Material Provocations in the Archives
As a name, “Anthropocene” would seem to signal that this geologic epoch is both because of humans and about humans. The latter implication draws on pervasive cultural ideas about nature which underlie the Anthropocene and its climatic impacts, namely nature as an extractable, endlessly-renewable resource. While scholars in the environmental humanities, animal studies, and critical plant studies have been quick to both diagnose and propose new directions for our engagements with the material universe, scholarship on archival materiality has continued to focus on the archives as an institution for and about human intellectual endeavors. In other words, the archives continues to be an extractable resource. Within the archives animal, plant, and abiotic changes which work against projects of human history are seen as failures, infestations, or disasters – they can never be properly archival. This essay offers a potential corrective to anthropocentric archiving, by bringing together Jane Bennett’s new materialist project of “vibrant matter,” Michael Marder’s vegetal philosophy, and Caitlin DeSilvey’s curation of decay to suggest avenues of engaging archival materiality as meaningful and provocative. As an analytic schema, this focus on the ‘vibrant archives’ does not aim to save records from planetary changes but to begin the work of re-thinking archival materiality (and its destruction) within the context of the Anthropocene.
Pre-print first published online 04/07/2019
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