Review by Cody A. Jackson, Texas Woman's University
Gender and Memory in the Globital Age
Palgrave McMillan UK, 2016. DOI: 10.1057/978-1-137-35263-7. $79.99 (e-book).
Scholars in post-humanities studies have long been invested in discussions and projects concerning extensions of the mind and body through technological, cultural, social, and political means. Feminist rhetoric scholars, while many of whom are involved in these discussions as well, have historically been interested in recovering voices of women and agency. Anna Reading, Professor at the Institute for Culture and Society at Western Sydney University in New South Wales, Australia, combines both of these efforts through her exploration of gender and memory in what she terms the globital age.
Reading’s introductory chapter functions quite traditionally in terms of structure. First, she provides the reader with historical context by comparing cave paintings, oral story-telling, and dance rituals to modern communication technologies such as the computer, social media, and (more importantly in regards to her work in this text) mobile devices. Second, Reading offers a rationale of the book’s aims by 1) situating herself as a “mnemologist” or a scholar of memory studies; 2) shedding light on past studies and works on memory, placing emphasis on non-Western scholarship, and 3) contrasting her work with these (and other) past studies that neglect a focus on gender and memory through the lens of globalization and digitization – hence her use and coining of “the globital age.” Third, Reading attempts to situate her book within multidisciplinary contexts by stating that it is meant to be accessed by undergraduate students, legislators, members of the media, and by those studying “medical imaging, mobile phones, social media… and the feminist archive and gender” (8).
Just as she does in Chapter One, Reading provides historical connections to the work she is performing on gender, memory, and global technology. Within Chapter Two, she invokes the work of Benedict Anderson on imagined communities and Marshall McLuhan’s prescient scholarship on technological advancements. She contrasts her work with McLuhan’s by emphasizing the need to view technology not as a determiner of (human) consciousness but through a more complex layering of meaning (21). On this point, Reading includes a portion of a diary written by Annie Maaka in which she saw a more complex presentation of quotidian experiences both familiar and unfamiliar with Western audiences. Specifically, she points to Maaka’s use of kites not only as a form of recreation but as a sophisticated form of technology and communication (23). Citing the work of feminist rhetorician Susan Jarrett, Reading also effectively calls our attention to the importance of viewing Sappho as a woman who sought to consciously record the experiences of women through her writing. Striking a similar chord, she continues on a similar trajectory by rearticulating (to an extent) feminist activism of the 19th century. After engaging with 20th century feminist thinkers such as Simone de Beauvoir, Reading emphasizes the need “to consciously use…the globital memory field to…mobilise stories of and by women” (30). Such a use, according to Reading, may enable us to reshape the uneven global networks of power.
Reading begins Chapter Three with a nuanced connection between the story of Lot’s wife in the Christian Bible, renaming her “Amza” and imagining a world in which “Amza” views the destructing and burning of her desert city while capturing it on her smartphone. Reading then provides context to the Reformation movement with a specific mention of witch trials that took place in a “society increasingly unsettled by movement” (41). Thus, the witch trials were predominately about restricting and condemning the social, physical, and cultural movement of women and, more specific to Reading’s goal in the text, a conscious effort to erase and constrain the memories of women. On this point, although it is not Reading’s immediate research interest, it would be useful to point out that sexual identity was also targeted for similar (although not identical) purposes during the Reformation period. One of Reading’s most valuable assertions is that memory technologies such as the mobile phone simultaneously allow women and scholars to “remember gender and recall women” and construct “immobilities and fixities” of data, artefacts and people in relation to borders and infrastructures” (42). As I was reading this portion of the book, I asked myself, “how can mobile technologies empower women and call attention to the memories of women if access to those technologies is limited, restricted, and consciously constrained?” Reading addressed, quite effectively, this question by framing this assertion within the scope of globalization and uneven layers of power discourses. It is this frame that Reading justifies her exploration of the globital age. Reading closes this chapter by outlining what she calls the “(trans)modality of memory” which consists primarily of four elements stemming from Anthony Gidden’s structuration theory that “sought to bring together the individual and society working recursively with each mutually producing the other” (51). The first element, extensity, consists of tracing the movement of memory from its origin. The second element, velocity, is one through which Reading reminds us that memories travel more quickly through 21st century mobile technologies. The third element, valency, is concerned with a memory’s capacity to be joined or “linked” with other memories (54). The last element in Reading’s explanation of (trans)modality is that of viscosity, the flow of memory. It is through this element that Reading reminds us that “memories are in continual state of flux and change” (55).
Chapter Four serves the very important purpose of providing literary examples of the uses of and perspectives toward memory. Reading refers to this by asking “how gender and memory is figured in the human imaginary” (61). In other words, in what ways do cultural and social imaginaries inform us on the types of techno- and social-phobias of the time periods within which these works of literature are produced? Reading begins by comparing Thomas More’s Utopia and the lesser known utopian work by Christine de Pisan titled The Book of the City of Ladies (1405). Readings writes on the latter by stating that “[it] is a riposte to what the author felt to be the continual attack on women and the memory of their achievements…” (68). Reading uses this comparison to speak to a larger issue pertaining to the traditional rhetorical canon; that is, “performance[s] of delivery act to reinforce established memories of gender” (72). This is a particularly strong critique of the rhetorical canon that can be read in the works of other feminist scholars as well.
Chapters Five, Six, and Seven
Primarily due to space constraints and to their relatedness, I have decided to examine Chapters Five through Seven in the same section of this review. Chapter Five emphasizes the issue of gender recognition that is created by the ability to view prenatal narratives (3-D imaging) and concludes by calling our attention to the digital erasure of woman within and through the process of giving birth. In Chapter Six, Reading essentially asserts that, on one hand, wearable and networked technologies have the potential to uncover and connect the experiences of women into collective bodies of resistant power. On the other hand, however, Reading reminds us (by recalling her qualitative studies) that “it is not an accident that women in these studies described the experience of being without their mobile phone as being both naked and free” (142). In Chapter Seven, Reading begins by illustrating a comparison between the Diary of Anne Frank and the Twitter feed of Farah Baker, a young Gazan woman, who was one of the civilians attacked by Israeli Defence Forces in 2014. Overall, this chapter suggests that citizen journalism and mobile witnessing could resist the marginalization of women’s voices by mainstream forms of media.
Notes on Multi-Disciplinary Access
With regard to Reading’s text being accessed by undergraduate students, I would posit that this text is a worthwhile and complex interrogation into the ways we conceptualize memory, gender, and technology. This text may be more suitable for upper-level undergraduate and graduate students who have extensive practice reading texts like Reading’s; that is, texts that consist of complex academic language and a high amounts of theoretical framing and references. Reading’s text has the potential to reshape the ways in which we perceive of not only our relationships with mobile phones and digital technologies, but it also encourages us to look more closely into the ways in which these technologies can be used to empower the voices of women. But, as Reading so eloquently reminds us, we must keep in mind that these technologies are quite complex and exist within intricate webs of networked power. I would highly recommend Anna Reading’s timely and valuable text. It not only calls our attention to the inequalities faced by women but provides us with personal, scholarly, and qualitative evidence that forces us to explore the ways in which we use technology and the ways in which technology uses us.
Cody Jackson is a graduate student at Texas Woman's University in Denton, Texas. Cody is a graduate assistant in TWU's Department of English, Speech, and Foreign Languages. His areas of scholarly interest include digital rhetoric, posthumanism, gender studies, and LGBTQ Studies.
© 2017 Cody A. Jackson, used by permission