Archiving Time (2)

There were five or six Gay Men’s Press titles waiting for me on arrival that had to be inserted into the list before we went freestyle. We half suspect more may resurface from the depths of the archon’s modular shelving units, but we cannot be deterred by this. The sense of having ‘completed’ the archiving of the GMP titles was overshadowed by the loss of the imprint, and by extension not only that it no longer exists but what has replaced it, in what forms, and if not why not, and what does any of this say about us (‘us’ = queers). A complete archive of GMP titles is possible, but not in our case as the archon is relaxed about acquiring books he thinks he doesn’t possess, happy therefore to pick one up every now and then when he discovers them in secondhand bookshops. And so the archive remains open to the future in its journey through the past.

The archon has published the latest version of the list on towardsutopia here. You will see that it has expanded rather than having been systematised in any particular way after the first session. As I continued typing up the entries, I felt I was imposing a system on the archive that the ‘archive’ coming into formation resisted, namely the discrete hierarchy of the ABC. (The ABC of Queer Reading sounds like a decent prospect. Essential reading for almost anyone.) The archon himself and the archive’s contents, on the other hand, resist even this, geared to incorporating texts that certainly the Library of Congress’ Cataloguing-in-data system would not consider appropriate as classifications: namely a more elastic, playful, even camp, approach to classifying. Every owner of a significant amount of books that could well be deemed a library has spent the odd evening organising the knowledge they have accumulated in ways that suit the many directions in which their intellectual life strays. For instance, I have a shelf of books related to my study of melancholia, and while most of them include ‘melancholy’ or ‘melancholia’ in their titles, some do not and it is not apparent why they have been included on the shelf. In such errant cases the rationale is nothing other than that the text in question shows an inclination towards the depressive tendency. This approach is well suited to a queer archive, in which the inclusion of texts can be a matter of controversy, literature placed in dispute with the over-weening power of canons and hegemonies.

Though it is true that this archive shelters under the umbrella of queerness or gayness or gay maleness or a plethora of alternative significations cleaving to interpretative strategies launched in the name or light of a given text (such as recuperation, reappropriation, and reparation), it is a myriad rather than a monolith. Hence the soft difficulty of organising our work: GMP provided the building blocks, but what and where next?

The archon kept our options open, dispersing his authority to govern towards his assister. Across a number of WhatsApp messages before our next session he reiterated his invitation to bring ideas around where and what next to the table. My desire was to begin typing up the queer theory entries. But this can wait. In the end we took the more freestyle approach of picking out books from the many piles both on and off the shelves (such as the footstool – or ‘poof’, as the archon describes it – on which no foot can rest because of the books piling ever higher on it). The archon took to his modular shelves, moving this book and that to uncover surprises that would pique his archival desire. The difficulty in this approach is that it reaches beyond the horizon. Where will this end? Can it end? Would we want it to end? 

An ABC of Queer Reading is a convenient resource and easily navigable, but it belies its archival construction. (The term of ‘ABC’ is a misnomer in this instance, of course, and I am deliberately playing on this fact. ABCs are not alphabetical lists of documents and books but a way of shaping principles along alphabetical lines. Perhaps I am influenced here by the archon’s purchase only days before our session of a book entitled The ABCs of Socialism.) Quite what form or format an archival list more faithfully representative of a haphazardly constructed library would take is an open question. A bureaucratic suggestion would be to divide the list into sections according to semantic or critical resemblance, but even this conceals haphazardness behind false rationality. A neatly sectioned list would trace the outlines of a rhizome but lack its gnarly body.

The ABC entails loss but cannot do away with the complexity underlying it.

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3 thoughts on “Archiving Time (2)

  1. Thanks for this, Wolflin and your indispensable help on the work of archiving/cataloguing; and for your willingness to listen to my rhizomatic anecdotes, memories prompted by books and inscriptions therein. I have added a few more annotations/ reminiscences to the freefall(second) list:)

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