Archives and Accessibility

“An analysis of the tools you use and the way you are using them will often lead to discovering what is retarding your progress” –John Robert Gregg (I.C.b. in the Archive Index)

Borges’ Library of Babel calls to the forefront the question of accessibility: what happens when the knowledge is there but you just. plain. can’t. get. to. it? In his library, part of the problem is the sheer quantity of information; archives, in a way, can function as microcosms of this. Or, at least, the Stolen Time Archive seems to demonstrate this chaotic side of an archive. It definitely seemed as though there was information in the archive that I couldn’t access; things that it had decided to include but not to showcase. Foucault, I think, remarked that archives are never finished; as they sort out what to leave out and what to include - and, within that, what to feature and what to keep in storage - they’re constantly creating more information about choice, priorities, and specialization. It would be interesting to see what was left out of the Stolen Time Archive; in my short explorations of the site, it seemed a diverse group of art, writings, jokes, seriousness, and social commentary.

The Stolen Time Archive is effective in creating an experience – much more of an organic encountering of various materials than a scholarly presentation – but I didn’t find it that effective for learning and utilization. Perhaps it’s the tendency to click around on an unfamiliar website until something happens,  in which case the problem would be more on my end than the archive’s. The quote I excerpted at the beginning suggests that when things like the Stolen Time Archive, any other archive, or something even as fanciful as the Library of Babel don’t serve our purposes, we should examine our interactions along with diagnostics of the tools in order to best interact with archives.

Modernisms in the Americas: Latin American Periodicals of the 1930s

For my term paper, I will be expanding our analyses of modernism in the literary and artistic circles of London and Paris to encompass moderism in the Americas during the 1930s. In the early decades of the twentieth century, cities in South and Central America from Buenos Aires to Havana were vibrant cultural centers which produced periodicals engaged with the literature and art of both the Americas and Europe. I am interested in the interplay of modernist culture across the Atlantic, as figures like Jorge Luis Borges, of Argentina, helped to connect the modernist circles of Europe to those of the Americas.

I plan to focus on a single modernist magazine for my project: Sur. First published in 1931, Sur was an Argentine magazine based in Buenos Aires under the editor Victoria Ocampo. Borges was on the editorial board of Sur, and wrote both essays and translations of Franco- and Anglophone pieces in the magazine. The magazine features a lot of content--both translation of creative works and literary/artistic crticism--related to major European modernist icons, including Joyce, Woolf, Huxley, Stravinsky, Nietzsche, Freud, Gide, Breton, Eluard, Mallarme, Kafka, and many others. 

One interesting trend I noticed in Sur is the diminishment of art from the Americas over time. Issues of Sur from the first year of its publication seem more interested in representing South and Central American art and literature alongside European content: the magazine features photos of the "Remote Argentine North," of cactuses, of local people on desolate streets (Spring 1931); examples of Buenos Aires architecture (Summer 1932); images of masked dancers at festivals in Mexico (Summer 1932). These early issues of the magazine also feature photographs of indigenous sculptures and murals by artists like Diego Rivera and Roberto Montenegro. In its pairing of American and European content, Sur seems self-conscious of its own identity as a South American, Spanish-language publication. One of the most interesting pieces I found in the magazine is titled "Tres Poemas" ("Three Poems"), which consists of a series of three Langston Hughes poems, with original English and Spanish translation (by Borges) printed on opposite pages. The poems included in the piece--"I Too," "Our Land," and "The Negro Speaks of Rivers"--suggest a sympathetic ethnic identification of Borges with African Americans, as subjects of colonial hegemony, through a relationship to nation and land (Autumn 1931, 164-69). This piece engages more explicitly with a post-colonial subtext recurrent throughout these early issues of the magazine.

In subsequent years, issues of Sur contain much less art and significantly fewer references to South and Central American authors and artists. This change indicates an important shift in the journal's project, which I hope to investigate further. Because I, like many others in the class, am only in the preliminary stages of my project research, I am still situating myself amid the rich content of the magazine and have not yet developed a focused argument for my project.  My project will take the form of a traditional research paper, aided by examples of visual images in the text and close readings of individual pieces. I will likely focus on the change over time that occurs in Sur, considering possible external causes for the dramatic shifts in content mentioned above. If I have the time and space in the project, I may also look at other periodicals, like Ultra (published in Habana beginning in 1936) that pair a strong international focus with an emphasis on native literature and art.