Renaissance mnemonics, poststructuralism, and the rhetoric of hypertext composition

Critical Writing
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This dissertation provides a prolegomenon for a rhetoric of hypertext composition derived from the Renaissance Art of Memory as well as the poststructural concept of the rhizome. Institutional inertia has prohibited the advent of a fully realized electronic rhetoric, and one can view the effects of this inertia in the "residual literacy" of recent computer interface designs and hypertext documents. The goal is to maximize the mnemonic efficiency of hypertext as a medium of information storage and retrieval. In order to do so, I establish an historical analogy bridging the sixteenth and twentieth centuries. Study of the sixteenth century as a period of transition in mnemonic practices can help to negotiate our current moment of transition from an apparatus of print literacy to an apparatus of electronic literacy. Adopting the theoretical position of grammatology, which recognizes the dynamic interaction between technologies of communication and the institutional practices determining their use in specific circumstances, I point to the shift in mnemonics that occurs during the sixteenth century as being caused by changes in the primary technology of communication and in pedagogical practices, and I suggest that the advent of electronic media will usher in another change in mnemonics, or strategies of information storage and retrieval. Edmund Spenser is a case in point; his poems are shown to reveal his employment of both the ancient oral mnemonic of the memory palace and the emergent literate mnemonic of print. Prosopopoeia, I argue, is a trope which theoretically organizes the experience of print literacy and which provides an illusory sense of control over language. The ideology of depth that results displaces a surface-oriented understanding of language and meaning, which is returning with the renewed emphasis on allegory in literary theory. The historical study of Spenser and sixteenth century mnemonic practices, therefore, is motivated by a desire to learn from them a methodological groundwork for composing in hypertext, a three-dimensional medium which promises to revolutionize a reader's relationship to textuality as long as a uniquely electronic rhetoric, suited to the peculiar characteristics of the medium, governs writing with this new tool of communication.

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Andreas Vik