Orienting Ourselves with (Gregory) Ulmer: A Matter of InterDimensionality

This post was originally written for Dr. Marc Santos’ “Contemporary Rhetorics” graduate course (in which I am currently enrolled) at the University of South Florida. The purpose of our (students’) weekly posts is to focus on particular passages from the weekly readings in preparation for course papers.

Within the first part of this post, I want to sketch out my interpretation of the “answers” to three specific questions: 1. What IS the MEmorial?, 2. What does the MEmorial do?, and 3. What is Ulmer’s goal WITH the MEmorial? Then, I’d like to address how trauma and testimony are related with the MEmorial (ambitious, I know, but bear with me …)

First, what is the MEmorial? The MEmorial literally IS … but it isn’t some/thing … what I mean in writing this is that the MEmorial is active, it isn’t simply some/thing (implying that it is an object). In fact, the fundamental difference between (traditional) memorials/commemorations and MEmorials lies in their objective/subjective agencies: whereas memorials/commemorations are objects, (“A memorial is an object which serves as a focus for memory of something, usually a person (who has died) or an event. Popular forms of memorials include landmark objects or art objects such as sculptures, statues or fountains (and even entire parks)” (Wikipedia)). MEmorials are subjective; MEmorials are transforming commemoration into modes of active collective reasoning. Therefore, my suggestion as to what the MEmorial is: For me, the most significant way in which Ulmer contextualizes the MEmorial pertains to the rhetorical implications (differences) between “commemoration” and “MEmorialization”. Ulmer writes, “… the practice is a means through which the full intelligence of education as an institution might become part of a writable collective memory by transforming commemoration into a mode of active collective reasoning. For the EmerAgency, the Internet is an inhabitable monument” (xii, xiii).

Next, the question of what a MEmorial actually does: the MEmorial “puts … spontaneous mourning behavior into relationship with school research, and through the new transinstitutional reach of the Internet contribute to a new dimension of the civic sphere” (xv). It literally gives agency – life – to feelings/the mourning ABOUT death, loss, etc. – it reenergizes mourning behavior by refiguring it as a critical, legitimate response/intervention WITH self- and others- preserving relationships with the world [side note 1: this relates with Heidegger’s orienting … in the sense of our choice about how we want to orient ourselves/respond to the world’s gift … in that our response to the world’s gift (even the world’s giving of death/destruction/trauma) provides two opportunities (two ways for us to orient ourselves to/with the world) … the truth-seeking orientation being an opportunity to see ourselves as part of the coming-into-being, the revealing, the granting of the world, with the world. THis orientation is “good for” nothing; it’s useless to establishing a self-and others- preserving relationship with the world.] The MEmorial enABLEs a critical response; it provides an opportunity to orient ourselves, even with something as seemingly “gift-less” as death/destruction/trauma. The MEmorial enlivens the memorial/commemoration because it RELATES the stagnant/unconscious/dead memorial WITH the context that is being memorialized; it purposes mourning, it enables – enlivens – active collective reasoning by making memorials “live” (live and “live” as in the internet is “streaming live”). Some/thing that is stagnant/unconscious/dead – as a memorial is – has no agency with others, no potential for relating, no possibility of affecting its very goals – the memorializing of trauma/the no-longer-with-us (living?); therefore, given that the memorial is some/thing, it is incapABLE of relating to life.

Last, and perhaps most importantly, is the question of Ulmer’s “ultimate” –or, rather, ultimizing [side note 2: Can I make up words, too? For the sake of conveying “being,” I’m adding “ultimizing” to my (evolving) Ulmer Lexicon)] – goals. From the way I see it, the MEmorial’s purpose/ing is to (re-) orient ourselves with living: to (re) (en) vision – to inter/enter – visioning of (standing – stagnant – unconscious/unrelated/dead) memorial/commemorations as “a deconstruction of conventional monumentality” and “constructing of unconventional MEmoriality”. Ulmer writes, “… the MEmorial differs from the German countermonuments in democratizing monumental memory rather than rejecting it altogether. MEmorials are not only reflexive … but also transitive; intended as interventions in public policy formation. Their purpose finally is not only monumentality as such, but also consulting. Their memory work is not only abstract, serving to mark an event or issue in order to bring it into representation and make it thinkable, but also practical in addressing the relationship between behaviors and beliefs or values. Traffic fatalities, for example, cannot be treated exclusively as an issue of product safety, driver training, law enforcement, and the like. MEmorials are intended to bring out this extra dimension, the human question, the disaster as a collective self-portrait. The portrait is not taken as a given, but as a glimpse of a process in progress (the past-future of Deleuze and Guattari’s “becoming” that replaces metaphysical concern with “being”) (74).

For the last part of this post, I want to address (generalities about) how trauma and testimony are related with the MEmorial. First, trauma (as trauma incites testimony/testimonial-Izing about trauma). Ulmer references trauma throughout the conversation of “testimony:” First, p. xxvii, “… the attempt to understand trauma brings one repeatedly to this peculiar paradox: that in trauma the greatest confrontation with reality may also occur as an absolute numbing to it, that immediacy, paradoxically enough, may take the form of belatedness … which poses a challenge to the very nature of commemoration (an institutionalized procedure for remote experience) (xxviii). Given that the numbing is a response/orientation to feelings of uselessness – uselessness in terms of “what can I do about the trauma/tic experience?” the MEmorial enables the unconscious (non) response to trauma to a being with consciousness as consulting. Whereas trauma “violates a person’s familiar ideas about the world and of their human rights, putting the person in a state of extreme confusion  and insecurity … (also seen when people or institutions, depended on for survival, violate or betray or disillusion the person in some unforeseen way … i.e. “shock”) testimony (the primary motivation of the MEmorial) brings the unconscious into consulting; it witnesses/monitors a disaster in progress (xxvii). In opposition to an orientation which enables numbing (a “death”) the MEmorial proposes the enabling of testimony: “In philosophy, a testimony is known as statements that are based on personal experience or personal knowledge” (Wikipedia). Ulmer writes, “To give testimony as an egent is to design a structural self-portrait (statement based on personal experience/personal knowledge) using a proportional ratio: A is to B as C is to D. It is not one that resembles the figure in the news, but that the position one occupies in one’s own scene may be figured in the news event. The news event serves as a metaphor evoking the feeling of what it is like to be in my situation” (94-95). Why testimonial-ize about traumas? Testimony re-orients us with living; it re-orients us with life, truth-seeking, accepting of the gifting (even the traumatic gifts) in ways that forge relationships among individuals and the collective; within the “self-conscious interface between individual and collective” (xxvi) the internet. Such testimonial-izing is a means of bringing a trauma (and the memorial of it) into representation and making it thinkable. Such a critical orientation is “practical” in addressing the relationship between behaviors and beliefs or values. Why are you here? For yourself – to understand ways in which YOU can practice ways in which to address your relationship with your self (your behaviors and beliefs and values) but also the ways in which you can practice the public address of this self-self relationship within the world. Your purpose? ME/mor(e) “I” al(l) ize.


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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