Notes on the intersection between archive and materiality

1. An object meets another object. It doesn’t touch it, but intersects it. The encounter is more that just the contact between surfaces; one  integrates the other, their structures collapse; it may create ruins or not, but indeed it creates a new structure, an heterogeneous and flexible one.

1.1. These objects are real but immaterial. They are cultural objects (if we understand culture as the social act of creating common images), because of that, they are an effect of the social form and at the same time determine. What I call objects were called discourses by some theorists of the last century; it isn’t more than an analogy, but a productive one. Gender and social class are examples of these objects; some of them form subjects, and others form things and texts.

2. The materiality of  literary texts is a kind of cultural object. According to N. Katherine Hayles, we should define materiality as the physical interaction that occurs between humans and technology and the multilayered histories that lie within any technology of communication [·]. For example, the materiality of a work of E-Lit is not just the intermedial text, nor the machine in which exists, nor the code or the reader; but the interplay of all of them displayed in time and space.

3. Following Derrida and his classic Archive Fever, every archive needs for its existence a consignation and a domiciliation. The first one determines what constitutes the archive, the second one delimits what remains outside of it. So, the archive has an origin, a double one, dynamic around itself.

3.1. Usually literary texts are part of an archive, that in the past has been called Literary tradition. The consignation of some texts is the field of dispute of the Literary History and Criticism.

3.2. In the field of  Art, the Museum plays the role of consignation and preservation of the archive, it makes architecture its domain. In the field of Literature, this is the role of the Library.

4. The Library is the result of the intersection between materiality and archive of  literary texts. It is a cultural object whose structure keeps and generates the interplays that forms materiality; at the same time, it consigns and domiciliates it.

5. The relationship between archive and materiality in E-lit is paradoxical. Despite the fact that materiality includes both literary texts and the machines that generate them; the inherent properties of the technology don’t allow it to be consigned into the archive. In other occasions, nevertheless, those properties demand the consignation under the form of a domain.

5.1. The Electronic Literature Collection is an archive that consigns certain number of relevant works of electronic literature. In doing so, creates a double domiciliation: the works sojourn individually in the webpage of ELO and are made visible as a whole for the visitor. The archive consigns individuals but domiciliates a type.

5.2. bp Nichol’s First Screening Poems were created in a comouter that doesn’t exist anymore, in a programming language that is not recognized by any other machine. Their historic and aesthetic importance demand to be consigned in the archive, but their materiality doesn’t allow it. Jim Andrews worked in the recovery of the poems, consigning the work into two domains: an emulator that gives us the chance to watch and play with the poems, and a video that documents them without played it.

5.3. In Media Archaeology Lab, a team conducted by Lori Emerson preserves and reanimates old and obsolete technologies. Because of that, some old works of E-Lit can be played in their original languages. Those Labs are and are not an archive; preserves but it doesn’t immobilize; it is the domain of a new archive and restitutes the domains of  original archives.

6. The aim of the archaeology, as we learn it from Foucault, is not the pursuit of an origin nor a totality, but of a path. The political economy of the practices and the knowledge is what constitutes the arkhé. In the archaeology of the electronic literature, nevertheless, we need that the arkhé remains in the material artifact. Insofar, this isn’t enough, we need to reanimate it.

6.1. In his study of the hypomnesis, Bernanrd Stiegler says that “We exteriorize ever more cognitive functions in contemporary mnemotechnical equipment” [·]. In doing so, we extend the institutive materiality of the archive, we consign the expression a its machine.

6.2. In this time, this exhibition operates as an mnemotechnic apparatus, the library is not just the domain but the agent of domiciliation.

6.3. An exhibition, says, Didi-Huberman, can be a deleuzian war machine. “Organize an exhibition involves always create a dialectical place” [·]

6.4. Materiality becomes the war machine against the archive, the archive becomes the war machine against  materiality.

6.5. The exhibition, this exhibition without legacy, can become the consignation of both, the archive and te material, also can be a war machine against itself


[Essay presented the 03.11.2016 in the opening symposium of the exhibition No Legacy | Literatura Electrónica (March to September 2016) at Bernice Layne Brown Gallery,University of California, Berkeley, Doe Library. | Thanks to the curators Alex Saum-Pascual & Élika Ortega for the invitation]. [Español]

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