Refracted Input

Clare O’Farrell’s blog on books, TV, films, Michel Foucault, universities etc. etc.

Posted on my site

The idea of accumulating everything, of establishing a sort of general archive, the will to enclose in one place all times, all epochs, all forms, all tastes, the idea of constituting a place of all times that is itself outside of time and inaccessible to its ravages, the project of organizing in this way a sort of perpetual and indefinite accumulation of time in an immobile place, this whole idea belongs to our modernity.

Michel Foucault [1967] “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics 16 (Spring 1986), 22-27.

Random thoughts in response

Foucault originally wrote this in 1967 arguing that the idea of the archive initially came to the fore in the nineteenth century. It is clear that we continue to live within these historical parameters. The desire for preservation extends far beyond the documentary archive with, for example, various heritage laws enacted to preserve housing (some of it not worth preserving in terms of its actual habitability). This operates in opposition to an ever increasing consumer disposibility. Objects such as cars, computers, home appliances are constantly and often needlessly updated and consumers are incited to buy the latest and greatest in an exhausting and overstimulating cycle that never ends. Redundancy is deliberately built into a number of these objects to perpetuate this process.

Both processes – the will to preserve every historical artefact and document from the ravages of time and decay and the ever more rapid cycles of the aquisition and disposal of consumer goods are no doubt opposite sides of the same coin – a desperate attempt perhaps to maintain some kind of cosmic equilibrium. The ever increasing and expanding dead weight of the archival past must be counterbalanced by a frenzy of consumer disposibility and the rapid and often counterproductive reconfiguration of consumer goods.

But if these goods are disposed of, examples of superseded items still persist in design museums and in the obsessive archives of private collectors. These collectors preserve in memory the most ephemeral and unaesthetic of objects – old packaging, broken down pieces of machinery, old advertising material.

Contemporary developed society and culture enact major anxieties around the passage of time and also the human relation to objects. In the contemporary era humans exist in highly uncomfortable and conflictual relation with objects. As in dystopian science fiction, they are increasingly expected to adapt to the machines they have created, rather than the machines being designed harmoniously with human comfort and the requirements of the body in mind.

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