12 March 2009

the residue of the past, part II

The present is, in fact, made out of the residue of the past. What, after all, is there materially but all that is after? Light takes time to travel to the eye across the space of a room. The speed of sound is slower still. All images are after; this is their seduction and their terror -- the distance they imply and traverse, the possible betrayal of one's senses. If the cultural future is invisible until we've noticed what we ourselves have fashioned out of the residue -- by accident, habit, intention -- the act of noticing, and its transformation (all present-tense matters), may be the most relevant focal point for an aesthetic.

//Joan Retallack, The Poethical Wager (10)


John McVey said...

and so, can it be said that in your 17th century we find more manicles pointing to more words? and if so, because language was getting new kinds of attention, given the stresses it was undergoing (commerce, sciences, etc)? hence new ideas about what might be gotten out of words, new purposes and repurposings, some bound to fail.

I've been looking through Retallack (thanks for the lead), sensing that her take on language in our time (stressed, her "chaotic continuous contemporary") throws some light on that earlier time.

Whitney said...

Hi John -- agreed. by the way, I had a tour of the Baker Library at Harvard Business School this week -- stuff you would *love*. huge ledgers of credit reports from the nineteenth century (individuals writing in to describe the "situation" of others in their community -- "Joe Smith has a wife and 3 children, but a bit of a drinking problem," etc.), alphabetized and linked up to other entries through numbers (all very hyperlinked); extra paper pasted in to make the ledger longer.. man, just such great books to look at. You'd seriously love them. They also have a rare books collection with (I believe) the first example of double entry bookkeeping. Head over there if you haven't already!

John McVey said...

yes, I've used Baker's Historical Collections, in which can be found some of the most interesting private codes I've examined, ditto (often annotated) copies of all incoming/outgoing cables (so-called cable register books). Industries included cotton, hemp and sisal, general trade.

I curated an exhibit of codes at Cabot Science Library, maybe three years ago, and was able to show some items from Baker (and elsewhere in Harvard's library universe, including even the Houghton).

The register books are sometimes indexed and cross referenced (at least, some I examined at Guildhall), and also bound with conventional correspondence. I love those old ledgers, journals, register books -- mundane records of the life-force of these companies. sometimes a kind of unwitting poetry is encountered, yielded from formulaic phrases oft repeated in numerous cables over years even.

Whitney said...

exactly! I knew you'd be on top of those ledgers.. :)

I've got a new project forming in the back of my mind that deals with "cut ups" more broadly -- how and why texts were cut and pasted not just for religious or artistic purposes, as I've talked about on the blog, but also the more "mundane" variety of cut-n-pastes, like those ledgers..