topos

The Greek word topos meant literally a place, and ancient rhetoric used the word to refer to commonplaces, conventional units, or methods of thought. For the Ancients, particularly for Aristotle, topoi were rubrics with a logical or rhetorical value from which the premisses of argument derive. In the Renaissance, topics became headings that could be used to organize any field of knowledge.

It is noteworthy that Kant had recourse to these terms when he described his "transcendental topic" as the decision as to the place which belongs to every concept, as a "doctrine which distinguishes the cognitive faculty to which in each case the concepts properly belong." For Kant, the good logical use of concepts depends on our ability to relate representations of things correctly to one or another of our faculties. (sensuousness or understanding)

Among the ancient methods of thought were memory systems. In the Topics, Aristotle makes explicit reference to "persons with a trained memory" in whom "a memory of things themselves is immediately caused by the mere mention of their places (topoi)." (Yates, p.31) See Frances Yates, The Art of Memory, which was also called "topical memory."

Freud's concept of topography refers to mental localities, but not to an anatomical localization of functions. The different systems of the psychical apparatus: unconscious, preconscious, and conscious are topographically differentiated, with distinct characteristics or functions and a specific position vis-a-vis the others, so that they can be treated, metaphorically speaking, as points in a psychical space. Each system has paths specific to it as well as its own function, type of process, cathectic energy and specific ideational contents. Between each of these systems Freud places censorships which inhibit and control transposition from one to the other. The term "censorship", like other images of Freud's ('anterooms', 'frontiers' between systems), points up the spatial aspect of the theory of the psychical apparatus. (see "Topography" in Laplanche and Pontalis.)

For David Bolter, in Writing Space, the English word topic is appropriate for the computer because its etymology suggests the spatial character of electronic writing; topics exist in a writing space that is not only a visual surface but also a data structure in the computer. Outline processors allow for the identifying and arranging of topics that is itself an act of writing. Bolter calls writing in Hypertext topograhic. "It is not the writing of a place, but rather a writing with places, spatially realized topics." p. 25.