Archiving Time (3)

Archiving Time is an occasion and a process, the ‘sessions’ to which I have been referring and the sense in which history is (being) mined. There are dates, many of them, and they construct time as much as we are constructed by them. The irregular dates of the archon’s life in relation to their books drizzle the official dates indicated in the bibliography like rain. Have a look at the archon’s annotations of ‘the list’ (‘list’ remains a problematic term): inscriptions hailing from the books are enlarged after the fact, but some annotations are offered as post-facto inscriptions. Here and there, Archiving Time bears the irregular marks of the archon’s signature – not the one required to make a payment, of course, but the one in which the self signing can be discerned.

Archiving Time happens in a place. In the previous post in this series, I referred to the ‘poof’ on which the archon has placed far too many books for the poof’s own good and indeed the archon’s, who cannot rest their weary legs on furniture assigned for the purpose.

I have just realized how archiving/cataloguing and bibliomania/philia (lest we psychiatricize it!) are but two sides of the same coin: I buy; ergo I need to contain, so I archive/catalogue (Veni, vidi, vici). Though I LIKE my books on my pouffe/puff, I do not want to be (wholly) buried in books…….

Thus spake the archon! Note the transmission of the signifier ‘poof’ from ‘pouffe’ to ‘puff’ and back again. We know what we mean. This effeminate word, this mark of abject effeminacy wielded throughout history against queer subjects to restrain their freedom of expression by implicating them in the shame of self-emasculation, is reclaimed, albeit with one important caveat: only the poof who places books on his pouffe/puff/poof can utter the name of the thing and the name of some version of the self. A micro-archival moment in the midst of a macro-archive or, in Foucault’s joyous term, bibliotheque fantastique!

Archiving Time happens in a place, a multifarious place.

As is the case for the Latin archivum or archium (a word that is used in the singular, as was the French archive, formerly employed as a masculine singular: un archive), the meaning of “archive,”  its only meaning, comes to it from the Greek arkheion: initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who commanded. The citizens who thus held and signified political power were considered to possess the right to make or to represent the law. On account of their publicly recognised authority, it is at their home, in that place which is their house (private house, family house, or employee’s house), that official documents are filed. The archons are first of all the documents’ guardians. They do not only ensure the physical security of what is deposited and of the substrate. They also accorded the hermeneutic right and competence. They have the power to interpret the archives. Entrusted to such archons, these documents in effect speak the law: they recall the law and call on or impose the law. To be guarded thus, in the jurisdiction of this speaking the law, they needed at once a guardian and a localisation. Even in their guardianship or their hermeneutic tradition, the archives could do neither without substrate nor without residence.

It is thus, in this domiciliation, in this house arrest, that archives takes place. The dwelling, this place where they dwell permanently, marks the institutional passage from private to public, which does not always mean from the secret to the nonsecret.

Jacques Derrida, Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression, trans. by Eric Prenowitz (Chicago and London: The University of Chicago Press,  1998, pp. 2-3.

Allow Derrida’s words to percolate. They are a crucial point of reference for Archiving Time and all archiving and archives.

Who is this archon of whom I have spoken? For sure, he has a name, and he knows himself very well. I know him too (the etiquette of the archive forbids me from quantifying this personal knowledge of the archon, even if I have assigned the quantity of the archon’s self-knowledge). The archon is a many-splendored thing, but as the breakthrough with respect to his gender in the last sentence serves to illustrate, he is a man, a male; a gay man, a gay male. There is phonetic sublation between a piece of his furniture and his self. (It is difficult, not to mention far too risky, to utter that word in his name. Does a code of queer ethics forbid me from doing so? Or am I overly-sensitive to the potential injury such words cause, even in self-knowing, self-reflexive, ironic moments in which the reclamation of injurious language binds one queer subject to another?) That aforementioned piece of furniture is a focal point in this archon’s domicile. For this archon, anything but house arrest, to be (wholly) buried in books. He reserves the right to interpret the archives but does not exercise it as a monolithic power. This is all to say that the queer archon is “accorded hermeneutic right and competence”, but along with others rather than singularly. There is (a) law, but it is not binding in its will to constrain. There is something about queer archives that witnesses the transit from the private to public as a bi-directional force: to adopt a knowingly camp simile, the institutional authority of the queer archive fans in and out (before the smelling salts are opened).

How strong do the smelling salts have to be in order to bring us back from the brink of archive fever?



Thus spake the archon!


Thanks to Chris Madden, my archivist-in-chief, for catalysing these random musings:)

{this is a list}

  1. An archive(?),a catalogue(?) a list(?), a marginalia-ised/personalised list(?).
  2. A gay man’s (personal) gay/queer book archive or alternative nomenclatures above.
  3. Other approximate synonyms: assemblage, constellations (books circling round each other-and heteronormativity- in rhizomatically connected patterns)
  4. I do not want to be (overly) concerned with defining “archive”(though that is a noble task:)). Chris is more than able to do that glorious task; rather, I, personally, FEEL my archive: an alternative to the sign: which is made up of the signifier (“archive”) not quite/accurately matching up to the signified(a gaggle of queer/gay books, riotous, with attempts at organisation but overflowing categorization, like queerness itself!).
  5. Ergo, LIFE, which books reflect (and vice versa), is not always sequential/linear/categorisable; nor is thought itself. Life and thought are-more often and truthfully-tangential, contrapuntal, contingent (sometimes); layers running concomitantly and in parallel. The LIFE archive- of gay…

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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.

Self/Portrait Self-Portrait

I like the fact the mobile phone covers my eyes. You would think any self-respecting self-portrait would reveal the windows to the soul. This is a deliberately failed selfie. I would never buy a selfie stick, still less use one, and so I use relatively modern technology to tap a portrait into existence, knowing all the while that I am not so modern as to eliminate the technological medium from the representation.

All the elements are there: the face, the hands, but more importantly the background. The elements in the background form what Roland Barthes calls the ‘studium’, in this case much more the details of biography than history, although cultural archaeologists of the future would be able to date the image from the details gathered within the frame. My studium is narcissistic, of course, as any self-portrait aims to be: less interested in providing information than projecting the subject’s ideal image of themselves. I have no idea what an ideal image of myself would be – like most people, an ideal image of the self would not be theirs – but I have had a pretty good stab at it here: the sense of pictorial perspective, the picture on the left and the bookshelves on the right, both of which imply infinitude; the neatly coiffured hair (I have always had a thing about my hair, who doesn’t? [some defiantly don’t]); the shirt I’m wearing is neither here nor there, although the swirling motion of its classic paisley pattern contrasts with the straight lines of the picture and the shelves; the fact that I am using a mirror rather than the mobile as both mirror and camera; the celebration of the mirror’s design, which in actual fact takes centre stage. In sum, I am showing an ability to compose (myself as well as an image).

The ‘punctum’ is what Barthes calls the detail that pricks the gaze of the viewer. Most picture takers would identify this detail as accidental, the very thing that notifies them of the gap between what the eye sees and what the camera includes within the frame at any given moment. The punctum here is the duster situated next to my right cheek, as if resting on my shoulder, although look carefully and you will see it is resting on a pile of books. Yes, the duster is the punctum*, I would say, a much-needed pop of colour, the yellow comically signifying the domestic life, the constant warding off of dust (or ashes). Perhaps the point of the prick provided by the punctum is that it reveals my self against my wishes. Preparing the shot I was evidently focussed on certain details over others, namely the bookshelves and the picture at the expense of detecting the slippage of the everyday into my construction of the so-called ideal. (And if the yellow duster implies I am domesticated, it also reveals I am not so conscientious as to return cleaning stuff to their rightful place.)

I would be lying to you if I said it was the phone that prevented me from revealing my eyes to you. Expand the image and you may even see the corners of my eyes. I would consider this a failure as I deliberately wanted to withhold my gaze as it would have taken, for me, the act of taking a self-portrait too far. Withholding my eyes means the viewer can look deeper into the image rather than being distracted by the human gaze looking back at them.

Do my hands look disembodied? I like their configuration, slightly modelled I have to admit. They’re fat, though, one amongst many constant reminders to lose weight. They say the ageing process can be detected in the hands. I think a person’s body-fat ratio can too. Perhaps the hands are more revealing of the self than the eyes. The eyes focus the self’s dignity as a photographic subject, as if predating the viewer-prey. The hands are sensual, engaged in sensuous activity as well as practical things; they are instruments of contact between the self and other, not always sexual but predominantly so. I reveal something of myself/my self through the hands, a socially acceptable form of nakedness that becomes the opposite if the hand touches another by mistake or against willing consent. Hands are outrageous. Yet in spite of all this I still feel I can control my self in my self-portrait by revealing my hands than if I had given over my eyes.

Why ‘Self/Portrait Self-Portrait’? It is a self-portrait in the accepted sense of the term: the self and background carefully modelled, negotiations around how much of the ‘self’ to reveal, the publication of the image implying an agreement within the self that this is the image that I wish to project. For now. But ‘self-portrait’ is a misnomer, technically speaking the self having to do with what lies inside than with what the world can see of you on the outside. None of us could take a self-portrait even if we wanted to, since to do so would be to turn the body inside out, as if the term ‘self’ is cognate with ‘soul’. This may not be philosophically correct, but it is what most people think. Self-portraits are taken in order to locate ourselves, as if the mirror image will reveal what others see of us. The self-portrait rides on the mistaken opportunity to align inside and outside, but more often than not the image causes a rupture between the two. For instance, we can’t see ourselves in motion, and are beside ourselves when others reveal some essential detail of our body image that departs from how we think we look. Self-portraits are temporary wagers against the inability to control how we appear to the world. Like most representations, self-portraits are little provisional lies to which we acclimitise before what follows.



*Wordpress’s spellcheck invites me to correct ‘punctum’ to ‘puncture’, and continues to underline the former in red whilst editing. An interesting overlap, except to say the punctum does not signify a fault – quite the contrary – so much as a point of almost miraculous concentration within the image; or rather it constitutes the point on which the viewer’s gaze pivots, providing the image with a rich focus as unintended as it is revealing.

Banality as a window on capitalist property relations

You can realise vital things about capitalist property relations and its power dynamics in the most unexpected of places these days.

I wanted to write about Britain and its endemic snobbery towards people living in the private rented sector and, by implication, those in the social housing sector.

Three figures step onto the stage of this rather banal story: Garage Man, Man with Privet Hedge, and Postal Worker.

Garage Man

Lying at the end of the driveway between next door and the building in which I rent a flat is a huge garage. Owned by next door’s landlord, it is an illegal structure in that it obtrudes on land owned by my landlord. The result is a chronic issue with parking: people just can’t get their cars through the gap between our building and the garage in order to access the area at the rear reserved entirely for me and my neighbours. It is an issue of long-standing resentment, but none of the car owners affected say anything to remedy the situation.

The garage is rented by a sort-of odd job man who accesses it daily for his work. With a face like a Jerusalem artichoke, he is constantly coated in mortar dust and grime. His walk is eccentric, but charmlessly so, his centre of gravity in the shoulders, as if actioned by an invisible puppeteer with the aid of a coat hanger. Garage Man wears a permanent snarl. His irredeemable ugliness could never be leavened by an attractive demeanour because his personality is forever fixed on contempt for anyone and anything.

Unsurprisingly, he has it in for me. One Sunday nearly three years ago I told him off for leaving his engine running. I could smell the fumes in my second floor flat; the vehicle itself was parked directly outside my neighbour on the ground floor – right on top of a child’s bedroom. We have had a couple of moments like it since. Time and again it strikes me how little this man grasps the most basic courtesies we must all extend to our neighbours (he is, after all, a neighbour) in the interests of building a civilised society. Such as: don’t intoxicate babies with exhaust fumes.

I know he has has it in for me because he has let slip the odd comment or two to my neighbour. ‘Who does he think he is? He rents a flat on [—] Road.’ There. Literally and metaphorically put in my place. Garage Man is so deficient in irony that he fails to recognise he has implicated his interlocutor in his snobbery.

Garage Man rented a flat above one of the shops across the road from us, the road for which he has contempt. He rents the garage – ‘I rent here too’, as he said during his tirade to my neighbour. He seems to have no place to call home, but pours scorn on people who do (we are all fairly longstanding tenants). Of course, I draw attention to this merely for the purposes of the contradiction between his own situation and his disdain for others.

Man with Privet Hedge

We share a back wall with two large semi-detached houses. A retired man and woman live in one of these houses. I think they have lived there for much of their adult lives. The garden seems cultivated, although none of us can actually see it; they are exactly the kind of folk who spend their time pruning back nature, even when it is unnecessary (mostly it is). The second floor flats have a view of the porch outside their back door. Not that we deliberately peer at them – they’re in our line of sight as we look out from our small kitchen windows, such is our entitlement.

Naturally it is the man who has made himself known to me and my neighbours. On more than the odd occasion he has been seen in our grounds checking how overgrown the privet hedge cultivated by them as some sort of defensive barrier against the marauding renters has become. This means he has trespassed on our land without so much as a salutary knock on the first available front door to ask if he can do so. You look out of your kitchen window to find a man in your back garden looking at things. He knows we rent our flats, I know he owns his house – indeed, as he told me once when I caught him during one spot-check, he used to own the house next to his. Even in this area of ours, not entirely desirable but with high quality, historical housing stock, it is relatively privileged to have two buildings to your name.

Perhaps it is a mark of such privilege that Man with Privet Hedge thinks it is entirely acceptable to walk up a driveway and look at things in the garden at the end of it for more than ten minutes without any supervision from the people who actually live there. He has been challenged by my neighbours, lucky not to have been challenged by me. His response has been to frame the challenge as a hostile gesture. Which it was. With good reason. Sometimes it is necessary to be reasonably hostile.

The territory around his property is of course marked clearly by high fencing and a gate – no doubt with at least two locks for security. Meanwhile, the land for which we pay to access as our homes has one small gate for the path leading to one building and a space where gates should be for the aforementioned driveway alongside the building in which I live. In the interests of furnishing yet further banal detail, there is no possibility for a gate to be installed, firstly on account of its size (landlords won’t invest their hard-earned surplus capital in that much wrought iron), and the fact that we live on a main road, which does not afford drivers the time or space to get out of their cars to open unwieldy gates.

Postal Worker

On the plus side, the lack of gates makes it easier for our regular postal worker to make his deliveries. Diminutive in stature, this man is a true candidate for the accolade of Postman Pat. I see him regularly driving his little red van too, although never with a black and white cat in tow. He has an officious demeanour, not exactly rude as such but possessed of a character to which I can’t take. One day I asked him not to post what I considered junk mail along with my actual post. He was definitely rude in this instance, raising his voice with his back to me: ‘DYA THINK I LIKE DOING THIS? YOU’LL ‘AV TO RING ‘EM UP!’ Alternatively, he might have said: ‘Yeah, it’s a pain, isn’t it? You can ring them or fill in an online form. In fact here’s the number’. Maybe not the last bit. This show was performed in front of a neighbour, and I was pretty pissed off about it. I complained along the lines of, ‘I don’t expect to be spoken to like that while your worker is on my property’. Royal Mail is fortress-like in its organisational culture, ironically impossible to communicate with, and so nothing really came of the complaint.

But he was informed about it. I knew this because I just happened to be in my kitchen when I could hear more than the usual voices beneath my window, dominant amongst which was Postal Worker’s, who was holding court with my neighbours. I was incensed but in a state of disbelief: there he was, bitching, complaining about me complaining about him. I considered complaining again but instead let off steam afterwards with the neighbour to whom he had blurted.

From that neighbour I discovered that they had released some highly guarded information about my personal life to postal worker. This involved reference to a life-changing event, and postal worker had been arguing that it was because of a similar situation that he had behaved the way he did. Not only had I felt slightly invaded by being spoken to in the original instance, and in turn spoken about in relation to it, I felt a small amount of personal dignity slipping away as a result of my neighbour’s disclosure. Despite having the capacity to memorise my name on account of his frequent deliveries, his reference to me in the form of the personality-stripping, coldly calculating ‘he’ and ‘him’ grated, especially as he has little problem in calling his other customers by their names.

Some weeks later he rang my bell in order to hand me a package too big for the letterbox. This had occurred on numerous occasions in the intervening period, and he had done so without speaking or looking at me, shooting out of sight no sooner the package had left his hand. After a while I expected him to deliver a decree nisi along with the usual crap from Iceland or Farm Foods. I answered the door and snatched the package from his hands. If I acted immaturely, it was out of a felt desire to lay the issue to bed. He almost licked his lips at the thought of taking the moral high ground.

Postal Worker: ‘No need to snatch.’

Me: ‘I didn’t.’

Postal Worker: ‘Yes you did.’

Me: ‘No. I didn’t.’

Postal Worker: ‘Yes you did.’

Me: ‘No I didn’t.’

I decided to cut this ping-ponging down to size:

‘Look, what’s your problem with me?’

He then told the sorry tale of having been complained about, that he could have lost his job, that he had had a ‘torrid’ time, that he had worked the same route for so-and-so years without a single complaint, that he was high up back in the depot, that and that and that and that and that and that. . .

Now who was blowing things out of all proportion? What about the three verbal and a written rule? If he was the model employee, then why would he feel so threatened by a verbal, that is if Royal Mail saw fit to issue one in relation to our tiff?

I explained that I did not think it was appropriate for someone in a professional capacity to speak to me like he did on my property.

With a glazed look and a level of contempt that had clearly been rehearsed over the years, he said: ‘It’s not your property. You don’t own it.’

Aside from stating the bloody obvious to one who knew very well the terms of engagement when they signed a contract with their LANDLORD, I shot him back:

‘Hang on a minute, you’ve just betrayed the fact that you think I have fewer rights because I rent.’

He tried to sidestep my indictment with the lousy line of, ‘Well, if we’re going down that route, I own my house but it’s not mine until I pay off the mortgage’.

Rather than exploding, I gushed with empathy for his situation, even if at no point had he exhibited the same towards mine:

‘Just because the bank technically owns your house doesn’t mean you have fewer rights until you pay off your mortgage.’

My charity in view of the property-owning homunculus standing before me nearly moved me to tears.

Earlier on I had expressed outrage at his suggestion that I could have lost him his job:

‘Wait a minute. Now wait a minute. I would never EVER do something that prevented another’s ability to work. Have you seen the Labour poster in my window?!’

It was the time of the General Election, the snap one Theresa May vowed she would never call. The Labour poster was more in support of Jeremy Corbyn than my MP. I had got a bit Outraged on Radio 4, and I almost agreed with the Postal Worker when he rolled his eyes. That said, I pressed on with this line of defence, and he seemed to accept the point.

Garage Man returns for a few seconds

Garage Man had been hovering at the mouth of his man cave during mine and Postal Worker’s altercation. He then stepped onto the stage as a disembodied voice:

‘Is that him again? He causes SHIT, him!”

Postal Worker asked if Garage Man was joking. Sadly mine and Garage Man’s long-standing biblical hatred for each other has precluded such repartee until the end of our days, and so I rolled my eyes as I confirmed that no, Garage Man was not joking. I decided against dealing directly with Garage Man’s interjection as it was going swimmingly with me and Postal Worker. We drew to a halt and I held out my hand in the spirit of reconciliation.

What I learned – or had reaffirmed

Garage Man is working class. Postal Worker is working class. Even Man with Privet Hedge is working class, even if he differs from the other two by virtue of having owned more than one property in his life.

Postal Worker has martyred himself on the crucifix of his mortgage. Garage Man looks down his nose on people very much like him (renters), and would seem never to hold the prospect of attaining material conditions more in line with his snobby prejudices. Man with Privet Hedge is obsessed with securing his property – both as a physical territory and one protected from onlookers from rented flats – but erases in the temerity of a single gesture the same right for others to be secure from his violations.

All three can be defined by their abject snobbery. As working class men – two of whom continuing to earn their living in typically working class jobs and the other almost certainly having done so before he retired – they would be the last people to indict with the social attitude practised more lavishly by the middle and upper class tiers of British society. Their barely concealed contempt for people living in rented accommodation is a posh way of saying they think they are SCUM. In Britain, people who rent are thrown in with users of public transport as SCUM OF THE EARTH. (And we haven’t even considered what is thought of people living in social housing.)

How are they not SCUM? By using public transport and renting, they RELY. Throw in a dusting of welfare dependency and they may as well [READER, COMPLETE THE SENTENCE]. They are not just SCUM but STUPID SCUM: month after month, year after year, they throw good money away by renting the roof over their head rather than slogging their guts out to make money for the property market with a small return on their investment. SCUM: they have failed [to INVEST]. Future? They have no future, SCUM WHO RENTS, SCUM WHO GETS ON BUSES. BUS WANKER!

Britain: humans were humans first, subjects of capital later. You hate renters and bus wankers for relying but fail to recognise the many instances of reliance in your own life. Your view of your total independence in life is the lifelong lie you will keep telling yourself. You are just far too fucking busy pouring snobby scorn over those beneath you.

CAPITALIST REALITY CHECK: There is always someone above you. You make that happen so long as you think others are beneath you.

Our three main characters would do well to realise this. They probably do. Which is why all three of them (Man with Privet Hedge perhaps the lesser inclined in this regard) perform acts of class treachery against their very own kind to the degree they are themselves oppressed by capitalist property relations.

The response to the fact there’s always someone above you? Perpetuate class division.

This fact was further underscored recently by a family member whose contempt for the people they live alongside was registered by a bullish declaration of property ownership: ‘We’re the only ones who own our own house on that street!’ Perhaps those renting on the same street of terraced houses may think: more fool you.

There is always someone above you. Even the neighbour you oppress because they don’t own their own home may come back at you by saying they wouldn’t want to own their own home in this shit hole anyway.

Tiers within tiers within tiers. Endless stratifications based on the resentment capitalism fuels on the basis of having no money whilst earning some money whilst having no money whilst…

The events described above amount to very little in the grand scheme of things. They are micro-aggressions in a world of larger catastrophes. Yet the spectrum is undeniably the same: the downward spiral of dehumanisation. The contractors who install unsafe cladding and councils turning their social housing stock to private developers through to Garage Man, Postal Worker, and Man with Privet Hedge, are to varying degrees united in the view that those who fail to subscribe to the status quo of capitalist property relations are deemed somehow less human and worthy of rights.

Archiving Time

Some time ago Steve gave me a copy of a curious novel by a largely unknown writer: Robert Gluck’s Jack the Modernist (1986). The author’s surname was intriguing, the word ‘modernist’ even more so, and its juxtaposition alongside the proper name ‘Jack’ kickstarted before I even prised open its covers a desire to read this text. While the working class of Northern England would like to claim ‘Jack’ as archetypally theirs, it translates just as well into other national cultures, primarily as a signifier of familiarity: Jack is someone you’d like to know, there’s something about Jack, and so on. Once I ventured inside I found not so much a modernist text (had I been fooled?) but a playfully postmodernist one, with its inclusion of images and variegated approach to narrative form. Steve and I resolved to read it together and formulate some kind of joint response. Life intervened, though, and the project never got underway. It was always in the back of my mind to resurrect it, but as yet no progress has been made. I haven’t even finished the book!

Jack the Modernist held my interest for another reason: it was published by Gay Men’s Press (GMP). I had heard of GMP but owned none of the titles they published or even read a single one of them. Steve realised my nascent desire for this sadly now defunct imprint, every now and then alerting me to a number of its titles and even gifting a few when he discovered he had doubled up. Jack the Modernist was one such, later to be joined by Gide’s Corydon (1985; original French edition 1925). Hereby beginneth my own collection of GMP books. Steve sent me images of his own collection, nestled cosily together and readily identifiable by their blue-purple covers and distinctive use of typography. I felt I had somehow missed out on being around when the books were originally published. Not that this was my fault: I was only in my teens when GMP was reaching roughly the halfway mark of its short but joyful life. And I put my hand on my heart when I say here that I cannot recall one instance when I have found a GMP book in a secondhand bookshop. They seem to be quite rare, swept up almost wholesale at the time and held on for dear life by avid queer readers finding their lives fully reflected in publishing history. I am lucky to have a friend who owns a fair few GMP books and who tentatively loans them to me – one at a time, to be signed for, heavy fines for late returns!

The more Steve and I talked about GMP and LGBTQI literature and theory generally the more it got me thinking: Steve’s library is a rich and diverse repository of gay life, history, and culture, and it should be documented. We discussed my idea of drawing up a list of all the books he categorises along LGBT lines. As always with minoritsed communities, nomenclature is important, and this is no less the case than with queer people (note the slippage from LGBTQI to LGBT between a few sentence of this paragraph, which is intentional). The form of the list was not a problem, although it has already become interchangeable with ‘archive’ and ‘catalogue’. Certainly it is not a bibliography even if it is adhering to the MHRA Style Guide: this evolving list of books does not represent a narrowly-defined field of research but the vast expanse of someone’s life as a gay man and bibliophile. ‘List’ is as neutral a term as you can get, whereas ‘archive’ is far too redolent of a closed past (it doesn’t have to be, of course). Steve’s library contains books that point towards the future as much as it grants us access to the past (his past, the gay past, the queer past, the homosexual past: nomenclature is maddening!).

It should be noted at this point that the suggestion was made to begin drawing up the list with Steve’s GMP collection. This is significant. It is a symbolic origin. I recognised the importance to Steve of GMP in relation to that most crucial stage in what he calls his ‘self-actualisation’: for instance, in the inscription to James Purdy’s Eustace Chisholm and the Works (1984), we are informed that purchase of the book roughly coincided with a second coming out after an unsuccessful first attempt. (Steve expands on these inscriptions in one of his first posts about this project here.) Given the foregoing, ‘list’ remains a problematic term: its casual register belies an otherwise bureaucratic function, it lies between the off-hand and the in-hand. But ‘archive’ and ‘catalogue’ hardly escape the institutional discursive practices of officialdom. Recent theory – hailing from queer quarters in the academy, it has to be said – has sought to deconstruct received notions of the archive and to expand its definitional boundaries. I have been thinking about archives for some years now, chiefly as a result of long-term study of the associated concept of melancholia and reading Jacques Derrida’s Archive Fever, and my current project with Steve and his library will provide a springboard for yet more thinking around this area as it will feed into the construction of this so-called list. The project is already garnering its own bibliography, a meta-list as it were.*

Beginning with GMP means that the list is inscribed within the regime of a date or dates, an eventuation of Steve’s biography as well as the history of a publishing house. GMP may live on in Steve’s reading life, but as a publisher it has had its moment (I can’t quote the precise dates now). Not only is it a window on late twentieth-century Britain from a publishing context, it is a window on late twentieth-century Britain full stop. GMP produces a diverse semantic field (in no particular order, except with Steve at its crown!): classics, contemporary, gay, queer, male, masculinity, men, Britain, London, Brighton, Thatcher, Blair. . .Steve! Biographically-speaking GMP cannot be my history, but that it features in my present moment is equally significant and, as I think Steven himself would admit, is a potential well-spring for the continuing development (should that be ‘evolution’?) of the self. This was true for Steve when he bought James Purdy from News from Nowhere± in 1985 as it is for me now. The list enables me to play catch-up with history and myself.

One of Steve’s blog posts for this project refers to ‘re-vivifying the gay male corpus’.  The surface-level gothic of this knowingly distasteful pun is soon supplanted by the deeper sense in which what we’re effectively playing at is reading life into the superstructural form of culture. Thankfully, the corpse is not ours (except perhaps as the former self/selves we tend to leave behind), but the fact that GMP saw fit to include within its remit the re-publication (sometimes in new English translations that I think they commissioned) of queer texts by and large lost to generations of readers testifies to the exhumation of a long-buried archive. The effects of such texts on the body in which a self struggles to self-actualise is naturally the primary suggestion made by our disturbing gothic metaphor.

The history of GMP experienced a revivification of its very own, namely when it became an imprint of Millivres and Millivres Prowler, a change of ownership or source of funding that yanked it from the publishers’ graveyard. (I haven’t checked my facts here, and I would sorely love to know, but this presumption can’t be that far from the truth.) The move to Millivres and, more particularly still, Millivres Prowler is a lovely window on the diversity of lived queer experience insofar as literature and writing were brought into closer proximity to fetish gear and pornography. (Founded in 1997, Prowler continues to operate today as a small chain of stores dedicated to ‘gay men’s lifestyle’, selling anything from tight-fitting swimwear to sex toys. Millivres Prowler published Gay Times until this year, when it was bought by investor and entrepreneur James Frost.) The end of GMP signalled what, exactly? This question floated over our first session as I typed up the bibliographical detail of each GMP title in Steve’s possession. The result can be viewed here; Steve has also posted a beautifully curated sequence of captioned and annotated images here from the almost certainly collectible Out in Art (1986).

That question, however, lingers.

The odd GMP book will resurface during the course of this project; such titles will augment the list but will certainly enable my knowledge of this archive-within-an-archive of texts published by one house at a specific historical moment to grow. We then move on to the more general history of publishing by a variety of houses that could still be defined along vaguely GMP lines by their commitment to queer writers: off the top of my head, although I’m not predicting this will be case with Steve’s library, I can think of at least two publishers that feature in both our collections: Semiotext(e)/MIT Press, and Duke University Press. Duke has a proud record of publishing queer theory, whereas Semiotext(e) is responsible for some of the most daring voices in international fiction: a translation of Hervé Guibert’s Fou de Vincent (1989) (Crazy for Vincent, 2017) being one such, and translations of two novels by Morocco’s first openly gay male writer Abdellah Taïa – Salvation Army (2009) and An Arab Melancholia (2012) – being two others. The latter enabled a point of contact between Steve and I during a brief flirtation with radical pedagogy in a larger group setting (a micro-history of intellectual contact or an archive of intellectual moments gathered around a text?).

The houses that lack such commitment will be conspicuous by their absence.

*Anne Cvetkovich’s An Archive of Feelings: Trauma, Sexuality, and Lesbian Cultures (2003) [not directly relevant for a number of reasons, but it has the potential to inform thinking around what it means to collect, collate, catalogue, archive, even if in her argument such processes have to do with non-physical ‘material’]; Lexicon for an Affective Archive, edited by Giulia Palladini and Marco Pustianaz (2017) [I discovered this on the eve of visiting Steve’s for our first session. Contains a number of short pieces, not exclusively on or by queers, although there is a piece by Anne Cvetkovich. The book’s exploration of a ‘lexicon’ will not doubt assist in clearing up issues around nomenclature, whereas the notion of an affective archive appears to overlap with Cvetkovich’s book but relates it to the storage of physical materials]; and Cruising the Library: Perversities in the Organisation of Human Knowledge (2017) by Melissa Adler, discovered on the day I began writing this post and for which I have high hopes, for self-explanatory reasons.

±It will not surprise some that, in the context of an LGBTQI reading public, the place of purchase is a crucial factor in the history of culture. Unlike books consumed by a general reading public, queer books are dependant on far narrower circuits of distribution and accessibility. This takes the form of what are now queer institutions, such as Liverpool’s feminist cooperative radical bookshop News from Nowhere, which, for more than forty years, has served as a de facto centre for queers. Bookshops like News from Nowhere have long championed the cause of small, independent publishers disseminating knowledge and cultural productions to marginalised reading publics. It is often the case that the existence of certain books at all – their commissioning, writing, translating, and publishing – is heavily dependant on the advocacy such spaces provide.

Browsing Time

I tried, indeed, to be on my guard, to defend myself, but not hard enough; the gigantic insidious sorcery of Bleston overwhelmed and bewitched me, leading me astray, far from my real self, in a smoky wilderness.

(Michel Butor, Passing Time, translated by Jean Stewart, London: John Calder, 1965, p. 29)

The man raised the shutters, a task he had performed thousands of times over many years, all the while deftly balancing a thin brown cigar in his mouth, a task he had also performed (namely: smoking) thousands of times, probably more times (let’s face it) than he had ever raised shutters. He may be a once-a-day man, who knows, a little treat indulged at the beginning of a strictly defined working day.



He seemed unbothered by my presence, which afforded me the freedom to browse further in, even though he had yet to raise the final shutter. What a pesky bugger I was, he had barely had the chance to unfold his copy of the city’s daily paper! The bookseller cast a cynical eye over the front page headlines, no doubt wearied by the monotony of the paper’s coverage over the years but compelled all the same to take his free copy from the vendor who stood on the corner by his stall. The paper was deposited in the windowed cabin at the rear, a space crying out to be photographically archived, crammed with treasures eternally withheld from the customers. The thought of being at the receiving end of steely words from this bookseller prohibited even a sneaky peek inside the cabin. The betting slips arranged methodically inside on the windows prevented any other kind of look as well. They indicated a highly evolved system, one borne of literally hard-won insight into form that had no doubt required many losses before it established consistent gains.

I was at pains to show only tentative interest in order to ward off any irritation he may have felt towards browsers far too eager for their own good. I was not the first browser for long. Like gulls swooping down on a discarded morsel, the bookstall fast garnered interest from folk who seemed to have come from nowhere or had been lurking nearby, organising their attack more in time with the moment the bookseller himself began to relax into his working day by turning books over, taking a sudden interest in titles he must have moved umpteen times before, stuffing them in the new places out of which they were likely to be turfed the following morning. Time was controlled by the slow action of puffing on a cigar, and all who entered this smoky space fell under its spell, one in which the books were at least as old as the laws formerly permitting smoking in retail premises. Although a fervent anti-smoker, I inhaled deep, as if to draw on the surplus toxins he released over the stall.

Having stayed overnight, my backpack was heavily loaded, cumbersome to other browsers who may have been irritated by the space it consumed at the same time as being remiss about the one carried on their own back. I was kneeling low at some shelves by the cabin when suddenly a hand pressed my shoulder lightly with the order ‘Don’t move!’ The bookseller wanted to access his cabin, and had mastered the choreography of shifting around his customers without making them feel like inconveniences. Moments later I moved over to the other side of the stall. A regular, also bearing a backpack, was coming in my direction, and rather than either of us letting the other pass freely, we both pushed hard against each other without apology.

Regulars are usually poor buyers but time-hungry. Mostly the value they provide is less in the form of the cash crossing the bookseller’s palm than in the crucial act of passing the time. So much of social history hinges on these spaces and their denizens. The course of time begins to flow once phrases like ‘I used to call in on so-and-so in town. Remember him?’ are uttered, entire time-space continua hauled up from so-called oblivion if only for a moment’s reprieve. More often than not these regulars do most of the talking.

Regular: ‘Did you enjoy your holiday?’

Bookseller: ‘Yeah.’

Regular: ‘Where did you go again?’

Bookseller: ‘Greece.’

Regular: [Recounts at length own experience of holidaying, not necessarily in Greece, and sundry other subjects alighted on before taking their leave without buying so much as a 50p bargain book.]

His first real customer wanted a copy of The Mayor of Casterbridge. The request was made in a voice straight out of Central Casting, supplied for a period drama set in chocolate box England – he hadn’t included the locution ‘I say’ but he may as well have done. The gentleman’s Englishness jarred – at this time of the morning and in this arguably most Northern of English cities. A man of few words, more often than not due to the cigar tenuously hanging from his lips, the bookseller said even less to this customer, striding over to a top shelf where he reached for the requested book in place of a response. It was one of those Folio Society editions, a curious imprint in that they seem tailored for a bibliophiliac public but in actual fact cater for people more interested in how books furnish shelves than in gaining intimate knowledge of their contents. In any case, better a secondhand Folio than a cheap mass market paperback, and an ideal version of the desired novel for this customer’s interests. ‘The best I can do on that is a fiver.’ A brief exchange ensued in which the gentleman revealed – rather calculatedly in my view – that he was purchasing the book for a friend who was in hospital and happened to be a Hardy fan. The bookseller didn’t acknowledge this hint of manipulation to reduce the price; instead he pushed his sales pitch by mentioning the relative rarity of such copies. ‘I think I can do five pounds on that’, the gentleman said, to which I thought, ‘Well you’d better, or he won’t let you have it!’

I browse distractedly, picking books from the shelves with only the slim commitment of reading a few words of a blurb or inspecting the design. Not that I judge books by their covers. The act of leafing through books in a more committed style of browsing is rare for me; I find it boring – in my view browsing is intuitive rather than slow-burning. (Perhaps this is why I have never taken up smoking, although occasionally I do enjoy chewing gum; the focussed commitment on a time-bound activity such as the bookseller apparently can’t live without reminds me too much of the leaden, as opposed to the dynamic, passing of time.) On this occasion, perhaps influenced by the thought of the bookseller inhaling and exhaling, I tried loosening time, browsing becoming a form of dwelling in the moment.

It was a bright, relatively warm Thursday morning in one of the busiest corners of the city. The ambience may have been all-consuming, but the little bubble in which we were immersed prevented the general hubbub from disturbing our relative serenity. Even the odd siren failed to pierce the tranquility, its waves somehow warded off by the super-power granted by the bookseller’s cigar. This cigar, by the way, had nearly reached its end. It looked as if it had not moved a jot since it was lit. I looked over at the bookseller at regular intervals, observing the slow extinguishing of the cigar and the sardonic rictus that seemed to be the permanent expression of one who, undoubtedly shy, had been forced to interact with humanity against his will in order to make a living. How many times has the bookseller burnt his lips when dragged out of concentration by a situation or exchange? Or rather, how much does the cigar fall into momentary oblivion as an object through the force of habit, the smoker only to be reminded of its existence through the burning part’s contact with skin? A phenomenology of smoking is not one I would readily like to explore, nor am I at all qualified to do so, but I would hazard a guess that it could begin with the separation of the object from the action, how the smoker-subject burrows themselves into a hazy version of consciousness one minute and  is turned over to hard reality in the next. It is precisely escape from the latter, of course, for which the smoker takes up the habit in the first place.

If I browse distractedly it’s also because I am more interested in the other browsers and the bookseller’s interactions with his clientele. It’s not often you come across a bit of eye-candy in a secondhand bookshop, but on this occasion I struck lucky. A short, muscular twenty-something carrying a backpack almost too big for his own back had appeared, again as if from nowhere, magicked into existence just for my pleasure. Blonde, blue eyes, pretty eyelashes: ideal. His backpack gave him the air of one on their way to a military exercise. He looked wasted, as if he had dragged himself out of his digs early to take advantage of the city. In place of the water bottles that normally fill the side mesh pockets in backpacks he had two books, one of which was about Isambard Kingdom Brunel. His browsing was focussed, it was almost impossible to pull him out from under the blanket with the subtle looks I was giving him. A hard heterosexual nut to crack, steadfast in his ignorance of unwanted attention. I had settled into inspecting a book on Velázquez, a painter who had come into renewed focus after the previous day’s purchase of Michel Foucault’s The Order of Things, the first chapter of which is devoted to an analysis of Las Meninas (1656). I was almost certainly going to buy the book anyway, but my decision was sealed by his presence, which invested it all the more with an erotics of reading. I turned the pages slowly so that the intensity with which my eyes fell on him could be mistaken for a momentary lapse of interest in the Spanish painter. I became more interested in him the more he delved into the shelves to find the object of his desire – books on Brunel, engineering, the navy. He made enquiries with the bookseller, who seemed more comfortable with this customer, a young working class male whose physical appearance belied his bookishness. I got the feeling the bookseller liked him, even if he seemed to be keeping his customary distance. He had been sent off in the direction of some shelves, which just happened to bring him closer to me. In a day’s time the city would give itself over to Pride, one of the biggest festivals of its kind anywhere. Rainbow flag bunting was hanging across the city, mostly in supermarkets wishing to avail themselves of the so-called pink pound. Not-so-forbidden love was in the air. This was no time for reading!

Choices having been made, he approached the bookseller again. ‘How much do you want for these, mate?’ Straightforward. Definite. The bookseller took the small pile and began inspecting each title. His laconic commentary provided the pretext for a price: the secondhand bookseller’s way. I had fruitlessly been searching for the plate of Las Meninas and still couldn’t locate it. I remained a committed reader even if my attention was very much on other things, and so in order to get back on track with the book, I disconnected from their transaction and the eye-candy’s exit. I hadn’t realised this until I found a slim volume on the subject of none other than Brunel. In fact, I had started looking for books on his chosen subject. A tremor ran through me: I had found a legitimate point of contact with him! I looked up and around only to find he had gone.

Gone. His exit may as well have been followed by faint whispers from the bookseller’s cigar, but even this had been fully extinguished by this point.

Soon after, I had decided on a small pile of titles myself. I mentioned finding the Brunel to the bookseller, referring to ‘the lad’ who had been looking on and around that subject: the history of engineering, Victorian innovation, the perfect historical male role model? As he totted up my total, he must have wondered why I had latched onto the interests of only one of his browsers. ‘Never mind. Too late. He’s gone now.’