Concordia Sensoria Research Team (CONSERT) Doctoral Students

Mnemographic Systems: Transcribing the Senses and the Influence of Technology on Human Consciousness


Sarah T Renshaw
Special Individualized Program (SIP) Ph.D.
Concordia University

I am investigating the function of writing as a tool used to service memory and draw into question the linear structure of the sentence as being best suited for this task. I am researching current as well as past methods of communication in order to consider innovative ways to restructure forms carrying information to reflect human consciousness as nonlinear and receptive to multi-sensory input. The philosopher Jacques Derrida and the Swiss linguist Louis Hjelmslev have been influential to the direction of my research. In Grammatology Derrida points out that there is a literary bond between the play of form and the substance of graphic expression. Derrida relates the structure of the psyche to the structure of the sign. Writing provides the physical manifestation of these structures. Like Derrida, Louis Hjelmslev was not comfortable limiting language to a phonetic system of signs. He thought that all signs function between content and expression substance and that the substance did not necessarily have to be dictated by phonetics but could take on many forms and utilize different senses to articulate and perceive meaning such as gestures used to communicate in sign language. Language should not be limited to one sensory experience but rather should be transcribed throughout the senses. Receiving information through sound in speech is in no way superior to experiencing it through sight or touch. Expressions should not be restricted by material substance or form. Media available today provide an entirely new palate for expression. By studying methods of expression and how they affect culture, I would like to pursue a practice driven by the notion of unifying various branches of knowledge (Communications, Anthropology, and Art) in order to create new methods of structuring, storing, and communicating information. The form of expression informs the substance of what is expressed. I argue that the linear nature of existent communication systems does not truly reflect the way in which people think.

The development of tools reveals much about the functions and lifestyles of the people who create the tools. By investigating tools available today used to aid in the communication and storage of information one can gain insight into the collective consciousness of our own culture. I also think there is potential to exploit new tools in ways which create physical embodiments of text. Surfaces can become responsive in a manner that a page cannot. Gestures can inform the shape and movement of text, or themselves become a system of writing.

In the vein of the French Symbolists and Surrealists, I am exploring word as form that can carry meaning through the very form of its construction. Media available today provide fertile territory for creating new experiences of storing and transmitting information. By studying different systems of communication throughout various societies and time periods, I am researching cross-cultural semiotic variants and sensory constructions to investigate how signs and text produce meaning and influence consciousness and expression. I am interested in creating new methods of encoding information and designing new signifiers to reflect through their form the meaning of what is perceived. The experience of reading need not be flat and linear but should be explored with new tools to create dynamic experiences that use all the perceptual capacities of the body.