Autonomous Archives: 06 Rochelle Pinto
Cinematographer: Nisha Vasudevan
Duration: 00:46:16; Aspect Ratio: 1.778:1; Hue: 24.111; Saturation: 0.112; Lightness: 0.271; Volume: 0.227; Cuts per Minute: 0.151; Words per Minute: 160.680
Properties of the Autonomous Archive
, a 2-day event, hosted by CAMP, was a gathering of key internet platforms, archival initiatives and related infrastructures.
The discussion was intended to focus on the qualities and powers of contemporary archives: including their stable or emergent properties, their performance and beauty, survival and capacity, and autonomy.
"In declaring their autonomy, archives seek to produce norms beyond normativity, and ethical claims beyond the law."
- excerpts from Pad.ma, Ten Theses on the Archive
, no. 9.
Day one was a day of presentations and discussions: "Show me your Properties!"
: Jan Gerber and Sebastian Lutgert - 'people annotate describe make add'
: Kenneth Goldsmith - 'If we had to ask permission, we wouldn't exist: a brief history of UbuWeb and the law'
04 SFG (Shared Footage Group)
: 'Its past and future'
05 Sundar and Gurung
: 'Archiving in the vernacular, experiences from Tamil and Nepali'
06 Rochelle Pinto
: 'The mundane state - historians in a state archive'
07 Peter S. - flattr
: 'Flattr, the need for alternative financial views'
08 Matthew Fuller
: 'Two evil media stratagems: Structured data & Know your sorts'
09 Liang and Lutgert - Leaks
: 'Privacy and Scandal: Radia tapes and Wikileaks'
Rochelle Pinto teaches at Delhi University in the English department. A historian by training, she specialises in 19th century and earlier histories of Goa and is the author of the book - Between Empires: Print and Politics in Goa.
The Archive and Access research project by Rochelle Pinto, Aparna Balachandran and Abhijit Bhattacharya is a part of the Researchers @ Work Programme at the Centre for Internet and Society, Bangalore.
Here she presents some of her work, some of which was an attempt to examine the questions that arise when approaching the archive with an idea of preservation, or with the idea that one is approaching documents that constitute a cultural legacy.
LL: Our final speaker for the session is Rochelle Pinto. Rochelle teaches at DU in the English department, but is a historian by training, and specialises in nineteenth century and earlier histories of Goa, and is also the author of a book on Print cultures in Goa. (Between Empires: Print and Politics in Goa) And her paper today reflects her movement from CSCS to DU, called the mundane state.
RP: Okay, I didn't catch that...
Max Mueller Bhavan, Mumbai
RP: Okay, just briefly while we set it up, I'm involved in two things. One is trying to look at questions of the archives and the usage of archives theoritically, which is something I worked on with a colleague Aparna Balachandran, and we worked out a monograph which is online. We had written it for the Centre of Internet and Society (CIS) in Bangalore.
Link to the monograph: http://www.cis-india.org/research/cis-raw/histories/archive-access-file
RP: And the other is a nuts and bolts project that we're also involved with, along with Abhijeet Bhattacharya, which is slightly similar towards (?)... to a much wider scale.
RP: So what I'll be reading out is a fairly short paper is a bit of... some of it I'd worked on in trying to examine some of the questions involved when you actually approach the archive with this idea of preservation, or with the idea that you're approaching documents that somehow constitute a cultural legacy - what are the issues involved?
RP: My colleague and I worked on different areas. She worked on Tamil Nadu and I worked on Goa. And in response to Lawrence's question- we realised that once you get away from the idea of the archive as constituting an entire cultural legacy, particularly after reading various critiques of archives, we realised if we are to take on board - whether its the (?) critique or Derrida's work on ... on the (?) of actually looking at the archive as being a kind of repository of culture- then what are the kind of questions that emerge, or what surfaces?
RP: So some of the questions that I've taken up emerge directly from the context of Goa or the context of the archive in Goa. I'll just ...
RP: This is our website, and if we have the time, I'll briefly demonstrate that. The questions arising from our project are a little different and I hope we can address them, because we actually need some help in working out a model for the future maybe for projects. Maybe we can deal with that in depth tomorrow, but for now I'll read out the paper and if we have time we can go on to it...
RP: The paper basically discusses two ways in which internet technology has inflected our relation to documents that signify the past.
RP: (about the screen) I'm not actually going to be using that, so... if we have the time I'll get on to the website.
LL: Do you have enough light there?
RP: Yeah, that's fine.
RP: So I'm going to look at two ways in which internet technology has inflected our relation- when I say our relation, I really mean again 'in the context of Goa'- relation to documents that signify the past.
RP: The first is in the domain of nostalgia, where everyday users of the net have enthusiastically discovered the capacity of internet technology to act simultaneously as storage shelf, museum, and mode of communication in the recovery of lost pasts. Among these, collectors, amateur historians and other upholders of tradition have taken to the internet with interest and hope.
RP: This is despite the fact that a move to recover the past or save it from extinction usually involves being wary of new technology - (But really, in the context of India, there's always a sort of polarisation which seems to arise) -
RP: In the case of Goa Chitra, a museum in Goa devoted to the recovery of old agricultural instruments, the stance of the curator is to draw visitors towards the tactile experience of hand-made tools over machine-driven agriculture. Despite the curator's determined rejection of modern technology, it seems as though the internet is immune from his critiques.
RP: Victor Hugo Gomes (the curator) takes to the internet as a mode of dissemination as though it were a transparent neutral medium. A similar imperviousness to the novelty of the internet is evident among librarians, collectors, and expatriate Goans who collaborate in building online nostalgic sites devoted to places and cultures left behind.
RP: The particular ability that nostalgia sites have, to fuse texts from different periods in history, and belonging to radically different genres, into a stream that is deciphered by the user, is sometimes viewed in a celebratory mode, as a victory over the totalizing effect of history.
RP: The technology is seen to have an inherent plasticity that draws attention to the constituted or unnatural nature of the conventional archive even as it renders online historical texts and documents into alterable images. The present, according to this view, is no longer hostage to the past.
RP: However, while nostalgia negates the divisions between historical veracity and memory- (which is always significant to historians, but not to anyone else), it can cement the idea of the past as the site of a crippling loss. What Baudrillard terms as the 'panic-stricken production of the real and of the referential' as a deterrent to loss, may have helped in fact to escalate expectations of what the archival document can symbolise and substantiate as cultural and civilizational truths.
RP: There is another museum in Goa called 'Ancestral Goa', visited often by tourists, which has lifesize fibreglass figures representing rural Goans frozen in tableaux which depict, also in fibreglass, the daily life of the village. The one time I was there, accompanied by two people who spent their childhood in Goa in the '40s and '50s, the ludicrousness of the exhibit was striking.
RP: Why, when most of Goa still lives in villages, was it necessary to create those badly-executed figures that were also somehow a caricature of what lay just outside the exhibit? Unlike the museum of agricultural implements which seems to capture time that staggers between past and present, Ancestral Goa seems to foreshadow death and caricature life.
RP: The agricultural museum, Goa Chitra, in contrast, is a response to the perceived splitting of aesthetics, function and technology in the modern world. It points to things that have fallen out of use, hoping to restore them to agricultural life. Its emphasis on the tactile relationship to traditional technology foregrounds an important aspect of our relationship to the paper archive in India.
RP: The museum of agricultural implements initially referred to in this paper gestures to an ideal time when aesthetics and technology were undifferentiated, by re-placing these objects in the space of a modern museum appended to a farm. This placing of objects is intended to spark cultural memory and a renewal of life where technology entered only to extend, but not replace the hand.
RP: When the internet and the archive meet, the aestheticising abilities of the net not only nullifies the historical separation of texts, but also provides a satisfying opportunity for users to materially piece together and combine images. Such productions of memory, text, and history are instantaneously framed, archived, exhibited, and re-archived (on many nostalgia sites), manifesting attributes of technologised art and knowledge that have been discussed from Baudrillard to Deleuze etc.
RP: Our uses of the internet (I'd suggest) allow for the science of history to slip, by virtue of the visuality of internet technology into what we would ordinarily categorise as art, or artifact, or craft. Heidegger's 'The Age of the World Picture' suggests that such an analysis is symptomatic of the appearance of the aesthetic as firstly separated from the human, and then recovered as an expression of human life, a sign of subjective feeling.
RP: In the way that it allows a visual making of memory or history, digital technology fuses some disciplinary boundaries between science and art. However, (judging from the kinds of sites devoted to nostalgia about Goa, that I've seen) I'd suggest that the discourse around loss, the loss of touch, of proximity to the past, and the certainty of a move into decline that nostalgia connotes, reappropriates the slippage between science and art into the binaries of tradition and modernity.
RP: In the following section, I suggest that writings on the archive and digitisation of the paper archive do not dwell on the tactility involved in our perception of value, transience, and historicity of the paper document. - So that's actually trying to address something that you talked about Lawrence, in the last session.
RP: When the historical document appears online as part of a digital archive, it has a presence that renews the compelling sense of fragility and preciousness that we associate with old artefacts. Viewing a document online, we still note colour, texture and design that help fix the period of the document, we marvel that we can now view this at the touch of a key, and it is still someplace else in its 'real form, stored away from our touch.
RP: Walter Benjamin's 'The Work of the Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction' has covered much ground in its analysis of how our perception of value and culture are altered with the introduction of mechanisation into image production.
RP: The internet further endows such reproductions with a renewed presence, another frame, a speedy dispensing of layers of distance, while still retaining a realm of authenticity – (coughing) - the authenticity of touch that is still possessed by the holder of the original document, a sensory attribute that still holds value within the domain of history.
RP: It may be useful here to draw a distinction between discussions of the archive that have arisen in the contexts of more successful state machineries,... whether South Africa or Germany and that of India. - May I have some water?
RP: Walter Benjamin's 'Unpacking my library' speaks of the disappearance of the individual collector, and the possibilities of disorder that the unarranged library presents. In contrast, if one were to hear historians of India regale each other with tragi-comic experiences of dealing with unarranged archives, and gaining access to precious collections, soon to fall to pieces after they use them,...
RP: ...it is apparent that it would be possible to run a newspaper column for at least a year on the stories we hear of precious finds and brilliant librarians, as well as the more macabre ones of how they gained access to records against all odds, or the tales of the state in which we find documents,..(cough) and their likely condition after we are done with them.
RP: Among the fraternity of historians therefore, the discussion around archives can begin and end with a bemoaning of the state of the archives, a sense of mourning for imminent and continuing cultural loss.
RP: It may be more useful to think about the experience of the archive in India which is still constituted primarily by the physical state-owned archive which has two overlapping attributes. The first is the fact of political control, as the arch-archive, the National Archives in Delhi, continues to be formed in the present only by those documents that the Home Ministry allows to pass into the public domain.
RP: While the National Archives over and above other state archives is overwritten by its continuing expansion and control by government ministries, its housing of documents of the colonial state constitutes the second attribute of the official archive - its value as legacy, past and tradition.
RP: Achille Mbembe's 'The Power of the Archive and its Limits', emphasises that the status of the archival document is always linked to rituals that govern its production and reception, rituals of secrecy, control and the sense of time past and present that the archival document encases. Mbembe also notes that the primary status of the archival document is that of its materiality, that it must be touched and seen as evidence that something happened; that there was a life that produced the document and an event whose existence it secures.
RP: In most discussions of the archive, including the South African context, the material fragility of the archive does not inflect descriptions of our sensory attachment to archives. Yet in India, the values of tradition and legacy that attach to the archive are infused with the imminent knowledge of its physical disappearance leading us in fact to see in the internet a site for salvation. It is this unavoidable fact about the weather that nuances our pleas to and against the state, asking it to salvage the archive, which embodies, literally, the tropics of discourse.
RP: The handling of documents remains a mundane event in most archives in India – pages can be flipped roughly enough, books thumped and files stacked in dust without evoking a sense of blasphemy or outrage in user or holder. In fact, the degrees of separation between the mundane handling of archives and the immense value attached to them, forms the bulk of the informal stories historians tell about the archive.
RP: If we were to consider this as a continuing story about state power and archives, then we could say that the form of the state that the historian most often encounters is not the state that censors documents before they enter the archive, but the bureaucratic offices in which demands for maps may be arbitrarily refused or granted, where women researchers may be refused obscene texts and where offices shut early and texts are lost.
RP: The phrase 'Banality of power', of Mbembe's coinage should have been the most appropriate characterisation for this phenomenon. However Mbembe's article which draws strongly from Bakhtinian conceptions of power and resistance in their carnivalesque excesses does not address itself to what is an exercise of power with an aesthetic if any that inverts the carnivalesque.
RP: There is an absurdity about the scale of historians' testimonies and witness to the difficulties of archival access - a historian describes her anxiety over documents that may be burnt by the fires of a reverential aarti
performed close to old papers in the archives in Chennai, ..(cough).. another dries rain soaked documents in the sun in the courtyard of an archive in Assam, after having purchased a tubelight to investigate the dark interiors of the storehouse. A cat falls through the thermocol roof of one archive, onto the papers below, and matrimonial advertisements written for archive officials constitutes the length to which historians may go to ensure access to the document.
RP: This constitutes the daily exercise of power that substantively affects the material status of the document, even as the handling of the paper document by the historian constitutes another pole of sensory experience. The necessary confrontation with this form of power forces one to wonder whether there is not a need to consider this in its own right as the workings of the outposts of the state, as opposed to the Centre.
RP: If the ruling order hides or destroys the files from the Emergency of 1975, the outposts of the state are as powerful an obfuscatory force. The dilemma of the historian does not lie only in her holding that portentous knowledge about the material demise of the archives, but also in the ability to keep walking away from that trove of documents of whose historical worth she may know the most.
RP: The mundaneness of material engagement with the archive is a manifestation of mundane as opposed to monumental state power that has parallels and appears in other ways. One such avenue is libraries that appear around the sign of the public rather than that of the nation.
RP: Mbembe points suggestively to how the archival document is the initial point from which the historian constructs time as a totality, as a spectre around which she constructs other historical entities.
RP: Between the public document and the citizen user, it is the spectre of democracy that is summoned each time a potentially threatening document is asked for in the name of public rights. The RTI act is the most recent legislative decision to alter the nature of publicity associated with documents and information. Though the archive is not seen as the customary target for the RTI, its existence has made its mark on all public institutions and repositories.
RP: The act works as a mirror to present to the state information extracted from the state, and is an act that produces the spectre of democracy each time it is invoked by a citizen. Of much less dramatic value is the public library, an institution created as a point of access for state bulletins and newspapers, and often, incidentally, valuable historical material.
RP: In contrast to the archive, the public library has a benign denotative value. Far from summoning a dark challenge to the state's sovereignty, or contributing to a monumental tradition, its semantic weight once again rests on the side of the mundane; it denotes power of a municipal kind, a library that houses newspapers and children's reading rooms, the meeting place of the educated unemployed and the amateur historian.
RP: The public library, like the official in a regional state archive, manoeuvres a domesticated state power. This suggests to us however that the question of mundane power is not determined by the contents of the institution - for national archives and public libraries may both have historical texts, legal documents and public information, but by the summoning of monumental power.
RP: In this context, it is interesting to view two recently completed PhD theses, that of Maya Dodd and Bhavani Raman, the one examining - what she calls -'technologies of witness' oral testimony and the staging of democracy during and after the Emergency of 1975 in India, the latter examining the place of writing as a technology of power in colonial Tamil Nadu.
RP: The text that studies the consolidation of writing as a technology of power demonstrates how the promise of bearing true witness, or of being an accurate record, or proof of truth, came to be attached to the official document.
RP: Dodd's thesis interestingly suggests that the spectre of democracy summoned by the RTI is pacified through judicial symbolism. The demand made to the state is the gesture that restores the state to its position of power as the dispenser of justice.
RP: At the archive official's desk, and among the stacks, the highly varying values attached to writing, history and official documents in India are only too visible. The charged significance that official paper has at the centre of the document Raj that Bhavani Raman describes, dissolves in the hands of the stacker and the handler of manuscripts by the time they reach the archives.
RP: The movement from the centre of power to its outposts is marked as much by a changed relationship to the materiality of documents as to their potential meanings. The historian who attaches another set of meanings altogether to the archives, materially and conceptually, mines them for research and exits the archive in the manner of a silenced witness to a crime.
RP: In contrast, the internet as the new blazing sign of public access, and a vehicle for an online archive exactly embodies the greatest fear of the monumental state - loss of cultural control and secrecy. It also promises an unbelievable deliverance for tropical countries without air-conditioned archives - the promise that data will last forever.
RP: It would appear that the internet can mould itself so easily to the contours of the state that it should caution us against reading the technology as inherently subversive of individual control and authorship. In fact, instead of invoking the internet or individual users as subjects with full agency, it may be more appropriate to see gestures to the state to release documents, whether for research or political activism, as acts of enunciation.
RP: This draws from Michel de Certeau's delineation of the place of the ordinary man in relation to power in his The Practice of Everday Life, in which he attempts to distinguish between the strategy and tactic as positions acted out within the field of power.
RP: A strategy, he says is spatially secured. It, 'assumes a place that can be circumscribed as proper (propre)' such as an institutional localization, and thus serves as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it'.
RP: A tactic, 'on the other hand, cannot count on a "proper" space, nor … on a border-line distinguishing the other as a visible totality.' 'The tactics of consumption, the ingenious ways in which the weak make use of the strong, thus lend a political dimension to everyday practices', states Certeau.
RP: While Certeau's explanation of the nature of the tactic seems to connote resistance, I employ it here to help understand the mundane as a scattering or dispersal of statist control rather than resistance.
RP: The division of strategy as a stably located centre from the tactic is a useful distinction through which we can link what was earlier termed as the mundane encounter with the archive to our understanding of the state, rather than seeing the everyday encounter with the ridiculous or tortuous only as a failed bureaucracy.
RP: Instead, de Certeau's formulation allows us to see this negotiation with the archive at its most petty, as a reading, a tactic that deploys what is a primary text of power at the centre being rewritten at each encounter on the margins or the final extremities of the state, which is usually the most frequent point of contact with the public.
RP: 'The ruling order', he says, 'serves as a support for innumerable productive activities'. Certeau uses the word productive here to invert the idea of reading whether of literature or state law as a passive act of consumption. The self-deprecating laughter of the historian who finds herself at the mercy of the long lunchtime and the indifferent official at the archives is akin to de Certeau's ironic laughter of everyman, who finds himself at the mercy of a larger law.
RP: De Certeau in fact suggests that the Foucauldian conception of governmentality delineates, however wonderfully, the scripting of state power, leaving open the question of how this is read and appropriated by those summoned by it, whether local archivists or historians.
RP: I would like to suggest that this also speaks to the discussion around the RTI, which, in revealing to the state its own perfidy, also summons it like a spirit in all its plenitude in the demand for the exercise of democracy. As opposed to the RTI, which summons the written text, or the ruling order, or the centre of governmentality, is there a difference in the kind of state evoked by everyman in the everyday?
RP: As a fellow researcher and I interviewed officials at the National Archives of India, we found it difficult to prise even an official publication catalogue for the bookshop out of the hands of an official, because the release of either speech or paper may elicit a memo from superiors.
RP: In sharp contrast, the Delhi State Archives embodied the mundane from the lack of lawn and magisterial steps to enter the building, to the ease of entry and access to documents. For a hundred rupees, we were able to purchase images of maps of the North West border that the National Archives may not have shown us at all.
RP: It seems as though the distinction made earlier between municipal and national power, between National Archives and Public Library work around a similar reading of the rule of the state. For though the institutions cited here are distinct physical units with particular mandates, the Public Library is not immune from being the place from which strategic power is deployed.
(Approx. 1 minute cut in video. Quoting missing transcript from Rochelle Pinto's paper)
RP: Public libraries that house texts that embody national tradition, reproduce the logic of the national archive, irrespective of their other attributes. Likewise, the state archive can be found dispensing land documents on payment of Rs. 25 to numerous users in the course of a day, transforming itself, in this act alone, into a municipal outpost of the state instead of its centre. This is why de Certeau's or Foucauldian formulations of enunciation as event or as tactic help decipher the strange avatars of the archive. If we see in the head librarian or government functionary at the entrance of the archive an embodiment of de Certeau's ordinary man acting out the text, it is possible that these enunciations occur when called into being by different-
RP: ...usages of the archive. The everyday historian's request or litigant's demand for land documents evokes the tactical state, still in possession of the document, but with a deflected and dispersed authority.
RP: De Certeau's emphasis on enunciation tries to trace the fleeting or location-less appearance of the marginal or Other. His attempt is to evade constituting marginality in designated groups. Instead he suggests that '(A) tactic insinuates itself into the other's place, fragmentarily'.
RP: This allows us to see why, in contrast to the grind of working in the archive, the applicant under the RTI act and the political historian dramatically summon the strategic state as they press upon the centre's need to withhold secrecy and knowledge- to withould information and knowledge- and must wrestle to extract information.
RP: Yet, allayed by the filling out of forms, the seeking of permission, the production of credentials, the strategic state disappears and the historian is left at the counter to discover the state anew in the diminutive figure of the ordinary man, the torn document, and the missing file.
RP: I'll just briefly ....
RP: Do I have time to just show you the website?
RP: So... this is sort of trying to do two or three things. One is to... One is just to construct an overall directory of various kinds of collections and archives in India. The idea was to perhaps try and get students and historians who are the ones who actually know where all these ... where these are located.
RP: Okay...So that drops down into...
RP: ...so despite all our critical approaches to how we deal with the question of archives and legacy and things, we produced a sort of national boundary for listing libraries and collections. But..
SA: It works - you just scroll down... it's all there.
RP: Oh okay...
RP: Yeah, so this is each... we've had.. you know we've done it ourselves because we expected historians to sort of jump at this and say 'what a wonderful thing, we've been waiting for this project. Come along.' But, it hasn't happened that way. But we're hoping it will pick up.
RP: So this is one way in which to map different collections. We could add different entries for other parts of south Asia; just that we thought that if we can't fill it in the first place then let's not get too ambitious.
RP: The other was to set up again we're using the same software - Dspace and Koha - for full text collections. And we just thought instead of approaching - we're never going to be able to document/archive everything that exists in India - anything that seemed historically valuable. So we thought if we approach it from the question of users then we realised the people who actually use documents in fact the classroom, apart from PhD students, etc.
RP: So the idea was perhaps that hoping again that this could be a pedagogic tool where perhaps historians could identify what data they are actually going to be using in classrooms, and then selectively digitse just those texts, and have them uploaded. We haven't gone very far with that, we're just beginning to make contacts.
RP: But the other interesting thing that's happened is we've for instance we've contacted individual researchers. So for eg. Maya Dodd whose thesis I quoted in the paper, had a small selection of texts that she'd photocopied for her thesis from the time of the emergency. Now the interesting part about this is though these are fairly recent publications, they are scarcely available in Delhi. And in fact it's difficult to access them in India. And interestingly she got these from Chicago- the University of Chicago library.
Link to Maya Dodd emergency papers:
RP: And the University of Chicago acquired them because of an agreement that India had with the US way back. It's called the PL 480 agreement, which is through which India actually imported wheat from the US. The agreement said instead of money, the US could actually take books back. As a result of which the University of Chicago has this massive collection of Emergency texts.
RP: So what we have - none of thse are full texts. They are sort of fragments because she just happened to photocopy stuff which she needed. They all have the PL480 stamp.
RP: So stuff like this raises questions about ownership. Who could possibly own this ... who could also possibly administer this archive? The state should be interested in it, but the greatest fear is if the Indian state actually takes over the administration then it becomes a dead project.
RP: So the idea of setting up a full text collection, again, was not to present complete collections, but perhaps ones that are sort of useful for... that are actually in use. The other most frequent ...
RP: The other thing we're doing is again similar to Sundar's where we're trying to get various... we were targeting small libraries which wouldn't ordinarily acquire funds, to try and get them to put their catalogues online. So we have about 10-11 libraries. Right now I think about 9 are uploaded where students for instance can search across the collections of about 9 libraries that have historical collections.
RP: So eventually we are hoping to ...we're hoping that more join. But things that are hopefully taken up in the workshop tomorrow are issues of ownership, of access, and of usage- just to get away from...
RP: And the other thing that happens in the case of third world archives is that the current models are very unsatisfactory. The models through which you get funding and through which information exchange happens.
RP: I did my research at a point when the British library wouldn't let me download their catalogue from the computer- maybe it was to avoid viruses- but it was an absurd situation where a student in India not only had to work with very marginal fragmentary texts particularly if you weren't located in Delhi, but you didn't even know what you didn't have access to.
RP: So it's like you don't even know what the complete collection is. It's only a historian who is based in- who has access to libraries in the US or UK who actually knows what collections he has. So you have - there's a way in which there's a level-to-level playing field, whether it's within the country or outside the country.
RP: Now the British- the government has withdrawn funding. So the British libraries are now trying to enter into agreements where it can actually elicit funding through other models itself. So its this very peculiar situation.
RP: The other thing that happens is when you well-funded libraries. And again just something that India might see itself doing to Nepal is that you ... it's usually a business model that's followed. Which is that because we don't have money for preservation, you have libraries coming in, and you hand-over information in return for preservation.
RP: So the idea was to try and get a conversation going perhaps between state historians and archivists to see if we can come up with models of exchange that are more equitable.
So I'll stop there.
Q(RB): This might seem like a very perverse question when the state of documentation is what it is. But I don't think anything should be separated from other realities. ... We know that there are many aspects of life in India where we don't preserve things; we actively dissolve and erase it. Look at our religious ceremonies- God is never preserved; she is always immersed. And we don't want to hold on to that...
Q(RB): Now ofcourse that cannot be used in a lateral- when you're dealing with historical documents there are different purposes. But I'm wondering... what would be an appropriate strategy for us to work against this fetishisation of loss - 'we've lost it, we lost everything' ... if we lost it, but we got more. And many other cultures (and I'm not trying to be chauvenist here) but, there is an incredible kind of layering of culture that existed in many ways, and yet we regret the fact that even a film in the 70s is not readily available. Or whatever. I'm wondering what are the models?
RP: See, to be honest our suggestion was 'let's just go with the users' So the idea is not to say 'oh my god no archive has been built in 7 years' but, to figure out... And the surprising thing is while each archive acts like it's going to horde its legacy and tradition, if you walk in and you want a land document, it behaves like a municipal government office. It would just issue the land document for 25 rupees. So we thought maybe we can just get land documents online, because that's what litigants are using.
RP: Rather than seeing it only as let's preserve the oldest. It's not going to happen. And as you said, we have so much that we don't even know. And the other question is let's get away form the idea of 'we can reconstruct a national legacy' itself. Which is why we thought let's go with the classroom and the land movement, and if we could even serve as those 2 then we're doing something useful without this constant sort of west-beating(?) about vanishing...
RB: Like when you talk about land documents in relation to Right To Information movement for eg, it's nascent- the document is produced, it is read, it is performed, to a very wide audience. So this is how archival material actually gets out.
RP: Yeah, and in fact very old archival documents related to land have a life in contemporary legal movements. So that's one way in which we thought we can step away ourselves because historians are most prone to this question of the loss of national tradition.
Q(LL): Rustom already asked a question on moving the archive to artistic times. I am actually looking at a movement which seems to be a much more curatorial move rather than a ...where increasingly rather than imagining the monumental archive of the state, the fact that these smaller archives seem to be in a way focussed, but also with a particular either agenda or a certain aesthetic (?). Do you see that happening in terms of your own practice?
RP: It's been actually trying to identify spaces that we would also find problematic, but in terms of a curatorial thing, no. Partly it's trying to set in play some sort of workable infrastructure in the absence of any. But the other is to try and elicit users. So you elicit both people who have collections themselves, but also people who are already using them for something. The emergency papers for instance is a collection which already has potential users on a community of lawyers... So that's the way we would go, speaking to teachers and stuff like that.
Q(Sundar): Can I add something to the sentiment ...curatorial participation is actually helping archives. Nowadays during an exhibition on a particular thing, let's say on a particular community, which was involved in printing and publishing ...(?). So once we had this exhibition, a number of people from the community came and contributed material.
Q(NM): From what I understand- what you're doing is sort of a mapping of what various libraries have- the content.
Q(NM): I'm just wondering, and I don't know if it may be common knowledge already, but is there some kind of mapping of what universities have in terms of material taken from India (?) into ... a similar kind of mapping for something that you and Aparna, Abhijeet and whoever else that's in this project can imagine it to be?
RP: When you say universities you mean foreign universities? ... that have taken material..
NM: Yeah.... material that you said is not with you (India?).
RP: The thing is that it's sort of (?)- the idea is maybe when we get into exchange agreements to insist on open access. So at least have all catalogues online immediately. ...It's also an illusory position- the idea that 'we don't have money so we look to them'...it's absurd for India. You know that there's money, it's just that you have to get into the right places. But the idea is you actually position to stop acting as people who require handouts.
RP: If you're looking at the British library as also having entered the game as a library that's now looking for funding, then you realise that there's a possibility of entering. So no one has ever... for eg. even the relationship between British library and Chicago, we didn't know if there's an exchange. It's possible that the University of Chicago may be paying for digitisation and the British library may not claim to say 'this is not sufficient, we also want to enhance our collection'.
RP: So the thing is I don't know if anyone sat down to even think of better agreements, or to say 'but when we're looking at archival documents, we can't have a business'- it can't follow a business deal, it has to follow a better deal. So we were hoping eventually to bring people to be able to try and work out something like that. That's the only point when we'll actually be anything.
Q(RB): The British library, one of the officials- the curator I think, is in India at the moment, in Calcutta and there's some kind of...I don't know what purpose, maybe digitising?
RP: Yeah, it is. They are trying to arrive at different projects throug which eventually perhaps Indian libraries and the British library will arrive at some sort of mutually beneficial...
RP: But that's what I mean... it's suddenly apart from the very well-funded libraries, perhaps like Chicago was just an example- obviously there are others- clearly, libraries with different strengths and different kinds of states are now entering into this conversation. And the time is ripe to try out something that is legally a little adventurous. So, alter the balance of power in a sense. Otherwise we're constantly looking for the fellowship to travel and look at some documents elsewhere.
Q(LL): One question on the theory part of your paper- I read in the paper also a kind of attempt to engage and critique a whole host of thinkers- Derrida, etc- who have theorised the archive on the perspective of- primarily of national memory(?)... The idea of the outpost archive- I think pushes the possibility of conceptual thinking about the archive- where ..(?) and you just stopped short of making that kind of conceptual leap to saying 'now this is my theory on the archive'. The provocation would be- you are producing it, but you're not stating it. So what is your theory of the archive?
RP: I don't know if I can state I have a theoory of the archive. I guess its one attempt to say look let's not separate the kind of whining that we do as historians from the way in which traditionally look at the archive, and eventually this is the form of the state that you're dealing with.
RP: The other is in the course of our research we realised that the state institutions' responding very differently. On the one hand someone will accidentally release a map... So it almost seemed like you produce the state, or you sort of invoke a particular kind of state power. And if you can cheat your in way into it, then you can drag all kinds of things out of the state without...
RP: The land document for me was a real revelation. So for instance if you enter the archive as an academic, you must produce your credentials and your signed letter from your institution. If you walked in as a litigant who says 'I want to know the plot where my father's house is...', the archive will just issue a document. So it just transforms into some sort of regular government office, and on the other hand it sort of guards its traditions.
RP: So I was actually trying to get at that- that there's a way in which you can,.. you know if you rake the state enough and get stuff out of it without invoking the secretive state, then that's one way to get around things. Whereas we tend to make... we press on the centralised power and say 'release the document because as citizens we acquire(?) it',
RP: ...So again the Delhi state archives is used to releasing land documents. So when we asked for the North-West frontier map, to them it's like any old thing. Whereas if you go to National Archives of India which would be down a couple of roads, you're not going to get it out of them.
RP: And I was trying to sort of say that... it's again trying to work on a theory of the archive from the perspective of the user- not subject-centred, but what is it about the enquiry or the appeal that actually elicits a particular form of state policy?
LL: ...because it also relates to some work that (?) is doing - is trying to move away from a unipolar account sovereignty which we see from Schmitt, Benini, (?) downwards- and what he's trying to look at is really a bipolar - in the same way that apart from the secretive state, there is the co-operative state.
LL: There is a state that you can bribe, a whole range of things. So what I'm trying to show is that if there is a manner in which sovereignty in archives can be linked in theory in a particular manner, there seems to be a possibilty of offering the slightly bipolar and slightly more nuanced kind of theorising ... Maybe we don't have time now, but...
RP: Yeah.. (?) would be to focus on usage rather than particular kinds of users or particular kinds of state institutions. So the idea would be - 'so the national archives will carry a particular kind of state power whereas the public library won't'. And I'm saying it's not that way. It seems to be something about the nature of usage that actually produces the state.
AS: Usage also changes over time. ... asking/requesting the state for the response for basic term use. But it all depends on the kind of stuff that over time produces different kinds of use. I'm just wondering if the land document is a kind of example of that. Or what kinds of land records were you talking about...
AS: just to repeat the question- is it the user who is generating these questions? Or is it something in the nature of the material which changes... evokes a different set of responses and may change in the future and is that something to pay attention to?
RP: I think it's the route you take. Because ...you may be able to drag out the same document, but the demand for it is not voiced as 'give me this document that you are hiding'.
RP: I know it's not as easy as it sounds but given how (?) the state is and how in effect you're always working with some kind of outpost, we realise there is a way in which if you just side-step something you end up eliciting a different kind of ..
AS: The logic of leaks or the logic we are producing things out of the archive isn't necessarily predetermined on use, it comes through certain materials which people feel that they can release different forms.
RP: Yeah the thing is the same state will not release a document; will release a document. So it's actually very difficult. It will release to one kind of user but not another kind of user. So while it's true they're holding on to everything, they don't release border maps. If you're Kashmiri and you go in and ask for a document, you will not get it. All those things are in place.
RP: But there are also completely surprising random things that you do accidentally, through which you can in fact get enormous amounts of information. So I guess the suggestion was, can one (?) in terms of the approach to archiving or the approach to actually getting information out of the state. It can always be routed through some other accidental... mundane... basically the mundane demand.
LL: We'll take a quick break now and come back in 3 minutes...