The Archive of the Experience

These articles really helped me reshape how I define what an archive is. I admit that I have been carrying around a fairly old-fashioned definition of what makes an archive an archive. I think of this term as referring to a collection of physical objects and artifacts (for example, TU's collection of WWI posters). Honestly, though, I did not even consider a library--a collection of books--to be an archive; I just called it a library. Similarly, I never considered any online database to be an archive; after all, there are no physical objects online. These articles showed me that archives come in many forms, including the form of a singular text, such as The Waste Land.

I think that The Waste Land makes the most sense as an archive when the distinction of narrative voices is understood. While studying the Fiona Shaw performance of the poem, I drew a connection between the performance and a documantary interview. In that regard, I can certainly see the poem as a collection of various accounts of WWI (and many other scenes). Each sene--each moment--in and of itself is a sort of object to be preserved. For example, the pub scene reveals the bleak reality of the women who stayed at home during the war, as well as the challenges they faced. This information is collected and protected in poem itself. The poem could somewhat be considered an archive of moments and experiences; because there are so many present in the poem, it serves as a fairly extensive independent database. This explains how, by reading the poem, one not only enjoys the work but is greatly informed about the psychology of the inter-war period. That mindset was preserved for us.


I pretty much had the same definiton of archive as you before reading these articles. I think you had a really interesting point about how each moment from the poem is something to be preserved. If we look at it that way, I think we could say that everyone's life is an archive for themselves, which is a really interesting idea (at least to me, although I'm sure this has been thought of before) and I'm not really sure what the effects of this way of thinking would be.

I like how you emphasize that The Waste Land is just as much an archive of experiences as an archive of literature. Archiving experiences is very different, because there is no physical piece of material to archive. The experiences must be written about (as in The Waste Land), photographed, audio recorded, etc. However, even with those recording mediums, you can never capture the absolute experience--there will always be something missing. This is why I love our Special Collections--everything we handle up there is the real deal, whether it's Eliot's autograph or the diary of a World War I soldier. The items in Special Collections have an aura of immediacy that does not exist in digital archives. 

Viewing the poem as an archive within itself is really insightful. I think it's always interesting when we can study history through the literature of that time. I'm still confused about Elliot not viewing his poem as a commentary on WWI when it seems to have suck a profound impact on us in that sense. 

Wow, I had not thought of reading The Waste Land as an archive until reading this but it makes so much sense! Eliot's poem is full of brief moments that are worth preserving, whether on paper, via physical performance, or online.