Symbolic Storage and Rhetorical Networks

Although scholars such as Jean-Francois Lyotard and José Van Dijck are correct in emphasizing the impact that contemporary information technology and storage has had on rhetorical performance, a longer view of this relationship would equally foreground the earlier function of rhetoric itself on the storage of information: the techne that played the role of organization and arrangement that is now most associated with material technologies. The work of Merlin Donald, a cognitive psychologist who has studied the intersection of biological life systems and information systems from early hominid development to the current moment of high technology, is particularly helpful in thinking through such a relationship. The central focus of Donald’s recent work is the co-implication of biological and cultural evolutionary mechanisms; although we tend to think that human evolution primarily takes place through biological responses to environmental changes, and that the impact of technology on this process has been significant only in relatively recent times (e.g., through biotechnology, birth control, genomic medicine), Donald suggests that cultural changes have long been implicated in biological evolution. In particular, he foregrounds the ways that major cultural developments such as the emergence of language and literacy have impacted biological evolution, rewiring not only the human mind but also the physiological brain. For Donald the most prominent aspect of such bio-cultural evolution is its impact on human memory, the way that shared, exterior, communicative mediums such as early pictographic imagery or print literacy—what Donald codes as systems of “external symbolic storage” (ESS)—have altered human needs and human capacities for memory. On the one hand, as in the Platonic critique of writing, Donald has ears for the ways that our increasing abilities to store information outside of personal, biological memory may have diminished some aspects of human memory capacities, particularly our skills in mental arithmetic and rote memorization (“Human” 166). On the other, however, he underscores how the external storage of memory “far exceeds the capacity of biological memory” and thus ESS has “radically changed the total memory storage capacity of humans, as individuals and as species” (Mind 312-313).

The most dominant form of externalizing memory in the present time and thus the most ubiquitous interface of personal and collective memory, is, of course, the variety of contemporary information technologies that allow memory storage that is personal but not biological (computer memory, smart phones, USB drives) and/or shared in cultural ecologies (web presences, databases, GPS navigational systems). Donald attends, however, to the crucial role rhetoric played centuries earlier in this process, one that in many ways created a pattern for externalized memory still present in current information systems. Although acknowledging that early Egyptian culture displayed signs of collective memory (apparent through the use of hieroglyphs, or phonetic writing), the first to actually “store” memory was the Greeks. Greek culture was the first in which “complex ideas were placed in the public arena, in an external medium, where they could undergo refinement over the long term” (Origins 344); once externalized in such ways, personal memory could survive beyond the lifespan of single individuals in symbolic cultural systems and thus serve as a resource for cultural collaboration. For Donald, the emergence of rhetoric as a discipline and rhetorical training as a pedagogy was a vital step in the development of this process of externalization. Particularly in its attention to the strengthening of memory and its pragmatic value in social, legal, and political exchanges, rhetoric became the first active attempt at “the large-scale, on-line structuring of linguistic thought products,” the formation of a metalinguistic skill set that broke considerably with the “simple, linear narratives and unconstrained imaginative myth” that had previously structured the Greek psyche and culture (348). In this sense, rhetoric was the first discipline to fully acknowledge and take advantage of the unique cognitive advantage of humans to have “active” access to memory rather than the “passive” collection and recollection of sense experiences. Beyond the simple training of memory for the purpose of recitation, Donald writes, rhetoric also emphasized the strategic uses of memory in “the art of argument and imaginative improvisation” (349). As such, it emphasized that the ability to effectively source and innovatively rearrange information and knowledge was equally, if not more, important as the raw possession of information, an axiom that has become increasingly prevalent in the contemporary age of digital media and networked symbolic storage systems. [6]

From Donald's "Origins of the Modern Mind" (359)

Donald’s consideration of the importance of internal and external symbolic storage in the role of bio-cultural evolution lends much credence to the early Greek belief that memory/mnemosyne was bound up with the dimensions of subjective interiority and exteriority and is a vital vector in our capacities to affect through, and be affected by, persuasive discourse. The precise nature of these functions in the present moment is a somewhat thornier question, and a necessary one for us insofar as our primary interest is thinking through the contemporary value of rhetorical memory as a concept, contra its explicit general formation in early Greek culture. Such an inquiry is perhaps best approached by making a finer analysis of the shared structures of rhetorical memory training, particularly how each balances emphases on the “program,” or systematic nature of memory devices, with its “content,” or the variable information or material to be contained within this structure. The zero point of this dichotomy is likely one of the simplest of rhetorical devices, the trope. On the one hand, as codified techniques for “wordplay,” the trope is a pattern that a rhetor memorizes and hones; these patterns then serve as systems that can be leveraged in the future for improvisational turns of phrase or enhancements of spoken or written discourse. On the other hand, however, when a particular iteration of a trope becomes widespread, it moves from being a type to a stereotype or cliché. For instance, there are innumerable ways that synecdoche may be deployed, but particular iterations, such as the use of the phrase “hired hand” to refer to an employee, can become common communicative currency. All other more complex forms of rhetorical memory training may be taken to emphasize one or the other of these functions. Consider, for instance, one of the most popular memory techniques, the method of loci, in which parts of speeches or arguments were mentally associated with elements in an imagined physical location such as a house.  As a technique, the method of loci is almost wholly a program; though there are many variations on this program, and an unlimited number of items or associations that might be worked within the program, the “content” of the technique is composed only of the act of association (between mental ideas and physical locations) itself. At the opposite end of the spectrum would be techniques such as Aristotle’s commonplace topics, sequences of fairly detailed strategies for effectively responding to particular types of situations in discourse (Rhetoric II.23); such techniques are high in “content” rather than system, though they too could be adapted to various circumstances.

15th C visual mnemonic influenced by the Method of Loci

Emphasizing this dual nature of rhetorical memory techniques puts a finer point on memory’s function as a mediator or interface between human interiority and exteriority as well as the impact of rhetorical memory on suasion in general.  Although such techniques have come to be known as instances of “artificial memory” (Yates), as effective persuasive techniques they were premised on a proto-psychological notion of the “natural” and embedded in a feedback loop with the common. When formulated within rhetorical pedagogy, these practices were designed to mimic or amplify what were taken to be the natural (and therefore) familiar processes of thought and communication (whether they be the most established arrangement of elements of an argument, the most seductive turns of phrase, or the most accessible strategies of refutation). Of course, once these techniques became pedagogically codified and disseminated, this process further reinforced the prevalence and presumed universality or innateness of these strategies. Furthermore, immersion in these techniques also had the effect of restructuring interior thought as a whole, as habituated practices of memory training and association became second if not “first” nature for practitioners.

This co-implication of interior, personal memory and externalized systems of symbolic storage has been maintained, if not intensified, in the time during which changes in the techne-cultural matrix has been increasingly driven by visual and digital information technology. Indeed, one can not only read the emergence of “New Media” forms as a whole as reflecting this co-implication, but can also, in their chronological progression (from cinema, to television, to home-videography, to networked computing technologies) as marking a shift in the priority of what we have called the “content” and “program” vectors of externalized memory. Much as this sequence is often read as a progression toward the greater “interactivity” of media (the ability of a user to interact with and/or contribute to a media)—such as in McLuhan’s famous distinction between “hot” and “cold” forms of media—increased interactivity and the increased “networking” of information technology has also led to the priority of the “program” vector of externalized memory over its “content.” The externalization of memory in early forms of “new” media (cinema, television, videography)—the contemporary analogy in many ways to the “content” centered forms of early rhetorical memory practices—has attempted to emulate our common human memory practices while simultaneously altering the ways we “remember” with and without external adjuncts, the way we experience events intended to be stored in external memory, and how we conceive what “counts” as valid memory. Perhaps most obviously, the presentation of subjective experience in media such as cinema, television, and early (“read only”) web formats attempt, much as literary works do, to gain its representational power through mimicking natural or common processes of human experience and recollection. The popularity of such attempts, however, much as the early feedback loop of rhetorical memory techniques, has the effect of additionally altering the “natural” memory processes of their audiences. Digital publisher Florian Brody provides a concise demonstration of such a feedback loop in doubly tracing his personal memory practices and the history of cultural media forms: “Three generations ago, I would likely have categorized every evocative scent as inextricably linked to Proust’s Madeleines. In my youth, I saw the road to work on an average morning as one long tracking shot in a Nouvelle Vague film. Today I find it difficult to think of my life as anything but an interactive net ” (143). The formats and styles of “exterior memory” presented in the public sphere also impact our own fashioning of mediated memories. Media theorist José Van Dijck emphasizes, for instance, how the internationally franchised “home video” program America’s Funniest Home Videos has led home video enthusiasts to adopt the show’s narrative structures and themes in filming their own families and friends (19). The anticipation of exteriorizing memory within media can also, of course, significantly impact the staging of the event being captured, molding it to the benefit of its status as a future source of recollection and to the potential detriment of its present status as real-time experience (an experience familiar to anyone who has decided to have their wedding videographied for posterity).

Finally, and perhaps most strikingly, the mere potential of exteriorizing memory in narratival media can suggest that only those memories captured in such ways are real or reliable. Documentary filmmaker and writer Errol Morris suggests, for instance, that such an intimate and naturalized conception of “external storage” as memory led Military Police Specialist Sabrina Harman—now best known as the smiling, “thumbs-up” posturing, figure in the digital photos of Abu Ghraib prison abuse—to make the counterintuitive decision of documenting such abuse in photographs and letters home; Harman has stated: “I put everything down on paper that I was thinking. And if it weren’t for those letters, I don’t think I could even tell you anything that went on. That’s the only way I can remember things, is letters and photos” (qtd. in Gourevitch and Morris).

However, the most intense locus of the contemporary feedback between internal and external memory, and the strongest analogue to “program” centered early rhetorical techniques, is undoubtedly current computing technology. As technology marketer James Bailey argues, as “we” reshape computers, computers have been slowly “reshaping us,” and a key vector of both of these processes has been memory and the ways in which humans and machines can store, digest, and interpret representations of information. As Bailey writes, the primary challenge of early computing development was not, as one might expect, computational speed, but rather memory capacity. Indeed concern over reliable memory (in both humans and machines) has historically trumped concern with speed, as a slow, but accurate, computation is clearly preferable to a fast, but inaccurate, one; hence, early mathematicians often favored memorable, rather than efficient formula and processes (70-71). Although the primary impact of the rapid progress in both memory capacity and computational speed in computing technologies is, as mentioned above, often taken to have had a negative effect via the denigration of human abilities to store memory and do even simple computations, Bailey suggests that they have positively enlarged our abilities to digest and store information in more complex ways. Most importantly, Bailey foregrounds how computer modeling and design strategies have increased human comfort and competence in dealing with visualized information and “image-based communication” as a whole, increasing our abilities to understand, store, and represent information in non-linear and non-discursive domains (81). In this sense, then, the technological storage and manipulation of memory “content” has led to the accessibility and pervasiveness of new “programs” or structural forms for memory practices.

Much more striking however, are changes in online mechanisms for storing and sharing of individual or “private” memory content in public realms. The increasing popularity of personalized information management and social networking technologies such as Gmail, Flickr, YouTube, and Facebook, are perhaps our best demonstrations of the recursion of “program” changes in individual and collective memory. All of the above examples follow a fairly straightforward itinerary of the externalizing of individual memory into extra-human realms, whether this content takes the form of written communication (Gmail), static images (Flickr), video (YouTube), or some combination of all of these (Facebook). However, the technological interface through which this content is externalized and arranged produces novel changes in the larger interfaces of the private and public, and of internal and external vectors of persuasion and ideation.

Consider, for instance, Foucault’s paradigmatic notion of “disciplinary” power – the crafting and modulation of human subjectivity organized around particular identity formations and their related practices (student, worker) and particular sites of training (schools, factories) that would “sort” and maintain identities concomitant to their inclusion or exclusion from such sites and practices. However, as a mode of both economic value and of social power, networks such as Facebook and Flickr operate largely through mechanisms of broad inclusion rather than the threat of exclusion, and the “content” of this externalized information is far less important than its simple insertion in the “program” of these storage practices. The content of messages sent on your Gmail account, for example, are entirely unimportant to the service except insofar as keywords or trends in that content trigger a number of highly targeted or “individualized” advertisements that will be inserted into your interface for sending and receiving messages. Such technologies illustrate what is perhaps the most striking consequence of both the contemporary “externalization” of rhetorical memory and of emergent modes of social power: how the former enables the latter to relax its reliance on extracting cultural or economic value from the stable maintenance of particular subjectivities or ideational frames, and instead efficiently respond to, and extract value from, virtually any kind of subjectivity that can contribute content to shared networks of communication and commerce. As a vector of the long history of rhetorical memory, such networks comprise what we might take to be the most intense moment of the “program” of a memory system taking precedence over its “content.”

Rhetorical scholars in memory studies have, of course, long emphasized both the ways that memory is externalized and how an individual’s personal contributions (material or discursive externalizations of interior memory) to sites or networks of collective memory alter not only their individual relationship to the same but also the site or assemblage itself. For instance, Blair, Jeppeson and Pucci have analyzed how the “symbolic field” of the Vietnam Memorial is affected by items that visitors leave at the site as well as the addition of new names to the Memorial’s wall; thus the Memorial as a whole “admits within its text the multiple decorations, stories, interpretations, elaborations, and arguments that visitors leave at the site” even as it may appear to be a stable material site of collective memory (and mourning) (272-273). In this sense, then, the Memorial possesses less a “static” content or representational value than a continually demonstrated “program” for absorbing and refiguring memories and experiences. The externalization of memory taking place on the immaterial networks named above, those that traffic in much more quotidian and individualized experiences and sentiments, represent what might be taken as a more intense version of the same process; their appropriation of contributions from diverse individuals is made much easier by focusing solely on the “program” through which memories are aggregated and categorized while jettisoning any significant concern with the content of these materials.

Similarly, the relatively recent changes in the externalization of memory that find their most intense forms in contemporary social media might force us to revise or update the ways in which memory has been defined “against” such externalization by such Memory Studies scholars as Pierre Nora and Andreas Huyssen. Nora, writing in what we might call the “early days” of New Media in late 1980’s, suggests that the “tremendous dilation of our very mode of historical perception” wrought by the ubiquity of media signaled a “conquest and eradication of memory by history” (7; 8). For Nora, memory as a force that “remains in permanent evolution, open to the dialectic of remembering and forgetting…vulnerable to manipulation and appropriation, susceptible to being long dormant and periodically revived” is increasingly crowded out through its externalization in media and “material sites” of recollection (such as monuments) that discipline and reduce memory to the universalizing framework of history that “belongs to everyone and no one” (8; 9). Analyzing contemporary practices of rhetorical memory in reference to their “program” rather than “content” aspects, however, suggests that the externalization of memory has become its own “framework” very different than the one we might attribute to history; here the “universality” comes not form a static representation that all are meant to share, but a dynamic process of exchange in which all shared aspects of personal memory become variables for the flexible sequences of identification, targeting, and marketing that mark contemporary New Media environments. Similarly, although he prizes as instances of “memory” many of the externalized or materialized texts and sites that Nora suggests hail the eclipse of memory by “history,” Huyssen similarly opposes the externalization of memory in memorials and monuments to its externalization in New Media. For Huyssen, the “memory boom” illustrated in these sites and in the general “turn to memory” in the contemporary humanities and social sciences represents “the attempt to slow down information processing, to resist the dissolution of time in the synchronicity of the archive, to recover a mode of contemplation outside of the universe of simulation and fast-speed information and cable networks” (Twilight 7). [7] Although Huyssen’s counterposing of more contemplative practices against the speed of media networks may be as true now as when he made this distinction in the mid-90’s, today we would also have to say that externalized memory “itself” has become the engine, content provider, or “value” of such networks.

In the conclusion of this essay, we turn to the broader impact of the “program” vectors of contemporary memory management, its implications for contemporary rhetoric, and its value for thinking social power and cultural life. First, however, we return to a different conception of contemporary rhetorical memory, one that is both a complement and counterpoint to its exteriorization in mechanical and mediated realms: the internal, affective forces that equally construct the materiality of memory today.  Far from being separate processes, instead we suggest below that the two not only reinforce the operations of their counterparts but might also be taken to share a surprisingly similar logic.


[1] Although it is now generally acknowledged that the first extant iteration of the five canons occurs in the Ad Herennium and that Cicero is not the author of this work, we follow here the critical commonplace of referring to these canons as “Ciceronian.”

[2] Perhaps the most notable exception to this itinerary is Augustine’s suturing of rhetorical memory to religious reflection.

[3] See Rossi (97-129) for a detailed history of the influence of Ramus’ approach to rhetorical memory. In Bacon, Vico, and Wilson’s works memory is reduced to practiced skills: Rhetorical memory for Bacon is simply the storehouse of experienced events (103-4); Vico tends to align rhetorical memory with the rigorously developed imagination in adolescence (13); and for Wilson, the practice of rhetorical memory must be cherished and rehearsed, holding both the experience and words together (Art of Rhetorique, Book I).

[4] Of course, analyses of the intersection of rhetoric and memory through specific objects or texts often entail or imply analysis of the how rhetoric and memory come together in general. For instance, Haskin’s reading of the U.S. Post Office’s Celebrate the Century, discussed below, uses that particular campaign to make broader judgments about the potential use and misuse of collective memory (particularly the reduction of memory texts to the status of commodities or propaganda). Our approach here might be read as performing something of a similar process in reverse: identifying the overall structures of rhetorical memory as vectors of subjective experience and rhetorical performance, to claim that something of these structures circulates in all instances of rhetorical memory. In this sense, the difference we are claiming here is more of emphasis rather than kind.

[5] As Vernant emphasizes, although there were many gods associated with human capacities or skills (Phobos, Metis, etc.), “Mnemosyne seems to be a special case. Memory is a very complicated function related to important psychological categories, such as time and identity. It brings into play a whole collection of complex mental operations that can be mastered only with effort, training, and exercise” (Myth 116).  Further, the cunning of metis is taken to be a natural attribute—you were blessed with it or not—but memory was a willful and practiced vector. Memory, then, might be leveraged as a horizon or “boundary case” between philosophical and rhetorical conceptions of innate ability, knowledge, techne, skill, etc.

[6] Indeed, although Donald’s depiction of networked information technologies as “a virtually infinite and ungoverned palace of memory” is meant as a reference to its replacement of the “memory palaces” of brick-and-mortar libraries, it might equally be taken to foreground the relation between the skills emphasized in early rhetorical memory training and contemporary strategies for accessing and leveraging information technologies (“Memory” 572); the “palace of memory” technique, more popularly known as the “method of loci,” was the popular mnemonic technique advocated by Quintilian and Cicero and described below.

[7] See also Huyssen, Present, 27-28.


  • ASSIGNMENTS: Read all of “Part I” and the essay “The Age of the World Picture” in The Question Concerning Technology. Bring your response to same with you to class next week.
  • STUFF TO LOOK FORWARD: The SECRET History of Cybernetics!!
  1. Writing and Reading With my Body

    I find the writing of a response to Rotman a perplexing one. Sitting in (not) my office, Amy and I began to argue about the concepts circulating in Becoming. There is a certain confusion about the terminology of subjectivity stemming both from Rotman’s play with the potential for new technologically mediated notions of self as well as his seemingly non-referential pronouns. Take for example his opening sentence to the second full paragraph on 134: “It would be surprising, given it is a metonym of and production by the body, for there not to emerge a corresponding self, the creation of an ‘I’ in tune with and experientially appropriate to such embodiment” (emphasis mine). Despite our oft harped upon desire to have pronouns connect to a clear referent in the teaching of college writing, Rotman’s grammatical faux pas occurs on a number of occasions throughout the text. While my immediate response is one of annoyed confusion, upon reflection the performative aspects of Rotman’s texts are thought provoking and amusing.

    In Becoming Beside Ourselves, Brian Rotman attempts to think through the repercussions of the detachment of the ‘gestural-haptic’ from the written word (or, might we phrase it: repercussions of the progression of the gestural-haptic to the written word). This technologically mediated division eventually advances forward far enough to bring haptic back to communication, allowing for the (re)advent of the bodied/affective/haptic subject (what Rotman refers to as a para-human subject). While this is all well and good, questions remain. If, as Rotman indicates, the advent of parallel or quantum processing excavates the para-self from the ruins of the linear and singular notions of selfhood constructed by semiotics, or as he explicates: “Through external technological mediation … the preexistence of an ‘internal multiplicity of selves’” then we can assume that the originary gestural haptic self was one of multiplicity. How then would this multiplicity function? Can reflecting on this help to structure the way we think about the return of the para-self when mediated through technology? Anyways! I multiply.

    This brings me back to my discussion at the start of the page. In my analysis of sentence construction, I take the “it” to refer to the Internet, a medium that Rotman believes to be much more haptic than visual (based in the body rather than semiotics). However, I am not quite convinced of the Internet’s completely haptic quality. Rather, I think it more suggestive to think of the Internet as a transitional medium where hapticity and alphabetic visuality come together. We have not leapt into the age of the machine, as Rotman indicates in his undecidability over this new subjecthood. We have yet to leave alphabetic subjecthoods behind and also have yet to see a technological break that can engender a change in experience. We are at best in a moment of indeterminacy, or are we?

    (This is my own interlude. If this has yet to make sense,
    then please skip to the end of the page ….)

    Yet, when we return to Rotman’s grammatical frustrations, perhaps then there is actually a nod to the gestural-haptic. The frustration aimed at the confusion of misdirected pronouns incited a very bodily response. Even more so, the response goes beyond an affective one (i.e. anger, frustration). The once entirely semiotic turns gestural in my handling of these seemingly indeterminable pronouns when hand and mind begin physically connecting pronouns and their original alphabetical referent via a diagram of circles and lines. Rotman’s ideas become almost performative as I read, demanding a bodily moment in my encounter of the alphabetic language. My question then: Is this some way to bring together the alphabetic and the gestural again? Or am I attempting to bridge the two phases when these ideas have always already been? If so, then perhaps this does not indicate a shift in subjectivity at all, a conclusion I feel is true. Nevertheless, much like the charge of the Internet as a singularly haptic experience, I question the notion that alphabetic literacy has little connection to haptic or bodily movement, rather, perhaps because of new technologies these experiences are much more attached.

    To attempt to resurrect myself from this conundrum, would the very writing of a response singularize the experiences with the text that are possible? Are we not caught in a double bind? The condensation of thought into a reductive totality seems to me indicative of the linearity and homogeneity of the alphabetic system.

  2. A bit of a paragraph-smash going on there. ^

    I can’t edit or delete the entry so I’ll just post it again:

    “I are never alone”

    To be honest, Brian Rotman asks so many of his own questions, that it proves difficult to conjur any without paging back through the text, wondering “has he already asked this himself?” The comprehensive nature of the argument aside, one of his questions pushed itself to the forefront – “Can it be a network?” (104) In this case, “it” being the para-human.

    As I understand it, the “para-human” is not above or below, beyond in any way, in front or behind, nor is it a replication or a “clone” of oneself. From there, I cannot imagine that the para-human – all of those “I’s” beside ourselves – are in any way the many projections of our image/persona that are displayed in various digital locations such as Facebook. This naturally alters the way I approach the question of whether or not the para-self can be a network – in fact, it altered my approach as many as three times since reading the book.

    If the para-self is in a constant state of “becoming,” and we also know that its condition is a horizontal movement, and more importantly for the issue of networking, the para-self is not a multiplied self (so that it may only be one self – as commonly referred to by Rotman as “it” and not “they”) – what would it mean then to network with one’s para-self? We know that, according to Rotman, at this point we can only “desire” to always be in the process of “becoming multiple,” but it seems that the para-self does not require a multiplicity while it can simultaneously aspire to one. Instead, it only asks acceptance – to be “embraced” and acknowledged. Once that happens, we can then re-pose the question: what network exists within/between the para-self and could this network then encourage the parallel selves to become a multiplicity that could somehow branch off from regarding the “monadic I?”

    Furthermore, if we are able to harness the technological environment and do so, can we still locate and acknowledge the “monadic I” which may lead to the ability to remain willfully isolated within the network, simultaneously remaining parallel and isolated – almost as if to assign separate agency to the new-found multiplicities? I believe that the answer is yes. Given the fact that Rotman traces the self as having once had “an internal ‘multiplicity of subjects’ which were then focused around the alphabetic “I,” and are now attempting to escape again through the medium of various technologies – which are, I think, themselves haptic in a similar (and I use this term loosely) way that gesturo-hapticity existed prior to the written word (102-105).

    My question, hopefully complex in its seeming simplicity, is this: What does the “network,” if anything, stand to lose from parallel selves as opposed to merely the self and its others? If self-annunciation is still occurring within the digital network (and we are therefore still able to recognize the self – at least one of them in order to project it onto others despite our parallel selves) – has the networked self really been affected? Further, does the possibility of externally producing affect and desire and all other processes which have always been thought of to be simply “human,” threaten the social network or enhance the concept of humanity (in perhaps a new “gesturo-haptic” sense)? Do these para-selves still operate under the same conditions of the network?

  3. Given that over the last ten years I have found more and more ways to avoid actually speaking out loud with other human beings, it’s hard to argue with Rotman’s observation that print has achieved dominance over language. It’s really interesting to me though that Rotman brings up the invention of money as a way of further illustrating his point. He quotes Richard Seaford, who calls both the idea of the mind and the idea of monetary value “abstractions, embodied and yet in a sense invisible” (127). Money encompasses everything, because we can set a price (or imagine setting a price) on just about anything. Rotman describes the attempts of writing to achieve the same thing, to encompass or express anything. As Rotman points out, this is impossible. The written word can never express all that our gesturing bodies are capable of. Developing forms of new media in some ways overcome the limits of writing, by allowing us to create “texts” which capture tone of voice, rhythm of speaking, the movements of our faces and bodies as we talk. And if the written word encouraged us to imagine an abstract author, provoking ideas of Mind and God, these newer forms of media encourage us to imagine multiple speakers, crossing boundaries between ourselves and others.

    In a note on page 149, Rotman suggests that writing preceded money anyway, but I’m still curious about how money has kept pace (if it has kept pace) with these changes. After all, why bring it up at all if it’s of no consequence. Does the invention of alphabetic writing somehow pave the way for the invention of money? Rotman says that alphabetic writing (as opposed to images and digital computing) can be associated with the “the serial, the singular, the monolithic, and the linear” (83). I wouldn’t want to claim that alphabetic writing alone enables concepts like the free market, but it seems well suited to an economic system that participates in the cult of the individual. I have to trust Rotman regarding the cognitive effects of alphabetic writing, but I’m curious about the ideological effects of alphabetic writing, a question which seems to make the question of money relevant, because it’s difficult to isolate the effects of one particular aspect of a culture.

    With that in mind, the interaction of alphabetic writing and money, two inventions encouraging similar ways of thinking, seems worth asking about. For instance, while the written word may be devoid of affect, in a service-driven economy, money has certainly become capable of purchasing it. In fact, some of the most demanding jobs, in terms of emotional labor, are those that pay the least. What does this change, when we view not just our time and labor, but our emotions as being subject to a monetary value? If new forms of media impress upon me the importance of the body and affect, but my paycheck continues to remind me that my body and my emotions are worth $7 an hour, how will these two forces ultimately influence me culturally if not cognitively? What are the effects of living in a world where money is increasingly abstract? Many of us no longer carry cash, and plenty of us don’t even make our purchases with our electronic cash, but use credit. As we’ve moved away from a production-based economy, the United States increasingly makes its money not from buying and selling products, or even the emotions of its laborers, but by buying and selling debts, and possible debts.

    I ask these questions because I’m curious how much impact money has on the scenario Rotman lays out for us. Is it negligible (as his note seems to suggest), or does money have to keep pace with language in order to bring us to the world of parallel selves Rotman is describing. The ending of his book reminds us, a bit unexpectedly, of the damage that can be done by religion. He seems almost to hope for a world where notions of an all-powerful deity have less influence. As a secular person living in a world arranged around the non-secular (I’m from one of those places down south where no one can buy liquor on Sundays, for instance), I suppose I’m inclined to hope for that as well. But we live in a world where a great many people don’t have access to the sort of technology (or they money to acquire it) that enables these parallel, collective views, and I can’t imagine that changing anytime soon. So I wonder about both things –how much does the evolution of money affect this model, and how much will the distribution of money, in any form, affect this model?

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