Download pdf here : namesake
Ananya's Days and Nights at ITP
Download pdf here : namesake
This week’s assignment was to create a response to the LES Tenement Museum experience and the readings. My initial idea was to present a paper that I wrote some time ago about the lives of museum objects, in this case the objects at the Rockefeller Collection at the Asia Society. I quickly moved away from the idea because although it introduces some relevant points about the politics of museum objects and their representation, it does not look at ways to potentially circumvent those problems. I will nonetheless use ideas from the paper in this post. The paper is available here- Collecting the East.
Its interesting to look at how little museums have changed since the concept was introduced. Early world fair expos and early museums have a lot in common- both were ways to experience curios from other parts of the world. Early colonialist knowledge missions informed much of the way in which museums are imagined and experienced. Elgins’ marbles is a well known story that exemplifies in many ways the foundation of the concept of museums.
Might there be a way to circumvent the ‘othering’ politics of museumizing objects? “Othering” is a concept I borrow from the “Occidental/Oriental” theories that are hinged upon forcing differences as a means of fortifying one’s own identity. For most museums, the objects behind cabinets and glass cases belong to the “other” – and this politics is problematic. To circumvent the politics of representation, the objects must be given power, an authority to speak for themselves, unfettered from curatorial subjectivities. I thought of instance where this happens already. Instantly I thought of the metaphor of a blackbox or a flight data recorder. It is used for investigation after an accident to collect data about almost everything that went on inside the aircraft up until the accident- or in some cases, even after. The metaphor is striking. For so many museums, the past is inaccessible yet the objects remain. The objects lead our understanding of the past. Curators already collect information that is materialized on the surface of the objects to gain insight into their place in the lives of those who used them- how great would it be for an object to internalize that data and so much more. One way to think of the internet of things could be just this. As more and more objects are able to think for themselves, they can start recording their own histories in meaningful ways. Fanciful tellings of stories like – life from the perspective of Queen Victoria’s teacup- might not be so fanciful after all.
That said, storytelling is an essentially human act. How can data become stories? How can objects tell their stories in human ways? How might the objectivity of data be configured into human narratives? The internet of things could potentially be a break in the way we imagine objects and their place within the museum. The outside world could well be a museum- a storehouse of information. Place has ceased to matter for a long time. Related objects could be connected across the world and share stories. There are millions of ways to think about this and perhaps it is too early but the beginnings can be found if you dig deep.
All museums share a certain predicament. It is a predicament that makes the museum an active space for deliberation, producing a dialogue between the politics of the represented versus representation. Museums deny objects and collections the stories by which they become museum pieces in the first place- that is the act of “museumizing” an object or a collection as it were.
The Lower East Side Tenement Museum is, to my mind, an exception. The experience of the museum was like witnessing the very act of museum-making. Critical to this experience is the presence of a tour guide. Unlike most other museums, the Tenement Museum can only be experienced with a tour guide. While this lends itself to an interactive engagement, it is also crucial to the ways in which the Tenement Museum lays bare its decisions, choices and modes of research.
While it was a refreshing change to not get caught up in debates about objects and their politics, it also left me wanting a little more. Yes, it was period furniture – but was that “real enough?” And if it was, then it was too familiar to be exquisite. In order to circumvent the problem of “representation”, the museum now deals with problems of presentation. Are they simpler problems? Perhaps not. But it certainly lends itself to a different imagination of what can be a museum.
My first attempt at writing fan fiction has left me overly caffeinated, in possession of strange flow charts and some crazy plots that refuse to become more than, well just plots. I am told that I made the wrong choice- Julian Barnes’ “Sense of an Ending” is not quite something that typically lends to fan fiction- at least not in the way that I understood it.
“Most Fan-fiction is trash”, said a fellow classmate. Well, why do people want to write trash then? My central problem with writing fan fiction about “Sense of an Ending” is precisely that. Barnes’ novel has plenty scope for alternate imaginations; he creates a substantial world with well thought out characters, lives and places. I could be part of that world, yes. Could I trash that world- no! My first problem is this- if you’re a fan, why ruin it?
My second proposition- and this is a little audacious is that I think fan-fiction goes a little deeper than what we usually think of it. I think a lot of adaptations are works of fan fiction. Except the fans are a little better at articulating themselves. Perhaps the most exciting ones are directorial odes to books and films. They work with the same principle of adding your own two bits to a work that you love. Movies that are remade time after time are in effect doing just that. And there definitely is value in that. Huge value. I appreciate the spirit of fan fiction. However, I have serious issues with compromising the quality of the original work.
Jenkins’ essay is a great starting point to thinking about fan cultures and its impatient subset – the spoilers. I mostly agree with the points he makes.
I use the word “impatient subsets” for a reason that Jenkins seems to have overlooked. The cultural knowledge and experience of live Television is central to the argument he makes. The audience knows that the event is over. The event is merely waiting to be delivered to them. This paradigm is a little redundant with internet. The biggest cultural consumption -News is made available as it happens. Its critical to think of news here as almost every possible information that one is interested in. In such a scenario, waiting for something seems at odds with the nature of the medium. Especially for reality shows that work almost the same way as sports does, the waiting time feels ridiculous. Spoilers stem from the same impulses that spur predictions in games- the “liveness” of the event is critical here. This impulse has also crept into the way we read books even though the medium demands patience. But since the internet provides access to all forms of other media – books, films, television, some of the medium’s nature rubs off on the others.
There are several problems with the essay. The more general one is that I am suspicious of people, even artists themselves trying to decode the artistic process. Of course there is an idea and then the idea takes some shape or form. To try and classify this kind of a personal process seems to me a waste of time. Second, the author is clearly imbibed within a hierarchical system that puts writing over everything else. The author’s argument is logically unsound. Here’s why.
1) What is “sequential” about comic art? That it comes after the written piece? I refuse to believe that that’s true for all comics that were ever written. What if an idea sprouts from a visual? What if the writing follows the art? Several newspapers run competitions that involve supplying humorous text to a picture. Shall we call it “sequential writing”? Perhaps the author would but it seems like a inconsequential piece of contrived jargon.
2) The author seems to suggest that art must “contribute equally’ to the writing. The fact that it is “sequential” should not matter a lot in that case.
My biggest problem with the essay is the screenshot above. The essay is full of contrived arguments and the dichotomy that the author sets up here is probably the most unstable. Comics are no different from cinema in the way that the author imagines. The writer of cinema too must give some authorship to the cinematographer (and many others but for the sake of argument lets imagine content + visuals as making up any object). Cinema is a visual medium but the seeds of it mostly emerge from writing. For a comic, that distinction is not true. It is both a text and visual based medium and to try and place one form over another isn’t doing anyone any good. Every thing emerges from an idea- a comic, film, book, art work. That idea can be a piece of writing, a picture, a photograph or anything else that works for whoever’s producing it.
The origins of the 6 word story format can be found here. And as history is known to delude, I am wondering if some of us instantly likened this development to the 20th century predicament of authors lamenting the death of the novel; why here it is, the death of the novella then, or the short story if you will. On the contrary, I think the 6 word story format affords the kind of visionary clarity that would do us all some good. Alternate realities are closer to us than they were ever before. The world of fiction is not a distant imagination. Information networks have made it possible for us to find something to marvel at each day, to explore and navigate and be amazed. The consumer is also the producer. What is the place of fiction then? Perhaps it is this. Six words- to produce, consume and share.
A 6 word story also affords a rare literary ambiguity. My story can be the start, middle, end or even an inconsequential detail in a longer piece. I like this ambiguity. And finally, here it is!
“100 years later Hemingway killed MobyDick.”