archival theory

Evolution in the Archive

As I navigated the Stolen Time archive, I was reminded of projects and websites my AP English Language teacher had us look at during my junior year in high school. In preparing us for college and higher education, my teacher promoted not only analysis of modern and post-modern works, but also that of non-academic works -- video games, comic books, TV commercials, blogs, et cetera. Both Platform Studies and the Stolen Time article similarly take the mundane and seemingly meaningless and bring them up into the light of academic analysis or, if not that, academic consideration at the least. And isn't that important? Where do we draw the line separating those worthy of remembrance and consideration, and those unworthy?

The Stolen Time archive is quite possibly the most comprehensive archive I have ever laid eyes on. The reader becomes a part of the archive as they are interacting with it. While it may not act as an efficient and easily navigable archive, Stolen Time embodies the idea of the archive itself. It takes in anything and everything pertaining to its topic - photos, copies of articles, original articles; and most interestingly the movements, actions, and stories of its readers. Foucault argues that the "archive" is forever evolving and never complete; a concept which is proven in Stolen Time as it evolves with every new reader. It, in some way, is swept up in the "archive fever" - a desire and drive to archive every single thing it can, whether or not anyone else considers those things to be relevant. That is the goal of the archive. An archive saves everything and takes note of everything, just in case someone should have the desire to access it.

Steal This Archive

The Stolen Time Archive is just this really weird thing. But that's not bad. I like it. The most obvious way it matches up with our discussions is the way in which, as an archive, it rewards inquiry. You get out of it what you put into it. The designer and author notes on the website speak truly when they call its effect "emergent". Its peculiar style gives no obvious direction, even though the "clock in" and "clock out" buttons, as well as the tracing at the beginning, give the impression of there being an overarching mission with tasks to check off on it. It was also self-referential, and frighteningly self-aware--it was presented as though it knew it was being looked at. And call me crazy, but those android flyers draw attention to the issue of technology and how it relates to the human endeavor--or what we regard as a "human" endeavor--of exploring the world and organizing our knowledge.

I've mentioned in class that I can have serious issues with information overload if I'm not careful. (We've also referred to this as a sort of archive fever.) That was definitely happening to me in The Stolen Archive. I tried, therefore, to limit my search and pretend some sections didn't exist. I undoubtedly missed a great deal, so I look forward to hearing others' experiences with the archive. But this hyper-focus I used gave me an unexpected insight.

I titled this post the way I did because I believe this archive intends for us to focus in on whatever catches our interest within it and whatever we decide is our "mission". Everybody digs in and plunders it differently. Everybody hijacks The Stolen Archive and uses it for their own purposes. So if you look at the title and think, huh, why is it called that--The Stolen Archive? Who stole it?

Well, that's easy. You did.

The Stolen Time Archive and Recycling the Past

       Foucault says that the archive is “that which differentiates discourses in their multiple existence and specifies them in their own duration.” (The Historical A Priori and the Archive, 129) Foucault is saying that the archive recycles from the past and recasts it in the future. The Stolen Time Archive is doing just that; its very name invokes a sense of reclaiming the past. One of the projects I looked at was about the Irish potato famine. Entitled Mobile Figures and located under the mobility section (Volume 1 Issue 2), David Lloyd and Erik Loyer merge something from the past, the Irish Potato Famine, and forms it to present time, which led to the creation of an interactive ‘potato map.’ I think this is effective, but not as effective as it could be. Each of the other archives were about one pretty specific topic, but The Stolen Time Archive seems to be less pointed, which I think is a drawback. A lot of the things I saw on the Archive were really interesting, but I’m not sure how I would use them. And I don’t know if I would ever come across this archive when looking for something specific because it doesn’t seem to be a completely cohesive piece of work.

External Processing about Archival Theory and How I Don't Like Change

Allow me to be blunt in saying that I really didn't understand the point of the Stolen Time archive. While I think it has some fun elements as a program and is visually pleasing, it is not very efficient. Personally, I just didn't get it. Perhaps my idea of an archive is still too conservatice, but I feel that an archive exists to provide access to information and resources. In order to serve is purpose in the best way, I feel that an archive needs to be fairly easy to navigate. I understand that this could be the result of a consumer-friendly, I-use-an-iPhone-because-it's-easy-to-navigate mentality that consumes my generation, but to some degree I can't help that I had adapated to that mindset. To another degree, I am comfortable with my definition and I don't like change. In my mind, the archive is not a "good archive" because it isn't efficient. It doesn't serve to provide information or resources and it is certainly unclear how exactly to navigate its contents.

That being said, I do see the project's function as art. To me, the project can be free of the (my) implications and guidelines of an archive. It is not helpful, necessarily, but it is enjoyable. It is certainly creative and provides a unique experience. Perhaps ths the word I would use for the project is an exhibit. Now I know that an exhibit is also a collection of objects/information which certainly sounds similar to my definition of an archive. However, I guess the function or purpose of the collection is where my distinction is. The Stolen Time project doesn't really seek to inform but to entertain (I use that term loosely). In most cases, people do not go to art museums to learn; they go to experience the art. Similarly, this project is providing an artistic, aesthetic experience. 

In this way, the proejct realtes to our archival theory discussions in that it seeks to expand the idea of what an archive can be. I certainly see the digital, interactive project taking the notion that an archive is a living organism of sorts. For instance, each photo and document exists hidden somewhere in the project; they move around as you explore; they are a part of the body of material. It's very fascinating to explore these ideas, especially as they can be applied to the internet as a whole. After all, the website containing the archive is one of millions of websites in the larger body that is the internet. Interestind ideas!

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.

The Waste Land as Archive

Throughout my reading of Foucault’s “Fantasia of the Library,” I could not help noticing that nearly every point he made about the archival nature of Flaubert’s The Temptation of Saint Anthony could be applied to The Waste Land. Foucault points out the myriad of sources that Flaubert drew from while writing The Temptation—everything from Augustine to Spinoza (89). Similarly, Eliot drew from a wide variety of sources in The Waste Land. Another piece of the Foucault’s essay that called to mind The Waste Land was his discussion of St. Anthony acting as a “zero point between Asia and Europe; both seem to arise from a fold in time, at the point where Antiquity, at the summit of its achievement, begins to vacillate and collapses” (103). Like The Temptation, The Waste Land deals with both the East and the West. Over the course of the poem, the reader is taken from Chaucer’s England to the shores of the Ganges (and a multitude of places in between). They differ, though, in the fact that The Temptation highlights the rising of Western European culture, while The Waste Land looks to the East as a site of cultural regeneration.

Foucault states that Flaubert “erects [his] art within the archive” (92). With the above comparisons in mind, I think we can extend this statement to T.S. Eliot as well. The Waste Land borrows from so many different sources, Shakespeare, Chaucer, the Buddha, and the Bible, just to name a few. With all of these works in a relatively short number of pages, The Waste Land functions as an archive. All of these works are stored in its text, but it is up to the reader to search them out, just as a reader must search for a book in the shelves of a library.