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« Olympian Openings (Sujatha) | Main | The turban as target: why split hairs? »

July 30, 2012


A paragraph closes with a reference to Tanselle, followed by another opening with a reference to Derrida's Archive Fever. Not bad for a day's blog post. Let me extend the range of Tanselle's and Carter's call for serious study of book jackets to include the liner notes of LPs and CDs. These texts can be invaluable. I recently passed up an opportunity to purchase at a discount one of the few releases not already in my collection of Graham Johnson's years-long project of recordings of all of Schubert's lieder--37 brimming CDs, issued one at a time, each with a booklet so thick it could hardly be replaced without damage in its jewel case--because the notes were missing.

Indeed, libraries and archives are often overestimated (under-, too), not only as communicants of disease, but as vessels of knowledge, sacred or profane. I also find the concept of the library abused in popular culture, subjected too often to the adolescent idealizations found in bad science fiction or to postmodern hyperbole, like the Barthes quotes. Marketing departments lead the chorus these days. How many people think Google "has" "everything"? Google is a fancy index. It has only what it hosts, and that doesn't approach comprehensiveness.

Nor are archives democratized; their finding aids, perhaps, but not the documents stored in folders in boxes. (As an aside, there is a pervasive confusion of libraries with archives. They're very different kinds of organizations with distinct purposes. Archives usually retain unique documents collected or produced by their subject entities. Libraries collect literatures they expect their constituencies will demand.) Like the minutes of meetings of boards and other legally established bodies, archives are selective. An archivist poring through the unsorted papers of an individual person or corporate body will discard superfluous documentation. Inasmuch as even superfluous records are unique material purveyors of information, the archive is not complete as one might expect.

But yes, archives and libraries are and contain fundamentally corruptible material objects. That our imaginations conceive and marvel at the notion of a Borgesian library doesn't alter that fundamental concept.

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