Sunday, December 10, 2006

So What's a Hypomnemata Anyway?

The hypomnemata is a special type of notebook used in ancient greek society by variety of common people such as tradesmen, philosophers, theologians, and students to keep personal records and fomulate opinions about the experience of the self. This habitual type of personal notekeeping was coming into vogue in Plato's time (ca. 4th century BC) and represents one of western culture's earliest technological advancements to create a conscious logos.

This new technology was as disruptive to ancient Greek society as the introduction of the computer into private life today. The hypomnemata served the growing cultivated public in many ways - as account books, public registers, guides for conduct, and individual notebooks serving as memoranda.

In The Care of the Self, the third volume of Foucault's The History of Sexuality, he writes: "As personal as they were, the hypomnemata must nevertheless not be taken for intimate diaries or for those accounts of spiritual experience (temptations, struggles, falls, and victories) which can be found in later Christian literature. [...] [T]heir objective is not to bring the arcana conscientiae to light, the confession of which -- be it oral or written -- has a purifying value."

Plato's theory of anamnesis recognized the new status of writing as a device of artificial memory, and he developed the hypomnesic principles for his students to follow in the Academy. The hypomnemata constituted a material memory of things read, heard, or thought, thus offering these as an accumulated treasure for rereading and later meditation. They also formed a raw material for the writing of more systematic treatises in which were given arguments and means by which to struggle against some defect (such as anger, envy, gossip, flattery) or to overcome some difficult circumstance (a mourning, an exile, downfall, disgrace).

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