Thanks for such an erudite and knowledgable response.
I was not intending to suggest that Yate's had anticipated the idea of
"digital" memory but rather that some of the people she discusses in her
work had done so in regard of computability and data storage (just trying to
define what "digital" might mean here). Computer memory is built like an
architecture. Even the language we use to describe it derives partially from
architecture. Thus it is no surprise that the work of people such as Bruno
or Soanes, who were using architecture as mnemonic systems, should be of
relevance to computing.
I wasn't really wanting to go any further in my claims than that. Clearly,
as you suggest, my own work is not delimited by such concepts of computing
or memory. My interest is more in the "social" human. If anything I am more
influenced by ideas coming out of anthropology than I am from computing.
That is to say, I regard the human (individually and collectively) to be a
social animal that is defined by its social context. Computers and other
abstracted systems, such as mnemonics, are reflections of this "condition".
The manner in which they are structured, function and are used is a
microcosm of the human itself, a humanity that is social in its origins and
linguistic in its character. Memory is of course part of all that. Without
it there would be no culture, no history and no language. In part language
is itself a mnemonic system. As a computer interface is a linguistic
artefact it can be argued that it too is in part a memory device.
The neo-Platonic purism that I agree underlies much of Yate's own thinking,
and that of some of her subjects (noteably the Scholastics), is anathema to
my approach to these issues, so in general I am in agreement with you.
Nevertheless, I enjoy reading such work as it can be so beautiful in its
neatness. If you read another of my recent posts, which argued against a
dualistic approach to the mind, then you would see how far from
neo-Platonism my own thinking is.
Thanks for the tip on Erik Davis's Techgnosis. I haven't read it and have
just ordered it.
On 11.09.05 00:00, Sandy Baldwin wrote:
> Yates struggles with what I'm refering to throughout her book. Look at
> the preface or the last page, or everything in between. The art of
> memory is "mysterious," explanation of how it works does not account for
> what it does, it is mystical, unsystematic, she grows frustrated in not
> being able to explain it, "the elusiveness of the art of memory is very
> trying for its historian" (quoting from memory), "very singular is the
> art of this invisible art of memory" (by heart), "I am aware of how
> little I have understood" (something like this, from the last page),
> etc. etc. The whole book is unfolds around this problem.
> The tension is not whether Yates anticipates thing but whether the
> methodological problem that Yates encounters from first to last is not
> still the methodological problem we deal with and resolve variously. I
> would say its typically resolved through an aesthetic theory with
> philosophical (neoplatonic) bases; whereas its best addressed as a
> rhetorical "problem" (i.e. not a problem, but as part of rhetoric's way
> of operating). In general, it's one thing to identify that digital
> technologies work like mnemotechnics but another to explain what this
> means (very trying for the contemporary historian, we might say).
> Of course, it's not a question of how Yates anticipates developments.
> Bush probably didn't know anything of the topic, at least as far as I
> can tell, especially since most of the work wasn't gathered until Yates'
> book! (It's possible Bush read Augustine, but there the "palaces" of
> memory are theologically infused, i.e. the problem of remembering and
> forgetting and the topology of this space is explained by the ghost that
> moves through it.) The Memex does have a certain resemblance, as do
> super-computers etc., as you note. Haunting is a good word for it, as
> the resemblance would be latent. This is an interesting topic, as
> mnemotechnics here deals with notions of form and space in architecture,
> art, and so on. Lots of work on this - some of the best by Mary
> Carruthers, Jean-Phllippe Antoine, others.
> I'd say this is significant but that the direct reception of Yates and
> the art of memory in the design of a graphical interface is more
> significant so for us: this visual supplement (computer screen, computer
> images) could only happen through the reading and overlay of Yates'
> book. (Actually, only though Spence's book on Matteo Ricci, which
> already treats memory palaces in a naive and positivized way - as
> something you can carry around in your head; i.e. unlike Yates'
> continual trouble with mnemotechics vs the art of memory, Spence has it
> all figured out. Clever him...) There's quite a difference here, I'd
> say, between the resonances in the Memex and the direct citation in the
> Alto/Mac/Windows. If you follow the distribution of the resulting
> technologies, from the Media Lab to Xerox Parc to Apple to IBM to the
> Web, and so on: unlike the resemblance or historical citation, we're
> meant to believe that the interface "is" memory, in some way. This is
> clear both in the works of these early interface designers.
> Yates answer for what mnemotechnics does is a kind of neo-Platonism:
> intense visions that are produced through mnemotechnic techniques; the
> content of the vision is not explained but remains mystical - this is
> the art, this epiphany. So, the point is not the content of the memory
> palace but the vision it produces. (Again, the point is not what is on
> the screen but the fact that it is memory, "is" being taken in all
> metaphysical force.) What this is, how to produce this epiphany, is the
> target of all subsequent arts of memory. It's clear that mnemotechnics
> produce certain results but the tension is how these are positivized -
> given content or message etc. So, by this mythology, the screen or
> cyberspace and so on, would be visual proof of the vision we all share,
> of the art that unites us (gloriously I suppose) in computer space.
> Certainly, we can be neo-platonists about it. The memory palaces of the
> computer and the graphical interface produce intense vision which is the
> spiritual correlate of internet space and network connectivity; we are
> spiritually aligned with everyone else on the net; we become astral
> projections and communicate with everyone in the virtual space of the
> internet. This is roughly the implication of Erik Davis, for example,
> when he takes up Yates in the _Techgnosis_ book. I would say it's the
> phantasy at work whenever the art of memory and memory palaces are
> invoked in relation to computers. There are many many web pages out
> there devoted to this.
> But we might doubt this neoplatonic view - such a quaint view of the
> mind, really! I find it amusing, especially since it's so deeply rooted.
> The source, I would say, is persisting notions of mind - still at work
> in the discussions of mind and consciousness and memory - notions that
> assume a "mind's eye," even in a highly qualified way.
> Now, Yates is very aware that memory is a part of rhetoric, that the
> "art" of memory is also a way of talking about the outcome of rhetorical
> technique - but she resists this, pushes it aside because she's commited
> to a notion of the subject rooted in the surplus of the imagination
> guaranteed by the art of memory. (We might say, she sees the embodied
> subject as the epiphenomena of spirit, of phantasy.) This remains
> unresolved for us: is interface design about human subjects or is it
> about rhetorical effects that constitute subjects? Or, in the terms I
> set out above, do we believe that what we see on the screen is an
> extension of our memories? I mean extension in a fully ontological and
> mystical way. Yates arrives at a compelling theory of rhetorical
> technologies of subjectivity but wants to insist on imagination as
> something that is more than technological. Artists who work on memory -
> say Salvatore Puglia or your own work (at least in my reading) - are
> more aware of the very human and not mystical situation of technology.
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Sheffield Hallam University, UK
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