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Considering the Full Archive

Today I finished inventorying the full archive.  There are over two thousand books in the archive, with more soon to be uncovered.  The span of topics, people, spaces and years that the archive covers is immense.  It’s even unsettling.  In one room you can read about visuality and new media, about Sophie Calle’s strange art/thought/emotional experiments, explore an out-of-date textbook of gynecology and peruse a pretty complete collection of October, the arts and literature journal.

Still, echoing an earlier theme, it is not the collection in full that I could rattle off to you, but instructions and lessons from individual books.  I remember reading in Eugenics: The Science of Human Life, about the importance of chastity.  On page 248, the authors tell us that “we pay a tremendous price for what we receive, whenever we take what is sexually unlawful.  We think we can defer payment indefinitely, and possibly cheat nature.  But in due time payment is demanded, with interest.”

And The Standard Book of Cosmetology, from 1977 tells students that “to be successful… Be neat, clean and attractive.  Be good to look at, and patrons will admire you.  Slovenliness… Poor posture is unbecoming.”

I am coming to understand that many of the items in the archive have something to do with the authority and context of the writer.  Particularly older how-to volumes and credos expect the critical reader to consider the classic sociological question, Not what, but says who?

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