[-empyre-] story-time and the archive

timothy murray tcm1 at cornell.edu
Mon Nov 26 01:38:44 EST 2007

>Hi, Norie

It's funny that the perilous life span of digital materials has us 
thinking again about ephemerality in such serious ways.  I say again 
because I began teaching and writing about performance and video 
installation in the those   purely analogue days of performance and 
video installation (I'm now thinking particularly back to the initial 
days of my teaching career before the introduction even of VCRs into 
the classroom).  At that time, whether in the classroom or on page, I 
assumed that the role of the writer or teacher was to recreate the 
ephemeral visual or audio environment through various procedures of 
fabulation.  The goal was never to recreate or present a replica of 
the artwork but to transmit the conceptual tenor of an artwork that 
once happened in a way that would renew the untimeliness (thinking of 
Monica here) of the event or the intervention.  The goal of my 
teaching at that time was not for students to commit to memory the 
details of past events but to stage the tenor or idea of past ideas 
as a catalyst for their conceptual artwork and writing (as you all 
can tell, I am not an art historian...).

With the advent of digital archival formats on CD and DVD,  I think 
we kind of lured ourselves into a state of false security, and one 
that too easily overlooked the fundamental premises of "archival 
fever," that the archive itself is something of a speaking/viewing 
event which can approximate if not sometimes even realize ephemeral 
events whose performance were either far more provocative than even 
the creators could have foreseen or performances whose enactment 
framed a conceptual intervention that could only be realized in the 
future via further discursive interaction (in this context, we can 
think of Derrida's citation of the death drive not as something 
purely destructive but as something always activating).

So you've got me thinking that the disquiet we sometimes feel in the 
presence of the digital archive in peril is as much a true concern 
over the vicissitudes of materiality than it is something of a 
retroactive (traumatic) compensation for a more significant concern, 
that of the potential loss or slippage of a prior sensitivity to the 
promise (rather than peril) of ephemerality itself and of the role of 
discourse in carrying it into the future.

Thanks for posing such a helpful question, AND for staying with us this month!


>Hi Tim,
>I'm just thinking about ephemeral works again, and wondering what 
>you think about how they disturb or heat up archive fever?

Timothy Murray
Professor of Comparative Literature and English
Director of Graduate Studies in Film and Video
Curator, The Rose Goldsen Archive of New Media Art, Cornell Library
285 Goldwin Smith Hall
Cornell University
Ithaca, New York  14853

office: 607-255-4086
e-mail: tcm1 at cornell.edu

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