Archives of Pain
One of the many pertinent things raised in the Fisher-Reynolds faceoff is the question of how pop – and, I would add, culture in a much more general sense – is being strangled by the archive. This is the conundrum at the heart of Walter Benjamin’s Theses on the Philosophy of History, and an obsession at the heart of one of the more Benjaminian of bands, Disco Inferno: the pile-up of history that overwhelms and smothers any attempts to create something ex nihilo. Like Benjamin, DI’s response to this was montage, the collection of fragments and through them an attempt to blast open the continuum: the poignancy of the ‘my eyes point ahead’ at the end of their ‘The Last Dance’, after their outlining of the grim hold of history and its ‘layers of rubbish’. But isn’t the real problem the taking the archive for granted, the reducing of it to something atemporal, the extraction of the alienation effect that resides in history? The problem with the archive model as it is now is that it isn’t historical enough.
Yesterday on BBC4 there was a fascinating documentary on Edwardian consumerism – the era’s obsession with branding, health food and so forth. Enlightening as this was, it was a symptom of the prevalent model of showing how historical period x were just like us: the making strange that the archive can create is scrupulously avoided. In the late 1920s, ‘Factographers’ like Sergei Tretyakov and Alexander Rodchenko developed the idea of the revolutionary archive (see for this the essential Factography issue of October a few months ago). This would necessitate a massive collection of data, via the most modern networks of production and communication. Yet what makes this so different to the current model of the archive is that it was necessarily tendentious: an agitational archive, assembled for revolutionary purposes. This is what can potentially separate the museum from the archive. In this we should remember that all revolutions present themselves as a reactivation, as the last revolution without the mistakes.