[-empyre-] timelessness and the archive

monica notebook at justfornow.net
Tue Nov 20 13:19:51 EST 2007

Hi tim,
i like your phrase ' the archival event'  and how it implies that it 
is the visit/ visitor to the archive that awakens and activates it as 
a source. in a sense i would say all archival collections function 
within the terms of a negotiative encounter and any re-constitution 
of the past from the files is the outcome of a navigation and 
exchange between the specific reader/ viewer and the archive's 
structure, what it contains, what it doesn't, and its means of access.

to return to archive fever, and derrida's discussion of freud's 
conception of technology as the prosthesis of the ' mystic pad' of 
virtual experience, mind, memory, etc -in relation to your 
description of the changing nature of archive - if the dominant 
prosthetic technology for cultural expression that we have developed 
is technically structured towards archival forms then it becomes hard 
to know, at this point of excess, which tendency is driving the 
archival impulse and to what extent the technology is fulfilling the 
desires of our exponential version of 'archive fever'- or creating 
them. as other contributors have mentioned, it's difficult to discern 
what forms of cultural production are not archives; music cd's/ 
blogs/ facebook photo albums/ / sound recordings/ artworks, as if 
archivisation, rather than representation, is becoming our dominant 
system of cultural expression.

what i want to suggest about the time of 'the-digital-archival-event' 
is that its 'permissiveness' comes from a capacity for 
'untimely-ness' rather than  'timelessness'. as e.g. in technically 
substituting for, and expanding, hearsay/ oral tradition/ word of 
mouth/, radio and sound recording permitted us to become accustomed 
to the uncanny experience of the voice as disembodied and the 
'untimely' event of being able to hear dead people singing.

it's the ways in which art makes use of 'untimely-ness' as 
intervention,    whether as an embodied action/ event or the ways in 
which the media/data of its   continuations reveals other continuums, 
that interests me... which could maybe take into us the accident part 
of the discussion?


Thanks so much for these opening words, Monica.  Your distinction 
between archive and storytelling and original and timeless 
permissiveness is very much along the lines of Derrida's notion of 
archive fever, which Mickey introduced.  Here the very process of 
fabulation is both permissive and a constitutive component of the 
archivization as an ongoing event.

One of the exciting features of much interactive work is how it opens 
the archive to such ongoing encounter and experience.  This is the 
case even with many of those artworks  burned "permanently" on 
CD-Rom, such as Norie and Maria's collaborative piece,  Shock in the 
Ear, where layers of five different narratives repeat themselves in 
never ending chains of non-repetitive sequence, thus opening the user 
experience to differing layers of voice, tonality, and interpretation.

I've found that, whether designing the interface for single issues of 
CTHEORY MULTIMEDIA or the user interfaces for the Goldsen Archive, 
the act of storytelling is integrally woven into the archival event 
so that the archive is less a repository, in the traditional passive 
"document" bound sense, than a site or collection of ongoing exchange 
and interaction.

Renate and I are looking forward to reading more of your thoughts 
throughout the week.



Hello to everyone on the list,
this is Monica. first of all thank you to Renate and Tim for inviting 
me to take part in the discussion. i've been a little slow to join in 
due to my current recalcitrance about writing 'biography' and 
therefore in fulfilling Renate and Tim's completely reasonable 
request to provide one before joining the list. eventually i did 
manage a paragraph and Renate and Tim also sourced an existing 
version on the net.... (apologies and thanks here on both counts).

although reluctant to divert the ongoing discussion by introducing a 
further topic i thought i'd just mention this difficulty in "reading 
oneself (or anything else) backwards' - as Benjamin describes 
autobiography in One Way Street -in case its an issue anyone else 
would like to discuss in terms of the biographical entry and the 

There are two other related aspects - at least- of the discussion 
which i 'd like to pick up on:  the figure of the storyteller and 
processes of storytelling which Norie introduced in an early post - 
embodied, rather than representationally or technologically 
configured means of reproducing past experience or events in the 
present -  and suggestions that the internet is, or provides, a 
renewed space for "oral tradition".

'story telling', it seems to me might be said to have a similar 
relationship to the material archive as performance art does to some 
forms of its documentation, or the 'hearsay' of an event to its 
authorised evidence. what interests me about the paradigm of 
storytelling, in relation to the archive, is that its structures of 
re-making are less concerned with accurate replication / verification 
of an original 'something' than with transmitting the experience of 
that 'something' in the now in which the 'story' is told and 
encountered. If the archive can be thought of as a repository then 
perhaps the 'story ' is more like an ark with the ability to travel, 
and carry both teller, listeners and readers, into expanded 
experiences of time which do not collapse it into partisan 

What also interests me about the 'storytelling'  paradigm is the 
productive use of the absence or loss of the original that it makes 
in converting this lack of an object into a renewed space of 
production and reproduction, and a kind of  fearlessness about 
reproducing the past quite permissively. - additively/ 
contradictorily as it passes from one person and 'time' to another, 
prioritising communication over replication or concerns about 
authenticity or definitive representation. i.e. the way in which its 
forms allow for a repetitiveness that tends away from the constraints 
of duplication towards transformation. So i've also been interested 
in the parts of the discussion  which have touched on 'time' and the 
digital  as potentially  'timeless'. When i first started to try and 
write about the relation of embodied experience/ performance/ 
time-based works to either their aftermath as documentation or their 
correlation and prolongation in other media, i frequently used 
'timelessness' to describe the non-chronological potential of the 
internet as archive. But what i'd like to propose now is that 
re-thinking this 'time' as being 'untimely' rather than 'timeless', 
may be more productive.

Monica Ross
00 44 (0)1273 381480

empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

Timothy Murray
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Video Studies
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
285 Goldwin Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York 14853
empyre forum
empyre at lists.cofa.unsw.edu.au

Monica Ross
00 44 (0)1273 381480

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