Archives and Cultural Memory


In “Futurist Manifesto,” Marinetti writes about aspects of industrialization as well as social unrest due to working conditions for laborers in the early 20th century. Marinetti writes “we will sing of the great crowds agitated by work, pleasure and revolt; the multi-colored and polyphonic surf of revolutions in modern capitals: the nocturnal vibration of the arsenals and the workshops beneath their violent electric moons: the gluttonous railway stations devouring smoking serpents; factories suspended from the clouds by the thread of their smoke; bridges with the leap of gymnasts flung across the diabolic cutlery of sunny rivers: adventurous steamers sniffing the horizon; great-breasted locomotives, puffing on the rails like enormous steel horses with long tubes for bridle, and the gliding flight of aeroplanes whose propeller sounds like the flapping of a flag and the applause of enthusiastic crowds.” This excerpt is an example of engaging with cultural memory because Marinetti captures the current time in which he writes, including a view of the new technologies being created and the struggle of the working class in being overworked or provided poor conditions as they help companies propel their profits. At the end of this excerpt, when Marinetti likens the sound of propellers to a cheering nation, audiences are remindied that this period of time is to become a part of a larger collective memory surrounding capitalism, and the lengths to which leaders and industry powers will go in order to see it thrive. This time was of course an important era to have archived, but sometimes that may be in ways that exist outside the archive. 

This relates to some of the ideas explored by Paul J. Voss and Marta L. Werner in their essay. They explain “The architecture of the archive and the sentinels who control access to its interior suggest that the conservation and transmission of knowledge has been, at least historically, the prerogative of a few chosen agents, of a coterie of privileged insiders.” The working class Marinetti describes in the previous excerpt would not have had access to the archives that scholars do, which makes their experience all the more important to document so that it is not lost. Later, Werner and Voss discuss David Greetham and how “he works through a ‘quasi-infinity’ of archival strata, surveying cultural refuse from antiquity to postmodernity. In direct contradiction of the "archons" (the supposed agents of coherence and integrity),” and also that in his work “he not only offers a fascinating index of archival exclusions, but also reveals that the archive proper is comprised of ‘garbage,’ ‘cultural scraps’... leftovers… bits of memory’” (iii).  This idea allows people to see how the archive can leave some experiences and people out, like the agitated crowds Marinetti mentions. Therefore, having the scraps or bits of memory can aid in filing in the gaps when archiving certain histories. 

Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" engages with cultural memory in a way that is especially personal and intimate. There are moments in the poem where the narrator comes to terms with the loss of time, and seems to wonder how to capture this intimate history in the right ways. At one point the narrator says:


Would it have been worth while 

If one, settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl.

And turning toward the window, should say:

“That is not it at all,

That is not what I meant, at all” (14)


This kind of worry at getting the past “wrong” relates to the Werner/Voss essay because this is a worry shared regarding the archives in general, and how to include the right information, perhaps including the cultural refuse and other leftover information that does not always make it past the walls where archives are kept.