Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Bare Threads, Here, But I Trust in You. Put them Together.

One of my favorite comments in these history classes - although it's levied by far the most in Modern German - is a variation on commenting on how the historian used the archives.
"This is totally a book he could have written in St. Paul."

"I think the chapter on East Germany is sparse." - "But she was the first one allowed access to East German archives."

"He obviously has spent the past twenty years poring over the city's records."
(I swear that this strain of dialogue has tickled me even before I saw it explicitly attacked as an intellectual's conceit in Antoinette Burton's Archive Stories.) The timbre of the comments I just now referenced plays countermelody to a different strain of thoughts:
"She has an acknowledgment to a specific archivist; you can tell she really lucked out and got access to something she wasn't expecting."

"Here are a few of my favorite things." [followed by a list of classic texts.]

Burton's comment on the Lower East Side Squatters and Homesteaders Archive Project: "The squatters' project is one of hundreds, perhaps thousands of similar archive enterprises taken up by groups who believe that their histories have not been written because they have not been considered legitimate subjects of history -- and hence of archivization per se."
All's I'm trying to say is that there are pressures to reify the archives, even among the people who ostensibly read and paid attention to works like Burton's, if for no other reason than to protect oneself against the inevitable onslaught of cranky grad students, looking to create some corpses.

I realize there can't be any goal in any writing project except to write the best one can write, period. And yet it strikes me that no one is ever going to look at Virginia Woolf's Orlando and say that she ought to have left Cornwall and spent more time in the Moscow archives...

1 comment:

Stacey said...

That last line is all the poet in you, fighting clear of the buttoned-up intellectual. :)