Memory and Space

Karin Wenz, Assistant Professor of English, University of Kassel

Landscape and spatial configurations have been used as mnemotechnical media in various cultures. One of such mnemotechnical systems was invented in ancient Greece. In the process of memorizing a speech, the rhetoricians were advised to imagine a house with several rooms, each room with conventional loci where to imagine a picture representing a subject of the prepared discourse. While speaking, the rhetorician imagined a path for walking from one picture to another, which he would follow in the course of his speech. Hence, the linearity of speech corresponds to the linearity of the path from room to room.

Another example of a spatially based mnemotechnical device is a system invented by the Australian Aborigines. This system consists of paths connected in a network which they call Songlines. The traditional knowledge of these tribes is mediated by songs in which the verses follow an ordering that is analogous to a journey inwhich the traveler orients him- or herself by landmarks. These landmarksare present in the real living space of the Aborigines and are connected according to a linear schema. Both systems use space and everyday experience in space as a tool of remembering, but they differ in a fundamental aspect. Imagining a house with rooms and loci for pictures follows a concept of space as a container with fixed boundaries. The imagination of networked paths as used by the Aborigines, is not a territory with boundaries,but a complex net of lines and pathways. The difference between the ancient and the Aboriginal concept may be summarized by the formula: CONTAINER,CLOSURE, LINEARITY vs. OPENESS; NETWORK; LINEARITY. These different spatial concepts can also be observed both in metaphorical concepts which refer to the architecture of text and in the discoursive space of text and hypertext.