In Between: Brooke and Ulmer’s New Models of Memory


Electronic Monuments by Gregory L. Ulmer
“The Vernacular Memorial: The writing practice described in this book – the MEmorial – is intended to be to the networked classroom what the argumentative issue paper is to the literate classroom. The MEmorial is a hybrid: as a composite of text and image, it combines features of the topical essay and the vernacular shrines that in recent years have become a common folk response to the disasters that befall a community” (Ulmer xiv)

For this week’s post, I want to focus on tracing Brooke’s project while anticipating a (relevant) argument re: MEmorials and the (mis-) perception of their performance (?) as simplistic exercises in “naval-gazing.” Within Brooke’s Lingua Fracta, I see infinite references, both explicit and implied, to Ulmer, Electronic Monuments, and an “order of action and idea” (Brooke) versus “the society of the [still] spectacle” (Ulmer).

Lingua Fracta by Collin Gifford Brooke

"The ideas gathered together in this project represent a particular performance of the kinds of speculation, research, reflection, and rhetorics in which I engage. A fractal set is never finished because there is always another scale of magnification from which to view it, and my attempt to articulate a rhetoric of new media shares this quality" (xvi).

First, though, I need to draw specific parallels between Brooke’s “project” (the text) and Ulmer’s project (both the text Electronic Monuments and the MEmorial, specifically). In the introduction of Lingua Fracta (Note: the title is significant in that it “attempts to capture some of the ‘middling’ that occurs within, be means of what Gregory Ulmer calls a puncept, a play on words that provokes us to think through a set of terms in more detail (p. xiv))Brooke writes, “one way of describing this project, then, would be to say that it attempts to restore the dialectical character of the rhetorical canons, seeing them as terms that “belong not in the order of motion and perception, but rather in the order of action and idea” (xiii). Brooke’s project intends to rebuild “our discipline” (rhetoric, of course) by deconstructing the simplistic parallel of memory à storage so that memory <~~~> a way of using new media to make significant contributions (to our ecology of memory) in the form of persistence (166). Once the (linear) order of motion and perception is deconstructed, the (cyclical) “order” of action and idea as reflection, as a way of re-seeing, slowing down to see more particularly, the play between presence and absence (156) becomes. For Ulmer, too, new media (Internet) is an “appropriate site for mourning these “unremarkable” disasters [i.e. memorials of tragedy; Brooke describes these types of events, like the Challenger disaster and the Rodney King beating, as “random” …]” the Internet is the media of “living monument” (Ulmer xv). In the MEmorial, Ulmer’s project parallels Brooke’s in that it, too, deconstructs the simplistic parallel of memory à monument (storage of event’s *past* significance) and reconstructs it in the action of going “live,” based on the idea that a new civic practice, a new approach to memorialization/commemoration can be experienced through recognition of the “interdependence of category and policy … [because] the task of the MEmorial is to take up the question of the public sphere by proposing a new civic practice, specific to image technologies organized by the apparatus of electracy, and operating logically with a speed that matches the accelerated conditions of a wired planet” (Ulmer xxi).

Given this (admittedly reductive) parallel between Brooke and Ulmer’s projects, I now want to move forward with Brooke’s Lingua Fracta – chapter 6, in particular: “Persistence.” Within this chapter, Brooke “questions the separation of memory into personal acts of memorization, on the one hand, and public memorial acts, on the other, which I (Brooke) read as the bifurcation of this canon into ecologies of code and culture, with little room allowed for memory practice. In the ecologies of code and culture, memory becomes an issue of presence or absence. I argue that Hayles’ semiotics of virtuality, which adds the terms pattern and randomness to presence and absence, might help conceive of memory practices that are CONSTRUCTIVE rather than purely reflective” (xviii). Specifically, I want to anticipate the argument of Brooke’s rehabilitation of memory as it relates with personal acts of memorization and public memorial acts as it relates with Ulmer’s MEmorials which – as has been suggested by the majority last week – can all-too-simply be reduced to “naval-gazing.”

From my perspective, such a (mis-) understanding neglects to consider how this deconstruction actually (critically) associates, globalizes, privileges, repeats, alludes, and – most importantly “lives” as it is “live”. For example, Brooke writes, “Young (1993) … discusses the ways that monuments’ fixedness in space ensures their ‘death over time: an image created in one time and carried over into a new time suddenly appears archaic, strange, or irrelevant altogether’ (p. 47) Young’s exploration of countermonuments and, more recently, Ulmer’s (2005) Electronic Monuments have begun to restore both the dialogue surrounding monuments and an explicit focus on the scale of practice. Yet there is still a logic of presence and absence governing much of the discussion of memorials and monuments, particularly outside of academic circles” (147). Now, to address the potential argument against such acts to “restore dialogue:” what does Ulmer (and in very similar ways, Brooke) mean by the MEmorialization (for Brooke, the ordering of action with idea in terms of a rhetoric of new media) of memories? How are we to practice the order and action of an idea of MEmorial in a way that isn’t simply analyzing, questioning, rewriting one’s OWN individual world for ONE/ME? For me, the most convincing evidence – and the biggest concern – from Ulmer’s Electronic Monuments is that “literacy has addressed the problem of individual ignorance but has not done as well in ameliorating societal ignorance. The challenge of education within literacy has been to figure out how to translate individual learning into social formations …” (xxv). So how does Ulmer’s MEmorial deconstruct such naval-gazing? It “does for the community as a whole what literacy did for the individuals within the community. [For Ulmer] the internet is a place of this scene of instruction, and the EmerAgency provides the pedagogy for group subjects … allowing the possibility of a group subjectivation with a self-conscious interface between individual and collective” (xxvi). Like Brooke writes, too, it’s between – it’s the middling – which enables the thinking THROUGH actions and ideas. It’s not about ME, and it’s not about the memorial … it’s about MEmorializING <~~~~> playing between presence and absence.

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About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550 View all posts by klangbehn

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