On the Contrary, We Need the “Silly Archive”

As I begin to gather my thoughts about how these two pieces can come into conversation with one another, my first thought centers around Halberstam’s notion of “contrary epistemologies” as I recall Derrida’s definition of an archive.  According to Derrida, the act of archiving, saving information, is in direct competition with the death drive, the desire to move on and forget the past.  In this way, Halberstam’s suggestion to create more contrary epistemologies is an interesting idea; perhaps looking at what we archive from its opposite perspective, can help put in perspective what should “legitimately” be archived, returning to Manoff’s piece.

With this observation in mind, I would like to offer a conversation between Manoff’s ‘Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines’ and ‘The Eccentric Archive: An interview with Judith Halberstam’ centered around the idea that in order to arrive at what constitutes as legitimate information to archive may be determined by creating contrary epistemologies and silly archives.

In her article, Manoff explores the ‘archival discourse’ being debated by many scholars over the past several decades as we transition into the digital age.  She feels that, “this archival discourse provides a window onto current debates and common concerns in many academic fields,” while it also, “illuminates the ways in which all of us are implicated in transformations in scholarship, publication…and archives” (Manoff 9).  It is this discourse, around and of the archives, that implicates us, requires that we take part in these transformations to better complete past archives and preserve the present for future generations.  However, with the evolution of the digital age, how do we determine what legitimately belongs in archives?

While Manoff discusses several theories from scholars about how we ended up in this archival discourse and what needs to be done, the interview with Halberstam offers an interesting proposal for one solution.  Halberstam suggests that, in light of the conversation, the implication of us by the archival discourse is to view archiving and the archives through a more modern lens, in her words by creating a “silly archive” and having contrary epistemologies.  As we attempt to review archives of the past to help us arrive at an answer to the problem, we are looking ‘inside the box’ at received wisdom from current archives, however, Halberstam suggests, “when people want to think differently they actually have to use a) a different archive, and b) different concepts,” in order to create an archive for the future (Halberstam 3).  They should view situations with a ‘contrary epistemology’ in order to create a more complete story.

Halberstam goes on to provide a suggestion for how, as the subject matter of today’s archival discourse has evolved and we attempt to communicate to a broader audience beyond the field of academia, we can utilize “silly knowledge” and create “silly archives”.  Reference to mindless topics, such as South Park, a show that is watched by a broad array of people, while it may seem silly, helps to engage this broader audience and get across the point in an understandable manner.

To bring this conversation back together, Halberstam’s suggestion for creating contrary epistemologies and silly archives can help us determine what legitimately belongs in an archive.  The current archival discourse, offered by Manoff , may be answered by including information that was not previously legitimate, but with a larger audience in today’s world, is necessary in order to truly archive our present generation for the future.

If we are to agree with Halberstam, that the creation of a ‘silly archive’ is necessary to communicate to the broader, uneducated population, where should the line be drawn at what is, as Manoff asks, legitimate for the archive?



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