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Interview Highlights

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Press the play button above to hear highlights from Currents' interviews with Alex Reid, Barbara Biesecker, and Josh Gunn. These three scholars discuss technology and memory as it pertains to varying aspects of rhetorical theory and practice. You can also read the content of the highlight reel below.

Music (00:02): Soft, slow piano music plays, then fades out at 00:40.The song is "Alone in the Forest" by Christiaan Bakker.

Reid: With memory the larger pragmatic questions have to do with archiving. How are we going to preserve information? How are we going to make it accessible—open access? All these kinds of issues—which are not, of course, limited to our discipline.
Gunn: In terms of what would interest both rhetoricians on the speech side and the rhetoric-composition side is the explosion of technologies in relationship to new archival practices. So we see the emergence of oral archives or sonic archives. We see the emergence of video archives, the digitization of everything under the sun, and of course the archival of the everyday, which is predominately, for us, YouTube and people recording themselves—this sort of plethora of quotidian snippets...
Reid: The emergence of digital technology has rescued not only memory but also delivery—probably delivery first, but also more recently memoryas the two largely overlooked canons of the last 500 years. 
Biesecker:  I went and visited the archives many times of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, and I didn't study the archives, their scholarly archives, but I studied the archives that they had for how the museum emerged. And what was extraordinary about those experiences, particularly the latter, was the “archive” was a mess. It was not yet organized and there were boxes and boxes and boxes of things here and there. And what was very seductive about that archive was the notion that it was like this structure of anticipation that began to emerge, where you really felt as though the secret was in there, right? So it’s a very seductive kind of work, a detective story almost where I’m going to uncover the truth of the archive. And I think, even with those very, very material traces of history, one has to remember that the archive is a scene of invention, not a place of referential plenitude. 
Gunn: I think that is the question that contemporary logics of secrecy poses to us: Who has the power to control what goes outside from the inside or who lets in from the outside to the inside?....Because in our so-called Information Age, when everything is transmitted so quickly, everything is distributed so quickly, one is tempted to say there are no secrets. Nothing can stay secret for long in our contemporary age of publicity. If publicity thrives on unearthing or the gradual uncovering of secrecy, then eventually there’s nothing left to know. I think that’s the kind of new drive, or that’s where archive fever has gone, is this will to publicity combined with the logic of secrecy or archive fever.
Reid: We rely upon our ability to draw on various cultural artifacts in order to innovate and create into the future. When those things are restricted, it does restrict our ability to compose and to organize our culture. Unfortunately, so much of what is important to us socially these days is not only copyrighted—because everything is copyrightedbut the things that are most important to us are very protectively copyrighted. So, not having access to them makes a significant impact upon what we can do….Why shouldn’t we be able to draw upon and think through our experiences with these important pieces of media in our lives? I mean, that’s what we do in English departments. We read literature, and read it closely, and cite it, and now we can’t do that. We can’t take up these technologies in the way we once did.
We always want to think about memory and any kind of cognitive act in relation to different kinds of technologies. Again, if we’re going to make this kind of divide between memory inside the brain and memory outside of the body, if we think about mobile technologies, for example, they’ve changed the ways that we expect to access information, when we get it, and what kinds of information we may want. I’m walking down the street, I’m in Austin for the first time, and I want to know where the good restaurants are that are near my hotel. So, I go to Urbanspoon, and I’m looking around to see what is good. You know, I never would have accessed that kind of memory, other peoples’ memories, in that way before. Then, of course, we have this ongoing thing about new technologies affecting our ability to remember stuff. That is always reborn with each new technological innovation.
Biesecker: But some of the more inventive uses of technology that I’ve paid attention to, particularly with an eye to audience, are the interactive uses of technology. So, for example, in the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, there is in that museum what they call a twenty-four-hour, round-the-clock roll call. And there’s a whole room now full of computer terminals and so forth. And you can search for your family member, your relative, your friends, whatever. If you cannot find them there, then you can build, help to build the archive. 
Reid: We don’t necessarily think about our expressions always as memorials, as explicitly designed to preserve memory—but they do. They are artifacts of our experiences, our compositional experiences anyways. If we think about it that way, everything that we’re remixing is a memory of somebody’s.
Biesecker: We could think about World War II memory, collective memory practices, as an elaborated moment of mourning and of incorporation. Because the key to mourning is incorporation.
Gunn: Because mourning is a type of getting over, closing off, incorporation of the other, or what have you, which is why so many of us eat when we mourn—or drink, as the case may be....The relationship, I think, to memory and mourning is that obviously mourning is a type of memory making. Of course it’s a kind of forgetting too....In a more theoretical sense, I think we might refer to mourning as sort of the negotiation of a past, how to properly reckon with or orient ourselves to a negotiation with the past....In Specters of Marx, Derrida—who’s a big influence on my thinking right now—suggests that melancholia, which is the inability to mourn, is rather productive because it’s not only actualization of the drive but leaves one open to surprise.
Biesecker: Melancholia is when that incorporation is not successful and you get stuck in a structure of loss. And therefore you cannot move forward. So it’s a kind of paralysis…
Reid: Our agency is deeply intertwined with memory. One of the things that I’ve discussed is Manuel DeLanda‘s recent book Philosophy and SimulationHe talks about these models of neural nets and modeling interactions using various kinds of gaming theory to see how cultures or communities develop. One of the things he looks at is how if you change the rules so that interactions between two players are remembered not only by the players but by other members of the community, that affects the way that the community develops. So, cheaters are not only recognized by the cheated person but by other people. We all know you’re a liar. That affects the way that we act.
Biesecker: And then I’m wanting to also think about rhetoric as evental in terms of the moments of rupture that I don’t think could be captured simply in the terms of remembering or forgetting. Maybe that’s invention, I don’t know. I mean, I don’t know...In terms of counter-memory, what I like most in Foucault for this work, what I find most useful in Foucault, is his notion of effective history, and those are his words. Effective history sets bodies against themselves. So not in positive relation to others but in a discordant or negative relationship to itself. It’s a kind of self-splitting that then positions the subject differently within the existing formation. And that’s the condition for something else taking place....What I’m wanting to point to are the ways in which identification is not the key to ethical resubjectivation at this particular conjuncture. But in the context of a larger World War II discourse formation, what is in fact key to ethical resubjectivation is the violent introduction of difference within. So, in other words, what I think is key is self-division or self-shattering rather than identification between the self and the other.
Reid: These nature/culture, nature/technology divides are difficult to parse, but we’re not born with language, so we acquire language. It snakes its way into our minds, and it’s very difficult to get out. We obviously have memories that are not linguistic, like procedural memories that are only really available to the motor functions that use them, and we have ineffable experiences that we can remember. But for the most part, our memories are tied up with language. In that respect it’s very difficult to discern between a human memory and one that is mediated...
One of the ways I try to think about minimal rhetoric is trying to imagine a hundred and fifty thousand years ago or however far back we want to go to, say, prior to the symbolic behavior, symbolic action. Yet, we still have humans, and we still have trade. How do these people trade with one another? How do they look each other in the eye without language, without symbolic action, and try to figure out whether that person is cheating them or not?
Gunn: ...what I think psychoanalysis has to offer is there’s more to the human than memory.....There’s a point beyond which you cannot go, which is a fancy way of saying that there’s a limit to representation or there’s a limit to re-presentation—that there’s something beyond representation that is characteristically or even essentially human that we cannot capture.
Music (13:16): Piano melody returns and fades out to end. 
Gunn: Now Lacan takes that up and says well that’s jouissance, that’s an experience that’s an affective experience beyond representation, beyond the ability to be represented as pleasurable or painful. And it’s on that basis that we can find something called contingency, and possibility, and a future that can be otherwise, and so on....So that’s what psychoanalysis has to teach us about thinking about memory today. That’s our problem: that thinking about memory today is spectral. We have the problem of its presentation, we have the problem of its representation, we have the problem of data storage, and then the problem of retrieval. And we know those particular nodes of memory are involved, but how we can get from one to the other is a mystery. We don’t know.
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