Notes on The Archive

Looking at some readings from another class (Anthology Film Archives, LVIS 2201), I realized we considered the archive early in the semester. Since I’m doing something library-related, I thought I would post them here. Overall, I think we have the popular conception of an archive as a place to go for knowledge – say the word “archive” and it carries an impression of authority. Of course, who decides what is included, and under what organizational system? In my project, I’m including a very limited archive of sounds hastily assembled by one person, an archive decomposing, the sources an unconscious curation by habit? These articles take on the contentious issues around archives.

Hito Steyerl: Politics of The Archive

The author contends with many different versions of a 1969 Yugoslavian film; issues like cropping, releases for different audiences, unplayable formats and the phenomenon of YouTube users remixing and colorizing it come into play. As she asks, “what is an archive? What is an original version of a film? What is the impact of digital technologies on translation? And what constituencies are created within the digital limbo of globalized media networks?”

Allan Sekula: The Body and The Archive

Sekula explores the archive through a detailed interrogation of 19th-century physiognomy and police identification techniques.

“In structural terms, the archive is both an abstract paradigmatic entity and a concrete institution…In both senses, the archive is a vast substitution set, providing for a relation of general equivalence between images…Here was a medium (photography) from which exact mathematical data could be extracted…For nineteenth-century positivists, photography doubly fulfilled the Enlightenment dream of a universal language; the universal mimetic language of the camera yielded up a higher, more cerebral truth, a truth that could be uttered in the universal abstract language of mathematics…Photography promised more than a wealth of detail; it promised to reduce mature to its geometrical essence. Presumably then, the archive could provide a standard physiognomic gauge of the criminal, could assign  each criminal body a relative and quantitative position within a larger ensemble…This archival promise was frustrated, however both by the messy contingency of the photography and by the sheer quantity of images…Thus it is absurd to imagine a dictionary of photographs, unless one is willing to disregard the specificity of individual images in favor of some model of typicality…”

Thomas Richards: Archive and Utopia

The author considers the archive as a utopian space/state control mechanism, as a “knowledge-producing institution”.

“Victorian England was one of the first information societies in history, and it charged a variety of state facilities with the special task of presenting and representing the conditions and possibility of comprehensive knowledge. This operational filed of projected total knowledge was the archive. The archive was not a building honor even a collection of texts but the collectively imagined junction of all that was known or knowable….

Michel Foucault: The Historical a priori and the Archive

“The archive is first the law of what cab be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events. But the archive is also that which determines that all these things do not accumulate endlessly in a amorphous mass, nor are they inscribed in an unbroken linearity, nor do they disappear at the mercy of chance external accidents; but they are grouped together in distinct figures, composed together in accordance with multiple relations, maintained or blurred in accordance with specific regularities; that which determines that they do not withdraw at the same pace in time, but shine, as it were, like stars, some that seem close to us whinging brightly from afar off, while others that are in fact close to us are already growing pale. The archive is not that which, despite escape, safeguards the event of the statement, and preserves, for future memories, its status as an escapee; it is that which, at the very root of the statement-event, and in that which embodies it, defines at the outset the system of its enunciability…it is that which defines the mode of occurrence of the statement–thing; it is the system of its functioning…It is the general system of the formation and transformation of statements.”

I think this last one is perhaps the most relevant to our projects – we are all creating mini-systems of experience outside (or next-to, or perhaps even within) our everyday sonic experience. I think this last one is perhaps the most relevant to our projects – we are all creating mini-systems of experience outside (or next-to, or perhaps even within) our everyday sonic experience. We are curating sounds, or sound making systems, frameworks for sounds to be heard. Foucault makes a statement about the archive that I think applies well to the experience of art, or any mindful or heightened experience: “The analysis of the archive, then, involves a privileged region: at once close to us, and different from our present existence, it is the border of time that surrounds our presence, which overhangs it, and which indicates it in its otherness; it is that which, outside ourselves, delimits us.”

Thanks to Professor Yoon and Professor Lampert for such challenging reading!

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