Physicality and Time in the Digital Archive

The Stolen Time Archive is an incredibly dynamic archive, one that requires the users to engage with the material in order to access it. Its requirement for engagement on the part of the researcher left me quite confused at first. Every other archive I’ve ever accessed has been pretty straightforward, whether digital or physical. With The Stolen Time Archive, though, the user has to “Launch Project” in order to access any of the archived pieces. The idea of having to create a project in order to access the archive was totally foreign to me—but really fun, once I figured it out.

In spite of its unusually demanding level of user interaction, The Stolen Time Archive embodies many of the same archival concepts as those we’ve been discussing. On the most basic level, Stolen Time is a collection of pieces of history, just like any other archive. The particular types of pieces in this collection are office worker ephemera. However, Stolen Time collects more than just this ephemera—it also collects and records every place your cursor moves while working on a specific project. This feature adds an interesting element of time to the archive. It reminds the researcher that he/she is an active part of the archive. The researcher, depending on what he/she does with the information researched, has the potential to change the way that the ephemera are understood (especially if the information is used to create a secondary site, such as our Waste Land wiki. The recorded cursor movements also add physicality in a way that I’ve never experienced with a digital archive.  Seeing the cursor movements reminded me that I was physically interacting with the documents in the archive, even though a keyboard, touchpad, and screen were all necessary intermediaries to allow the interaction to happen.

In terms of sheer ease of use, Stolen Time isn’t the most effective. As far as I can tell, it’s impossible to search for a specific item. Instead, the user just has to play around with the program. However, as an interactive experiment in archiving theory, Stolen Time is incredibly effective. It forces the user to think about the method of digital archiving in a way that most digital archives do not require.

Ruskin Proof Cuts and the Test of Time--National Geographic Volume 21 Number 6: June 1910

In my exploration of the Modernist Journals Project, I looked at the 1910 collection,and the National Geographic issue from June 1910 at  http://modjourn.org/render.php?id=1236637331812500&view=mjp_object .  In this issue, advertisements occurred only at the beginning and at the end, but many of them were concerned with time, times changing, and with preservation or keeping of time, including advertisements for watches and cameras.  On one particular page, an advertisement for the selling of Ruskin Proofs, concerned wtih the preservation of the old masterpieces of Rusikin in reproduction, is located next to "Baldwin Dry Air Refrigerators" which are concerned with "The Test of Time."  Within a few pages, there is a full-page advertisement for the Waltham Watch Company, who advertises their watch company as "a matter of history." 

Obviously a magazine like National Geographic appeals to an audience who is interested in the historical record, and interested in preservation of the present for posterity.  That seems to be its intellecual agenda. Advertisements, as such, appeal directly to people who are interested in the history of the company, in objects who will help them record the past or present, and in objects of historical import or authenticity. 

Swann's Way and Mapping

Classmates, I'm sorry this is coming to you late. But, here it is.

I was reading "Maps" in Moretti's Graphs, Maps, and Trees and found this idea that one can track literature with physical location and produce another fictive element in the map. However, I do think that they overlook a couple of key idea. For one thing, and I think this is obvious with Proust or even something like Ulysses, characters sometimes are not mentally in the space their bodies are occupying (see the madeleines of Swann's Way, or when Bloom masterbates to Gerty in Ulysses). Should instances where characters are out their mind be counted equally with places that characters interact with? Also, what about places that are routine? Moretti mentions this in the mentalite, but shouldn't places where life happens (like in a factory where one spends an enormous portion of his or her life) bear more weight when represented on a map? Also, what if a character zones out and thinks of another place while in that one place, shouldn't that too be represented? But, what if there's a major time difference? 

Just some questions maybe to talk about today.

Thought explosion

I bought and read Jennifer Egan's A Visit from the Goon Squad by chance last summer. In an interview, Egan said when writing the book she was heavily inspired by the content and form of Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time as well as the HBO television series The Sopranos. Since, for this class, we were assigned to read the first volume of Proust's series, Swann's Way, and I had to present on Egan's book for a different class, I interpreted this reading list as a cosmic symbol that I should find a way to digitally record the connections between these two novels as well as the television series. Dr. Drouin suggested the most effective way for me to do this would be through the graphing system Gelphi. So far, I have done two things that serve as the basis of my project: reading and data gathering/creating. Searching through each text, I copy and tag passages that explicitly discuss time, aging, and memory, as well as some tags on when structure or the passing of time seems similar in the three works. I had to limit myself to when these things are direct topics rather than themes since these are the major themes of the works and to prevent an overflowing of information. So far I have chosen passages in Swann's Way and A Visit from the Goon Squad to tag and begun the Excel spreadsheet that contains all of the information I will discuss in it. Once I am finished with this, I will enter it into the Gelphi program and hope that it works. After this step I am not sure what happens, but right now I am predicting I will compile my findings and make some sort of claim and then narrate it on paper. 

Swann's way of memory

I'll use my post last week on Jacque Derrida's Archive Fever as a starting point for my thoughts on Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time. About the archive, Derrida says, "the archivization produces as much as it records the event" (Derrida 17), and in "Combray," Proust does this as well. The narrator begins the novel with remembering how he would fall asleep at his family's French country home, which trails and splits into many series of conversations, mingling past and present and memories in one continuous flow. He stuffs in so many memories that it is almost impossible to discern what is the present and what is the past. The narrator even remembers remembering: "These shifting and confused gusts of memory never lasted for more than a few seconds" (Proust 7). While they are brief, the narrator says, "And, indeed, I found plenty of charm in these bright projections, which seemed to emanate from a Merovingian past and shed around me the reflections of such ancient history" (Proust 11). The narrator sees himself as immersing himself in ancient history, even though he is only thinking about his own past. As much as the narrator explains the past, he is creating the present in the novel. He eventually gets to the volume's titular character, Swann, and explains his relation, needing these seemingly insignificant details of falling asleep to carry him to that moment. This whole first part of the novel seems to be built on the fact that every moment, every action, carries weight for the rest of your life. With his descriptions of Swann, the narrator shows the emphasis he places on each individual's past and how that affects the judgments of others. Swann also has affection for the past and memories. The narrator explains Swann as "having always had a 'craze' for antiques and pictures, he now lived and amassed his collections in an old house which my grandmother longed to visit" (Proust 20). Swann surrounds himself with physical memories or preservation of the past, his house becoming a museum of sorts, creating his present with the pasts of others or objects.

Swann's Way is certainly not a real time novel or a straightforward narrative, and so I think something cool to do would be to create a color-coded map that traces how Proust has the narrator jump from one memory to the next and how that creates time in the novel. Or maybe a tree would best serve this. How does the narrator arrives at certain moments in the story would be useful (or just fun) to see visually.

Boundaries in Flux

On the home page of Vector’s Journal, Tara McPherson and Steve Anderson help to contextualize their project amid paradoxes. They explain, “While we've long been urged not to judge a book by its cover, Stolen Time powerfully insists that such an adage works to conceal the myriad traces of labor that congeal in any textual artifact… [T]he long-standing scholarly distinction between tools and theories is profoundly destabilized by digital media, demanding a rethinking of long-held tenets of technological determinism” (Vector).
These paradoxes are further explored at some length by Paul J. Voss and Marta L. Werner’s “Toward a Poetics of the Archive Introduction:” noting that the archive has both “physical [limited, concrete] and imaginative [unlimited, abstract] space” (i) James Clifford, Susan Steward, and Michael Baxandall, cited in Voss and Werner’s article, help arrive at some delineation of interpretation of the archive with “cultural rules—of rational taxonomy, of gender, of aesthetics” (qtd. In Voss and Werner v).
Finally, in an article, coincidentally, read in my 19th Century Novel seminar involves the “Quixotic Realism and Romance of the Novel.” Clifford's (et al) idea that cultural rules can help to circumscribe the abstractions emanating from the archive, but only insofar, Scott argues, as viewed as dynamic forces which might even willfully (that is, on the part of the author/artist, as in Cervantes, Fielding, or Lewis) draw on periods prior to his own in order to effectuate a literary impact in his literature. For example, when an author alludes to a work of 1,000 years prior in his novel,, itemization of cultural rules also are challenged, but create a “feedback loop” in the mind of the reader.
The digital medium seems to add another dimension which seems less bound by time or by medium than did the novel. While I have far more questions than answers, and am seeking at root to find a kind of pattern, it would seem that perhaps the answer lies more directly in the “feedback loop” of reception and an artist’s intent in craft.
Still, even this idea of “aporia” forces one to consider evidence for and against this tenuous stance and echoes the idea that digital humanities interpretation finds itself very much in an information-gathering stage more than synthesis.

Tarr and Time

I found the topic of time to be a confusing point in Tarr. First of all, I find it interesting that "tar" can easily be associated with the titular character. Of course, this substance has a time dimension to it. But, also, there are more complex time issues that run throughout. I find it interesting the Kreisler is running away from time, but his hopes will forever be dashed in the form in which he is forever entombed. I think it is particularly impossible for Kreisler to escape because he's part of a serialized novel. The serialization of the work is the ultimate time dimension. Not only is he associated with the zeitgeist of the time because he is trapped in the bibliographic coding of the time, but he was originally read by people who may have only read the part of the novel that appears in the one magazine they had. There is no guarantee that the reader has read all of the novel before his entrance in the novel.  This is a kind of pull toward the value of the alinear.

Of course, time is an important question to modernists, but Lewis makes Tarr extremely specific to its time. I mean, the characters are particularly interesting in the confines of language, European post-war/war politics, and mechanization. Also, Tarr revists incidents from different perspectives in time (i.e. when Kreisler describes Bertha's exit in Chapter 2 of Part V and Chapter 3 starts back with Bertha's hand lunging forth to say goodbye).  Also, Lewis inserts stage directions early in the novel [i.e. "(He buried his face in it!)" (18)], and Lewis incorporates Tarr's diary into the novel (22). These additions destroy that fourth wall. There's not linearity in the novel, but it's published in a linear medium in the magazine. Of course, these inclusions are not specific to Tarr only, but it makes me think that maybe time is escapable but not completely. Maybe Kreisler can escape linearity not time. Of course, the alternative would be a spatial reality (like painting). But he's also a failed artist. Also, can he escape linearity being in a magazine? Maybe because he only exists in part? Maybe he's existing spatially in that sense...perhaps existing in parts in the magazine he exists as a snapshot of a character in action like a photograph or film frame. That would be a spatial reality?