The Paradigm of the Archive in Contemporary Narrative and Visual Culture
In the “archival turn”, praised by Hal Foster toward the end of the 1990s, there was reference made to a series of strategies that artists began to employ as a means of defying chronology as the fundamental logic of hegemonic narratives both in history and in art. The decontextualization of images and objects, the drift in micronarratives, irony about the legal-administrative forms and fragmentation in general became the central operations of a paradigm that inscribed its works within a new space-time critique. Bearing in mind that the archival paradigm involves a tradition the can be summed up in the philosophy of Michel Foucault at the end of the 1960s (in which The Archaeology of Knowledge in 1969 is particularly relevant) and in the reflections proposed by Jacques Derrida in Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression in 1995, contemporary thought and criticism have produced a transdisciplinary intersection that involves literature, literary criticism, the (audio) visual arts and aesthetics.
The horizon of the question of the archive at the end of the millennium, signalled by Derrida in “archive fever” – concealed, destroyed, forbidden, distorted –, demands a re-evaluation of the field of contemporary literature and visual culture, which profusely managed to recognise the problematic relationship between the politics of the archive, the artistic representations of the present and the recent past. Without giving up on interventions into and appropriations of documents, visual narrative and culture oriented themselves toward the reinterpretation and the configuration of the archive with the aim of elaborating new modes of access to the contemporary moment, of defying the authority of institutions and the conventionalisms in the predominant modes of representation, and proposing complex archaeologies of the present.
Exploring this key aspect of contemporary theory implicates a series of dimensions for the problem which must be taken into account: firstly, they must delve into the productivity of the notion of the archive and the recent theory (which implies considering the archive both as a repository for documents about the past and as an open space for discussion and debate about the present); secondly, they must ascertain the dimensions of productivity for this notion (and its deconstruction) in contemporary visual narrative and culture; finally, they must revise the way in which the notion of the archive and the politics of the archive have an impact on modes of representation.
Even though contemporary thought has been insistently attentive to the question of the archive, it is through the re-evaluation of the concept in recent decades that the possibility for an innovative way of problematizing both the relationship between narrative and history and between visual culture and the representation of the present has been opened up. Further, as with the developments by Foucault and Derrida which established the building blocks for a perspective that attempts to question the modes of representing history and connecting to it, more recent debates – Andrea Giunta, Cristián Gómez-Moya, Miguel Valderrama, Antoinette Burton, Hal Foster, Okwui Enwezor, Anna Maria Guasch, Ann Cvetkovich, and others – attempt to deploy more radical perspectives. In so doing, the recognition of the archive in the configuration of representations from visual narrative and culture imply introducing into the discussion the analysis of the specific effects of the problematic of the archive, the questioning of the conventional modes of considering historic feeling and the general revision of discursive counter-practices in literature and in art.
The articles comprising this monograph explore the potential in the notion of the archive for thinking about certain open problems for contemporary narrative. The imbrication of the archive in relevant categories such as memory, history, affect, montage, and the body guide the writing in this analysis. The archive is not conceived in a homogenous manner in each of these approximations, but rather through a variety of means that are broken up by the heterogeneity of the theoretical frameworks and the multiplicity of cultural artefacts under consideration. The theoretical and analytical proliferation favours the dissemination of the notion of the archive and inaugurates the possibility of conceiving new drifts and applications.
In «El domicilio inalcanzable: archivo y montaje en La Anunciación de María Negroni», María José Punte takes on the challenge of studying this novel through the author’s interest in archives and Wunderkammer. While the novel itself has generated multiple critical readings, this article postulates the potential in considering the text through Negroni’s articulation of an arbitrary and non-hierarchical archive. Punte follows Georges Didi-Huberman’s approximations as a way of thinking about the three problems that emerge in this type or archival writing: the choice of anachronism as a possible logic for History; the figure of the Warbugian Atlas as a method for approaching the “archive of the poetic imagination” proposed by Negroni; and the process of staging as a way of materialising the intervention on time and the archive. Thus, the risk of exploring literature through the theory and history of art is justified through Negroni’s own appeal to the figure of the “annunciation” for thinking about the politics of the militant generation of the 1970s.
«El cuerpo del archivo: función, testimonio y la responsabilidad de un orden Apuntes sobre Insensatez y Dos veces junio» by Martín Lombardo interrogates the means by which these two recent Latin American novels not only evoke the crimes against humanity committed in their respective countries, but also focus on the complexity of representing cruelty. In this archive of atrocities, which is also taken on in the articles by Natalia Taccetta and Cecilia Macón, Lombardo investigates the site of the body and, from there, the declarative position of those who are in charge of the repressed archives (Dos veces junio) and the archives configured through the testimonies of the victims of institutional violence (Insensatez). In attempting to think about how testimony becomes a historical document, Lombardo recovers the link put forth by Giorgio Agamben – and previously by Michel Foucault – between the archive, the declaration and that which can be said.
In «Memorias de infancia en dictadura: de la potencia del documento al afecto de archivo», Natalia Taccetta recurs to the “Archival Turn”, theorised by authors such as Foster in the 1990s and more currently by Anna María Guasch, as a means of thinking through the transformations that occur in the link between history and memory. The notion of the archive allows us to explore a detonated time and a discontinuous and problematic history. Within this theoretical framework, Taccetta focusses on the relevance of the notion of the archive in debates that derive, in South America, from the declassification of the supressed archives of the dictatorships of the Southern Cone, and the politics of memory, truth, justice, and reparation. Two documentaries, La guardería (Virginia Croatto, 2016) and El edificio de los chilenos (Macarena Aguiló, 2010), constitute the terrain upon which it is possible to explore the way in which alternative archives are articulated around the testimonies and documents of the children of activists who experienced collectivist life in Cuba.
Cecilia Macón attempts, in «No Word Movie: Chantal Akerman y el silencio como contra-archivo de sentimientos», an approach to the archive from the affective turn. Her article proposes thinking about the last documentary directed by Chantal Akerman, No Home Movie (2015), as a sonorous counter-archive based on the emotional function of silence. Akerman configures this counter-archive through the mutism maintained by her mother around the experience of having been in a concentration camp. Juxtaposed to the multiple archives of testimonies by victims, here this path is littered with hurdles as a means of interrogating other ways of realising the horror. At this point, the affective turn allows Macón to study the link between silence and the archive of feelings.
In «Un cine de ideas. Fotografía y afecto en Histórias que só existem quando lembradas (Julia Murat, 2011) y Viaje sentimental (Verónica Chen, 2010)», Julia Kratje considers two South American films through the lens of the gestation of an archive centred on affective atmospheres. Both documentaries are organised around photographs and family albums and are comprised of private and intimate archives though through the filming these become public. Kratje proposes the idea of “atmosphere” as a means of approaching a series of elements that exceed the thematic plane of the films and that calls to the creation of a sonorous landscape, an affective tonality. In the article, the idea of a conceptual cinema is considered, like that which attempts to exalt the mood through the mise-en-scène of ideas. In this sense, the juxtaposition between the conceptual and the affective does not hold, but rather there is a convergence when a gendered perspective is used, allowing for passage through an archive of travels and photographs that point to cultural and social differences.
Irene Depetris Chauvin, in «Mirar, escuchar, tocar. Políticas y poéticas de archivo en Tierra sola de Tiziana Panizza», considers the recovery of audio-visual memory on Easter Island that was undertaken by Tizianna Panizza upon the discovery of 32 documentaries filmed there before 1970. The article focusses on an analysis of the ways in which the documentary constructs and deconstructs the filmic archive through a staging of the operation that makes evident the ethnographic gaze linked to a period of colonial control. At the same time, Depetris Chauvin proposes looking at Tierra sola through an evaluation of the affective dimension of the archive and the expressive status of its documents, postulating the possibility of reorganising the “scene of memory” far from the ethnographic gaze and mobilising the visual, aural, and textual dimensions of culture.
For her part, in «(re)Reading Index Cards: The Archivist as Interpreter in susan pui san lok's News», Sandra Camacho considers some of susan pui san lok’s projects with an aim to evaluate what the author calls the power of the archivist: conceptualised as guardians of documents but also as exquisite interpreters, meaning, those that mould, shape, and make visible what should be read. This article also stresses the particularities of silence and absence and the way in which technologies implicate a language that traces the spaces between documents and images to draw out alternative materialities.
As always, the journal also features the Miscellaneous section which contains three articles to keep readers up-to-date on new critical readings. Gerardo Argüelles Fernández and Laura Andrea Montenegro Moreno, in «El horizonte de finitud en Una soledad demasiado ruidosa de Bohumil Hrabal» propose an accurate approach to the Czech author. The use of theories by Rüdiger Safranski, Zygmunt Bauman, Edmund Husserl, Karl Jaspers and Walter Benjamin comprises a map in which the phenomenon of the omnipresence of art and the threat of losing the aura can be contemplated. David Pruneda Sentíes suggests, in «Una negativa a recibir: la lectura (de la) crítica», the relevant distinction between two modes of reading: reading as reception or reading understood as a critical activity. The recurrence of authors such as Wolfgang Iser, Hans Jauss and Stanley Fish permits the definition of critical reading as a gesture productive of its own object of study. Carlos Surghi in «Relato, resplandor y discontinuidad del sentido en Maurice Blanchot»takes on the difficult task of exploring Blanchot’s short stories through the notion of “disappearance”, considered as defining in literature. As such, the absence of an argument, sense, and representation supposes a complex experience of reading given that it is about “stories impossible to read”.
In the Reviews section, Julia Lewandowska analyses Los papeles del autor/a. Marcos teóricos sobre autoría literaria, edited by Aina Pérez Fontdevila and Meri Torras Francés, which updates the complex idea of the ‘author’ and the multiple theoretical debates it has generated. Further, it considers the validity of this critical category. Dolores Resano reviews Buenos Aires y las provincias. Relatos para desarmar by Laura Demaría. Here, the way in which theory and criticism think through the relationship between Buenos Aires and the provinces, through the dual structure of centre-periphery, is deconstructed. Mayte Cantero Sánchez comments on Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed. In this case, an approximation to the work of this key feminist author is proposed, through a dialogue with other feminist theorists and the link between the epistemological tradition, considering the intersection between the political, the personal, the emotional, and the structural. Finally, this monograph ends with a critical note of particular relevance: the translation by Mayte Cantero Sánchez of Queer Fragility by Sara Ahmed. This text is invaluable in thinking through the contemporary moment and the various ways in which it overlaps with narrative and art.
Natalia Taccetta (UBA)
Mariano Veliz (UBA)
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