DIABLOG: Anjali Arondekar

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In "Without a Trace: Sexuality and the Colonial Archive", Anjai Arondekar critically examines the motivations behind the desire and pursuit to 'recover' archival materials as well as asserting the clear limitations of any perception being bound and rooted socio-historically. So that while we as humans are curious as to old records that create a past narrative to reveal and affirm what is possible now (or ever), we fail to recognize that this 'archive' of 'recovered' materials/stories is still so absolutely totally ridiculously incomplete (impossible...yeah?). To look to the past for glimpses to confirm identities/behaviors/thoughts in the present can be useful, yet Arondekar articulates quite well some of the important considerations and limitations of doing so.

Some poignant quotes and questions from Arondekar that resonated with me and would like to bring into discussion (though by no means comprehensive of Arondekar's entire article) are:

*Colonial archive defined "as the register of epistemic arrangements"..., using Foucault's observation that "the idea of the archive animates all knowledge formations and is the structure that makes meaning manifest" (10).

*Derrida's "Archive fever" (10).

*Quoting historian Carolyn Steedman," You think, in the delirium: it was their dust that I breathed in" (which Arondekar explains is a reminder that "the material deposits of the past (dust, in her case), whose affective reach exceeds all forms of theorizations" and are the "real drama in archive fever) (11).

*"The process of "queering" pasts has been realized through corrective reformulations of "suppressed" or misread colonial materials. These reformulations have intervened decisively in colonial historiography, not only decentering the idea of a coherent and desirable imperial archive but also forcing us to rethink colonial methodologies. Implicit in this rethinking, however, is the assumption that the archive, in all its multiple articulations, is still the source of knowledge about the colonial past. The inclusion of oral histories, ethnographic data, popular culture, and performances may have fractured traditional definitions of the archive (and for the better), but the teleos of knowledge production is still deemed approachable through what one finds, if only one can think of more capacious ways to look" (11).

*"Parameters of space, time, and knowledge" as highlighted by David Halperin making the case for the role of "a historicism that would acknowledge the alterity of the past as well as the irreducible cultural and historical particularities of the present" (12)

*"Archival turns still cohere around a temporally ordered seduction of access, which stretches from the evidentiary promise of the past into the narrative possibilities of the future" (12).

*"The intellectual challenge here is to juxtapose productively the archive's fiction-effects (the archive as a system of representation) alongside its truth-effects (the archive as material with "real" consequences), as both agonistic and co-constitutive" (12).

*"While shifts in critical modes have occurred, the additive model of subalternity still persists, where even as the impossibility of recovery is articulated the desire to add, to fill in the gaps with voices of other unvoiced "subalterns," remains" (14).

*"Epistemology of the Closet": "Relies upon the maintenance within the epistemological system of the hidden, secret term, keeping all binaries intact" (taken from Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick 16)

*"We may trap ourselves in the need of a history to sanction our existence" (says Nayan Shah 16).

*"Rethinking of the narrative of progress" (17).

*"Such an archival turn, I would suggest, requires a theory of reading that moves away from the notion that discovering an object will somehow lead to a formulation of subjectivity- from the presumption that if one finds a body, one can recover a person" (21).

*"The traveler wandering from town to town forgot
the path to his house. What was mine, what was yours, both
of the self and of the other, lost, then, to memory."
-Miraji, Tin rang (26)


*"Sexuality studies is an accomplice in such archival mythmaking and must remain alert to its own methodological and analytical foibles. Not to do so would be to forgo the histories of colonization, to brush aside the possibilities and impossibilities accorded by the idea of an archive" (27).

This post is a lot longer than intended, but I think the above for me lays out some of the more important pieces of Arondekar's article and gives you all a sense of what I'm focusing on and taking from it. What do we think about our drive to recover the past? Have you thought about the limitations of being able to interpret/perceive/uncover 'new' archival material given we are always socio-historically situated? Can we talk more about "epistemologies of the closet" please, and what this has to do with the points Arondekar is raising?

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I put my comments about your response on the open thread, I hope that's alright.

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