Saturday, March 28, 2009

Against Using

In a somewhat recent issue of PMLA (2007), Peter Stallybrass responds to an article in PMLA on the database with a polemic entitled "Against Thinking."  It's worth a read.  But here's a thought about not thinking.  By refusing to think the database, Stallybrass presents a host of symptoms, release their own fantasies about data storage, data retrieval, and research (as use, as data processing).  Once archival documents have been copied, they assume, a researcher will work on them continuously only his or her research is completed.  The data will never be corrupted.   Completetion and perfection of archival research (outside the physical archive) are not a problem.  Data processing promises a beginning and an end in terms of orienting a research project (you go to the archive, then you go home).  Home trumps the library (or the library as Borges imagines it); you can go home again, but apparently you never have to go back to the library because you need more documents or because your photos were degraded or destroyed.  This "historicist" account of the archive and database leaves itself up wide open to a psychoanalytic and deconstructive broadside:  being against thinking is a necroacademic fantasy of the archive as tomb, the researcher as mummy.  The user, once again, reveals the uselessness of his own so-called historicist scholarship masquerading and misrecognized as productive.  If you don't think, you sink.  Better to think more about the value of uselessness and frivolity.  See Derrida on Condillac.  I will post soon on uselessness.

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