Written for an intervention in a workshop on archives in Lüneburg, can also be read on Mute: http://www.metamute.org/editorial/lab/archivist-manifesto
A new archivist has been appointed. But has anyone actually appointed him? Is he not rather acting on his own instructions?… He will not concern himself with what previous archivists have treated in a thousand different ways: propositions and phrases. He will ignore both the vertical hierarchy of propositions which are stacked on top of one another, and the horizontal relationship established between phrases in which each seems to respond to another.
– New Archivist, Gilles Deleuze
We are archivists, since we have to be. We don’t have choice. This decision is already made, or determined by the contemporary technological condition. The ubiquity of information in digital, calculable forms has created a new situation of work and exploitation, we entered an endless process of data production, and then we also enter an endless black hole of data navigation. The internet of data is a huge archive of data and at the same time a enormous black hole that sucks all productivities. Google is the best exemplification of this double: on the one hand, we are contributing data by using the Google tools, emails, blogs, Google+, Hangout, etc; on the other hand, Google gives us searching and managing tools to survive in this milieu. Worse still, Facebook shows another face, a huge archive of data without navigability, the only navigation one can do is to search for your friend, otherwise you need to stroll down the page to find out what you have written years ago.
Under such situation, we must recognize that one of the main economical and political questions concerning the digital is the one of archives. What has happened to the concept of archive after the digital turn? What kind of power structure is present to us in this new setting? Archives for Foucault are traces of enunciations by which one can reconstruct the game of rules (le jeu des régles), that in turn reveal the power structure of its milieu. Archives in this sense are reservoirs of discourses that make possible an archeology of knowledge. In order word, archives are sources of deduction for archeologists. The will of archive further makes archives as a manifestation of power. This will expands in the modern time and set up a direct relation between institutes and archives. Each institution has its archive, has its history of discourses. In order to maintain its status quo of discourses, it needs to give its archive a proper name. As Foucault observes the expansion of museums and libraries in modern time, that attempts “to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes”1. An archive is also a symbol of authenticity and authority. This project of the moderns confronts the biggest challenge in the digital age. On the one hand, public institutions adopting digital strategies also have to develop new form of interaction between archive and audiences, so to speak they are forced to open their archives; on the other hand, within an institutional framework, they continue keeping their archive in a centralized way (even the Michel Foucault Archive) in order to consolidate the status of these institution. Though today when these institutions implement “open polices” or alas crowdsourcing, it is still a strategy of crowd sourcing under the name of humanities or digital humanities to serve its central archives.
In this respect, Google is technically moving far ahead of these organisations, Google book, Goolge Museums are efforts to re-appropriate humanities through digitisation and crowd sourcing. Google doesn’t only provide services with higher qualities and higher speed, but also goes beyond the relation between archives and human subjects. Google’s archives exhibit an important distinction from that of Foucault’s. It is that power is posing its forces directly on archives to achieve control, that is to say archives become a mechanism of control and social actions, instead of being traces of power2. Now we have to face a new game of rules that operates on more and more automatic and algorithmic level. Metadata produced by users become materials of induction, to generate patterns for prediction, rules, protocols of control. Archive stretches from discourses to gestures. It seems to me very clear, today in order to response to this political and economical dimensions of the web, we have to politicize the question of archive. The key seems to be personal archives. It is not simply from a technical consideration that we can then mitigate controls from the service providers or to keep privacy, but rather to rethink our relation with archives and to create another technological/digital culture. In order to do so, I propose to reflect on the following questions: What are we archiving and for what are we archiving? what does it mean to be an archivist? Read the rest of this entry »