writing's short term

I'm working on a piece on memory, which I'll be discussing in a talk at UT Austin in February, and it departs from this line in A Thousand Plateaus that I mentioned in my last post: one writes using short-term memory, and thus short-term ideas, even if one reads or rereads using long-term memory of long-term concepts.” It's not that I am in search of some slavish allegiance to Deleuze or looking to reframe things in Deleuzian terms. Instead, I think I still find this text a productive site of departure to go on to things that may or may not fit into a strictly Deleuzian philosophy (if there is such a thing). 

The notion of short and long-term memory are familiar to us, and as far as I can tell, these concepts continue to work in a recognizable way in cognitive science. Indeed there does seem to be evidence that there are two separate memory mechanisms. In scientific terms, short-term memory is generally on the order of a few seconds, involving seven elements (+/- 2), hence the length of phone numbers, zip codes, etc. So this made me wonder what D+G were on about here. By our conventional understanding of what we mean by short-term memory and writing, writing would clearly rely on long-term memory as well. The simple recollection of vocabulary, to say nothing of recalling a plan for a text or what one wrote earlier, would demand long-term recall. So my sense is that writing means something different here, or more precisely, something narrower. This narrow view then connects interestingly with thinking about composition as an act of withdrawal and casts a different light on conventional, disciplinary thinking about the role of culture/discourse communities in writing. 

As D+G discuss, it is long-term memory that connects us with ideology, capturing and territortializing thought within social assemblages. No doubt, these forces and objects enter into relation with one another in the short term of writing. However short-term or working/active memory as it is also termed places limits on what can be involved in each compositional event, in the emergence of each text-object. How much can you hold in your active memory? That's what you are composing with. Can other forces impact composition? I would think yes, on an affective level, if you're cold, tired, hungry, angry, feeling inspired, etc. And there are certainly other elements of a compositional event, like technologies. These can also mediate, as Latour would suggest, social forces. However, when one is thinking about something like the ideological force of a discourse community, perhaps we might argue that only impacts us before or after the compositional event. 

I suppose from a Deleuzian perspective one might take up writing's short term tactically in an effort to avoid capture. I can see that as a potentially useful heuristic. In fact that's what automatic writing is about in some sense. However, clearly writing anything meaningful of any length would require long-term memory. I hardly want to make memory a villain! 

However, I do think this is worthwhile from an object-oriented perspective as it offers a handle on the experience of how texts appear to withdraw from us even as we write them. We can say the words or phrases that come into our working memories are already alien objects made from a language that is other than us. That moment when thoughts become words is when those thoughts are no longer simply "ours." I'm not exactly sure when that happens. Sometimes it seems like my fingers are taking dictation from thoughts in my head. Other times the words seem to appear simultaneously or, weirdly, even creep ahead ever so slightly. Then, of course, we stop and read back over what we have done. Sometimes we race through pages, sometimes just a paragraph or even a sentence. Then we ask "Now what had I planned to do next?" or "What have I gotten myself into?" What has this thing that I have composed obligated me to? These are all long-term memory moments. 

To be clear, I don't wish to set up too facile a distinction between long-term and short-term memory in the act of writing. I would imagine there is a more seamless and ongoing switching between the two. However, at the same time, there are two different mechanisms at work here, two different objects if you prefer. And thinking about composition in these terms helps to explain why the texts we compose operate as they do.

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