Foucault

Lost and Out-of-Place

Navigating my way through different aspects of the Stolen Time archive further inforced that my previous understanding of what archives were or could be was severely limited. The archive felt like a maze in which I was lost in; each turn I took only brought me more confusion and disorientation. Rather than feeling more connected with the past through the content I found I felt the feeling of separation and distinction from the past which Foucault descibed at the end of the section we read from The Statement and the Archive. "It establish[ed] that we are difference" by revealing how differently our society today reasons and argues about issues (Foucault, 131). Of course there are bridges that connect the present with the history of the past, but through the Stolen Time archive I mostly felt disassociation and disconnection because the content which I interacted with was very foreign to me. While it did serve to partially fill gaps in my historical knowledge it also reminded me of how different our world is today from the world of bygone generations.

The Stolen Time Archive and Recycling the Past

       Foucault says that the archive is “that which differentiates discourses in their multiple existence and specifies them in their own duration.” (The Historical A Priori and the Archive, 129) Foucault is saying that the archive recycles from the past and recasts it in the future. The Stolen Time Archive is doing just that; its very name invokes a sense of reclaiming the past. One of the projects I looked at was about the Irish potato famine. Entitled Mobile Figures and located under the mobility section (Volume 1 Issue 2), David Lloyd and Erik Loyer merge something from the past, the Irish Potato Famine, and forms it to present time, which led to the creation of an interactive ‘potato map.’ I think this is effective, but not as effective as it could be. Each of the other archives were about one pretty specific topic, but The Stolen Time Archive seems to be less pointed, which I think is a drawback. A lot of the things I saw on the Archive were really interesting, but I’m not sure how I would use them. And I don’t know if I would ever come across this archive when looking for something specific because it doesn’t seem to be a completely cohesive piece of work.

The Waste Land as an Archive

I had never thought of The Waste Land as an archive prior to reading Foucault, but when I consider the poem in that light there really isn't a better term that can be used to describe it. According to Foucault's definition, an archive "...unites in a single "volume" a series of linguistic elements that derive from existing books and that are, by virtue of their specific documentary character, the repetition of things said in the past" (105). The Waste Land is the only poem I can recall reading that appears to be more like a catalog of other ideas than an original text; it "cataologs" ideas, phrases, and direct references from world history and other works of literature throughout, and it's one of many reasons I enjoyed reading the poem. I loved trying to figure out where certain references were being pulled from. 

Archives are also used to preserve history and literature, and The Waste Land achieved that by reimagining and throwing together older texts, presenting them to a new audience. No work of literature is original, as each new piece either directly or indirectly draws upon previous works for inspiration. T.S. Eliot seemed very aware of this in his writing of The Waste Land. He purposely sought out references for use in his own work, which - strangely enough - makes the poem original, from a certain point of view.

Archives, Foucault, and Eliot

As several of my classmates have said, Foucault’s descriptions map readily onto The Waste Land. Foucault addresses his focus, The Temptation, as “a monument to meticulous erudition” (89), a descriptor which perfectly suits The Waste Land as well. Within Eliot’s work, every line can be examined, unpacked, put back together, and deconstructed again and his attention to detail – no wasted words, every word significant – is amazing. The similarities continue as Foucault talks about “words spoken in the past…the amassing of minute facts, monuments reduced to infinitesimal fragments” (90-91), which calls to mind Eliot’s mythic method and the significant-yet-short references present in The Waste Land (ie, the quick reference to Mylae in line 70).

Key, I think, to Foucault’s treatment of archives are “the virtue of its essential relationship to books” and the ability “to extend the space that existing books can occupy” (91). I’m still trying to fully understand his point – especially the diagram found later in the essay – but I find his ideas about intertextuality and the constant referencing among texts fascinating. Finally, I was struck by the way he describes The Temptation as “the book of books,” as the description applies just as much to The Waste Land: “It unites in a single ‘volume’ a series of linguistic elements that derive from existing books and that are…the repetition of things said in the past. The library is opened, catalogued, sectioned, repeated, and rearranged in a new space” (105). This is The Temptation, this is The Waste Land, this is an archive.

Variety of archives

I was intrigued by the way archives are presented in these two articles; Voss and Werner explain them as both conceptual and physical spaces, while Foucault describes how The Temptation seres as an archive for all the other creations it refers to. I would have liked to have read The Temptation before Foucault, article, but Foucault makes the unexpected function of the book as an archive for its fellows clear. He phrases his point in the following way: "it unites in a single "volume" a series of linguistic elements that derive from existing books and that are, by virtue of their specific documentary character, the repetition of things said in the past. The library is opened, catalogued, sectioned, repeated, and rearranged in a new space" (105).

Books automatically refer to one another. It is impossible to write a work in isolation. Just as writers say "nothing is original", they might also say the one thing that cannot be done is to create a work that is not connected into the existing larger literary tradition. Foucault notes that the only originality in The Temtation is in its organization of the elements it includes. This is the problem all writers face and struggle to overcome--in an effort to create original, revolutionary work--until they realize that interconnectedness is not the enemy, and learn to embrace it. Archives are not only collections, but catalogues of our memories, and the way in which each archives integrates its components creates a new component in the collective totality of knowledge.

It could be said that one story is told by the Library of Congress--as a physical and conceptual space where on one hand children are forbidden to even touch the books, and where on the other all things must be recorded for current to future generations. There is the story of the library at Alexandria, of the things that we speculate were lost as well as those that survived. There is the library--and book, all at once--of the internet, which no human soul living today can ever fully read in its entirety. Under a broader understanding of archives, archives can be "books" just as books can serve as "archives". The only difference is a matter of scale.

The Waste Land as an Archive

Like Kaity, I found in the reading of Foucault's Fantasia of Library that it was not difficult to find comparisions between the archival qualities of The Temptation and similar archival qualities in The Waste Land. Foucault describes The Temptation as "a monument to meticulous erudition"; he may as well have been describing the style and work of Eliot in The Waste Land (Foucault, 89). Just as Flaubert recollected, remembered, and revised a multitude of past works through his writing of The Temptation, Eliot preserved fragments of the European literary tradition that came before him through the poetry of The Waste Land (Voss and Werner, ii). 

In Eliot's capturing and conserving of texts, stories, and songs that came before The Waste Land, however, there is "a history of loss" (Voss and Werner, i). Voss and Werner in their discussion of archives, showed that archives, while preserving, are often fragmented representations of the works they preserve. The Waste Land has this fragmented modern archival quality. Within The Waste Land, Eliot provided a space for various literary works to be preserved and passed down, extending the space the works previously occupied, to paraphrase Foucault (91). However, these works, though preserved through the medium of Eliot's poem, are not whole. The poem is a showcase of Eliot's brilliant ability to take fragments of historical and monumental literary works and "in a single movement... cause them to glitter and disappear" (Foucault 92).

Poetic Database

When one hears the word "archive", the most likely image they will conjure is one of a library or database. An archive is a mausoleum for artifacts otherwise forgotten by the general public - encyclopedia entries, journal entries, and manuscripts that nobody would read unless prompted by research of some kind.

But, when one looks at the nature of the archive from a broader stance, as Werner and Voss do in Poetics of the Archive, it becomes clear that an archive can be nearly anything: a poem, a book; whatever utilizes past works in its creation. An author who works ancient myths into their story is creating an archive. As Michel Foucoult writes in Fantasia of the Library: "... it recovers other books; it hides and displays them and, in a single movement, it causes them to glitter and disappear." Written about Flaubert's The Temptation, this applies to any work which references works from the past. T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land is a clear example of a work of art as an archive. In his poem, Eliot deliberately fills the stanzas with fragments of European culture. From Shakespearean tragedies to 19th century German nationalist opera and everything in between, Eliot archives nearly all of European culture up through the first World War. Eliot's The Waste Land, like Flaubert's The Temptation, utilizes past works "... fragmented, displaced, combined, lost, set at an unapproachable distance by dreams, but also brought closer to the imaginary and sparkling realization of desires." (Foucoult 92).

"At times the archive requires us to read its minimum signs with maximum energy." This sentence, from Poetics of the Archive, to my mind matches Eliot's The Waste Land to a tee. An archive as a stand alone work of art encompasses past works, and gives them new meaning within its own. It requires its reader to dig a little deeper, but once the work has been put in they will find a vast resource of art and history, more permanent than the resources found in a library or encyclopedia. The archive as its own piece of poetry houses historical and cultural works and gives them a place in the minds of its readers, ensuring they will be survived long after the original works have disappeared.

The Waste Land as Archive

Throughout my reading of Foucault’s “Fantasia of the Library,” I could not help noticing that nearly every point he made about the archival nature of Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony could be applied to The Waste Land. Foucault points out the myriad of sources that Flaubert drew from while writing The Temptation—everything from Augustine to Spinoza (89). Similarly, Eliot drew from a wide variety of sources in The Waste Land. Another piece of the Foucault’s essay that called to mind The Waste Land was his discussion of St. Anthony acting as a “zero point between Asia and Europe; both seem to arise from a fold in time, at the point where Antiquity, at the summit of its achievement, begins to vacillate and collapses” (103). Like The Temptation, The Waste Land deals with both the East and the West. Over the course of the poem, the reader is taken from Chaucer’s England to the shores of the Ganges (and a multitude of places in between). They differ, though, in the fact that The Temptation highlights the rising of Western European culture, while The Waste Land looks to the East as a site of cultural regeneration.

Foucault states that Flaubert “erects [his] art within the archive” (92). With the above comparisons in mind, I think we can extend this statement to T.S. Eliot as well. The Waste Land borrows from so many different sources, Shakespeare, Chaucer, the Buddha, and the Bible, just to name a few. With all of these works in a relatively short number of pages, The Waste Land functions as an archive. All of these works are stored in its text, but it is up to the reader to search them out, just as a reader must search for a book in the shelves of a library.

 

Archive in Context

I hadn't thought before to even consider "The Waste Land" as an archive, but it makes a lot of sense. Foucault has a few interesting tidbits that shed light on how it can be read as an archive. The one that stuck out to me the most is when he calls The Temptation "a monument to meticulous erudition" (Foucault 89). "The Waste Land" could be called the same thing. It is a monument in that it has now taken such an important place in the canon to which it refers; it is meticulous in that it has so many, often subtle, allusions; it is erudite in that it scholarly familiarity with the works that are being alluded to is fairly necessary for complete comprehension of the poem. It can also be said of "The Waste Land" that it "exists by virtue of its essential relationship to books" (Foucault 91). In other words, like an archive, much of its purpose is derived from the need to preserve the previously constructed components that it contains.

One difficult thing about it, though, is that the poem is only useful as an archive if you already understand the allusions that make up the archival element. If a reader never realizes, for example, that the "shakespearian rag" is a song that contemporary readers would have recognized, and that there is a context that goes with it, then the fact that the poem is preserving (archiving) its connotation is rendered meaningless, and song's lyrics cannot be recognized for what they are in the poem only. Unlike a traditional archive (I'm thinking here of things like online databases), where the piece of information under consideration (perhaps an article) is there in its entirety/is self-explanatory, the bits of information that are archived in "The Waste Land" each refer to something more, something else. If one does not already understand the larger pieces toward which the allusions point, then the poem loses its functon as an archive.