Posted by: glue | May 8, 2009

Internet Event (Apparatus)

A central point of apparatus theory is that language technologies are social machines, as much cultural (ideological) as technical.  Long before there were airplanes people wanted to fly.  Long before there was an Internet people wanted a universal knowledge web.  Here are three moments in that long desire.

Rhetorica Ad Herennium (c. 88 B.C.)

Often we encompass the record of an entire matter by one notation, a single image.  For example, the prosecutor has said that  the  defendant killed a man by poison, has charged that the  motive for the crime was an inheritance, and declared that there are many witnesses and accessories to this act.  If in order to facilitate our defense we wish to remember this first point, we shall in our first background form an image of the whole matter.  We shall picture the man in question as lying ill in bed, if we know his person.  If we do not know him, we shall yet take someone to be our invalid, but not a man of the lowest class, so that he may come to mind at once.  And we shall place the defendant at the bedside, holding in his right hand a cup, and in his left tablets, and on the fourth finger a ram’s testicles.  In this way we can record the man who was poisoned, the inheritance, and the witnesses.  In like fashion we hall set the other counts of the charge in backgrounds successively, following their order, and whenever we wish to remember a point, by properly arranging the patterns of the backgrounds and carefully imprinting the images, we shall easily succeed in calling back to mind what we wish (Herrmann, 89).

Giulio Camillo’s Memory Theater. A prototype –- a room large enough for two people – was constructed for the King of France, as described by Vigilus (1530s).  The prototype was designed to enable its user to discourse in the manner of Cicero.

Memory Theater

Memory Theater

The work is of wood, marked with many images, and full of little boxes; there are various orders and grades in it.  He gives a place to each individual figure and ornament, and he showed me such a mass of papers that, though I always heard that Cicero was the fountain of riches eloquence, scarcely would I have thought that one author could contain so much or that so many volumes could be pieced together out of his writings. . . . The King is said to be urging that he should return to France with the magnificent work.  But since the King wished that all the writing should be translated into French, for which he had tried an interpreter and scribe, he said that he thought that  he would defer his journey rather than exhibit an imperfect work. He calls the theater of his by many names, saying now that it is a built or constructed mind and soul, and now that it is a windowed one.  He pretends that all things that the human mind can conceive and which we cannot see with the corporeal eye, after being collected together by diligent meditation may be expressed by certain corporeal signs in such a way that the beholder may at once perceive with his eyes everything that is otherwise hidden in the depths of the  human mind.  And it is because of this corporeal looking that he calls it a theater (Yates, 131-32).

Bush's Memex Desk

Bush's Memex Desk

Memex, Vannevar Bush (1945).
Man cannot hope fully to duplicate this mental process artificially, but he certainly ought to be able to learn from it.  In minor ways he may even improve, for his records have relative permanency.  The first idea, however, to be drawn from the analogy concerns selection. Selection by association, rather than by indexing, may yet be mechanized.  One cannot hope thus to equal the speed and flexibility with which the mind follows an associative trail, but it should be possible to beat the mind decisively in regard to the permanence and clarity of the items resurrected from storage.  Consider a future device for individual use, which is a sort of mechanized private file and library.  It needs a name, and to coin one at random, “memex” will do.  A memex is a device in which an individual stores all his books, records, and communications, and which is mechanized so that it may be consulted with exceeding speed and flexibility.  It is an enlarged intimate supplement to his memory (Bush, 1996:  41).

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