A Poetics of the Archive and FoMO (Fear of Missing Out)

Voss and Werner's "Toward a Poetics of the Archive" (1999) highlights the doubleness or ambivalent nature of the archive, which is a "both physical and an imaginative site", "public; private site", "a space of pure knowledge; a political space, a gendered space, a memorial space", and "the noun ... metamorphoses into a verb" (i). Above all, the authors point out that "the history of the archive, on the one hand, a history of conservation, is, on the other hand, a history of loss" (i). The study of archives is about leaving things behind as much as about preserving worthwhile human knowledge and passing it down to the future. It is a study of "re-membering" (ii) as it redefines the membership of "who's in who's out," as David Greetham puts it. T.S. Eliot’s "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and Filippo Tommaso Marinetti's "The Futurist Manifesto" both describe this archival anxiety about missing out on the chance to be remembered from the inside and outside of literary history.  

Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" (1917) is not only itself a kind of an archive of English Renaissance literature that brings new interpretations and attention to those works cited (Dante, Michelangelo, Prince Hamlet, Lazarus, and Homer at the end?) but also a poem about an archivist's fear about making choices due to the limited time and space innate to the traits of the archive. The narrator leads "you" toward the place, the yellow-fogged city of London, very contemporary to the author's experience, but at the same time, to the ideal place of collective memories where there is always enough "time for you and time for me" (10), "a hundred indecisions", "a hundred visions and revisions" (11), the room "where the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo" (11). Borrowing the words from Cyndia Susan Clegg in Voss and Werner's essay, "the historical record cannot, without violence, be made to say anything and everything" (v). Prufrock's indecisiveness, like Prince Hamlet, can be interpreted as a refusal to make a violent choice of archiving, or similarly, as McLeod reminds us, "a poetics of the archive impelled by hypothesis" (vii). Alfred Prufrock's fear of missing out on his youth, however, demonstrates he is also aware that he cannot postpone forever as time is a limited resource, and he must make the decision to "disturb the universe" (11) and start answering the question of "how should I presume" (12) in archiving. At the end of the poem, the postponed archival action, which would have led his readers to "an overwhelming question" (9), ends as a frustrating excuse of "it is impossible to say just what I mean" (14) and the narrator drowns as he listens to "human voices" (16) bringing him out of the chamber of the sea. Paradoxically, the poem makes a successful archive since Alfred Prufrock's hovering about the topic of fear of missing out on something encapsulates a poetic of the archive, which demands the archivists to make decisions, leave the others behind, and impelled loss. 

Marinetti's manifesto seemingly approves much more freedom to express violence toward the tradition and the archive in comparison to Eliot's cautious indecisiveness, particularly focusing on how the speed of modernity where "the hungry automobiles roared beneath our windows" (1) has changed the world. He says, "Time and Space died yesterday. We are already living in the absolute, since we have already created eternal, omnipresent speed" (2). Marinetti and his friends struggle to put the future in the superior place to the past and the destructive urge to demolish the act of archiving the humanities or to "want to fight museums and libraries, fight morality, feminism and all opportunist and utilitarian cowardice" (2) is rooted from their nation, Italy, has been regarded as a musty ghost of its past glory: "Italy has been too long the great second-hand market. We want to get rid of the innumerable museums which cover it with innumerable cemeteries" (3). The fixation on the present and their young age ("The oldest among us are not yet thirty years old," 4), however, indicates that the violence started over the history of the Italian nation is another form of Prufrock's archival anxiety of missing out something. The loss of control of what to remember, in this case, due to the "innumerable" amount of the archive, leads to the radical and extreme refusal of the past. Asking the question of how much it is true to believe that "art can only be violence, cruelty, injustice" (4) is important in thinking about the poetics of the archive. Ethically, I think it should retain its ambiguity and the paradoxical tension between the violent urge to demolish the past, rendering the whole archiving process as "a useless admiration of the past, from which you will emerge exhausted, diminished, trampled on" (4) and impossibility in choosing which information should be passed on to the future.