Hypertext and Giambattista Vico

The hypertext structure of the World Wide Web can also be described in the vocabulary of Giambattista Vico's New Science as being like an art of topics. The Classical Art of Memory was based in an architectonic description of memory in space, even the Neoplatonist mnemonist in their quest for the mind of God, used the spatial arrangements of nature to hang their images upon. With Vico, memory of space was replaced with memory of time, and the art of memory became a science of history: a mechanism that was eventually transformed by the nineteenth century point of view, into a time machine by which one could relive the past.

Memory was collapsed in the twentieth century, by perpetually being stuck at it's originating point in a state of constant revolution, in hopes to preserve its eternal 'newness.' The failure of this project is articulated in the precepts of postmodernism, in which 'nothing new exists under the sun,' and every act and experience is rehearsed so many times, that the sensory perception of the unique and actual event has been burnt out and forgotten. In the midst of this milieu, the World Wide Web exists as a memory system. It is based in a theory of topics which lacks the element of common sense as Vico described it. Certainly the web links provides a coherence much in the fashion of Vico's puncta metaphysica, but there is no underlying structure or plane of reference, spatial or temporal, supporting them. The Web exists outside of the realm of human experience, but it has been hyped up and internalized as being at the heart of human knowledge. The bread crumb bookmarks one creates while spelunking the depths of the Web, are rendered meaningless by the enormity of it all: they are maps without a beginning or an end or referential coordinates. A fragment lost in a sea of fragments. The phone is off the hook. The connection has been lost in exhaustion.


Last Modified 16 Oct 1998