The Canon or the Archive

This is my last blog post of course work. I read many of these articles for my some of my first blog posts during my first semester at TU. Now that I’m feeling misty-eyed and nostalgic in the JJQ, I’ve decided to reflect. Having just left my MFA at the time I read these articles the first time, I was disillusioned with the creative writing world, especially about what I had called at the time the current-ification of art. That I read and loved Joyce and other modernists was always seen as an eccentricity, some kind of mental block that had cleaved a difference between the other students and myself. One MFA candidate would periodically invite me over to her house, where she’d hand me a book or two published in the last three years. I’d promise to read it, but I knew I wouldn’t. I never gave any of them back until our MFA was over, and we were moving away. I handed back a couple dozen books I never opened. I had just finished War and Peace and I had begun Finnegans Wake for the third time.

When I read these the first time, I don’t think I understood them. When we talked about the archive, I conjured up discussions of the canon I had during my MFA. We’d always talk about the canon with a special intensity, as though it were some hulking monster just outside the conference room where we had class. Saying the words James Joyce would strengthen it. We would die right there in our chairs, dead-white-man’d to death. I don’t mean to dismiss the relevant and necessary conversations about inclusion and representation of historically marginalized literature. Still, I grew weary of those conversations that seemed so sentimental. What were we really talking about? Was I reading all the wrong books? Was I going to be left behind by all the books that will be published this year and the year after, etc.

I understand the archive differently now. If a discussion of the canon was always theoretical, ideological, and an exertion of the mind, the archive is about materiality, the actual physical processes of collecting, keeping, restoring, and excavating. It’s a marriage of past and present. It resists current-ification, by bringing to light the old work that is restored and reintegrated by our newest solutions to the old problems. It’s important to remember that digital does not mean non-physical or immaterial. The digital condition is only a displacement of the physical, not an abolition of it.