Narrating from the Archive: Novels, Records, and Bureaucrats in the Modern Age

Narrating from the Archive: Novels, Records, and Bureaucrats in the Modern Age

Narrating from the Archive: Novels, Records, and Bureaucrats in the Modern Age

Narrating from the Archive: Novels, Records, and Bureaucrats in the Modern Age

Synopsis

This book discusses the relationship between the archive and the novel from Early Modernity to the digital age. The encounter between archival and novelistic discourses results in the archival novel, a fictional genre where the archive frames the readers' apprehension of the text. Archival fictions are self-reflexive texts that foreground the twofold role the archive plays in the composition of novels; providing novelists with reliable knowledge and organizing the written materials (notes, records, plans) that make writing possible. While the nineteenth century archival novels rely on the archive to guarantee their claims to truth, in the twentieth century they tend to expose the archive as a practice tied to social and political power. When the digital database started to replace the paper archive in the 1970s, the epistemic and technological foundation of the novel began to erode - a process that ultimately will render the novel an outdated cognitive tool.

Excerpt

This book discusses the relationship between the novel and the archive from early modernity to the dawn of the digital age in the late twentieth century. It focuses on the archival novel, a fictional genre where the narrative stores records, bureaucratic writing informs language, and the archive functions as a semiotic frame that structures the text’s content and meaning. in archival fiction, the archive provides the reader with a conduit to reality, defined as both the novel’s textual environment and the external world it comments upon. the archive’s ability to mediate our approach to reality means (1) that the events of our lived experience become intelligible when they are recorded and (2) that records keep their value as proof of lived life only if they are stored in compliance with protocols tested through the historical practice of the archive. the kind of archive I discuss and analyze in my study is a repository for records that share three traits: they are created by individuals or organizations; they are preserved because of the enduring value of the information they contain; and they are arranged by dint of “the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control.” Throughout modernity, in addition to storing society’s foundational papers, the archive has carried out crucial tasks, such as building and preserving public memory, providing governments with the tools needed for the identification of citizens, as well as elaborating and testing viable methods for the management and retrieval of knowledge. I view the archive as a discourse, or, to paraphrase Foucault, as a practice that systematically forms the objects of which it speaks. the Foucauldian objects shaped by the discourse of the archive include not only typical archival items such as record series, files, and folders, but also professional figures such as the archivist and the archival scholar, and, to the extent that they rely on archives in their activities, the historian, the lawyer, the notary, and the police-

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