body archive

Julietta Singh: No Archive Will Restore You

“There is an archival crisis already looming here, because the body’s surface is ultimately not stable ground upon which to build an archive. While the skin is a visual sign of the body’s exterior limit, the physicist Karen Barad emphasizes how in fact bodies extend into space well beyond the skin. Molecularly, we spread into the “outside“ world, mingling with it in ways that are not apparent to us. Our bodies are porous, as Nancy Tuana reminds us when she calls into question “the boundaries between our flesh and the flesh of the world.“ [Nancy Tuana, “Viscous Porosty“] These feminist formulation of the body insist on our vital entanglements with the outside world, complicating any easy binary demarcations of “inside“ and “outside.“ For better and for worse, we are made up of an outside world which constitutes, nourishes, and poisons us in turns.

This is not only a material problem for my body archive, but also an affective one. In the end, we are not bounded, contained subjects, but ones filled up with foreign feelings and vibes that linger and circulate in space, that enter us as we move through our lives. We likewise leave traces of ourselves and our own affective states (which are never really just our own) behind us when we go. After all the discipline we have endured to teach us that we are self-governing and self-contained, responsible for how we feel, Teresa Brennan insists that “the taken-for-grantedness of the emotionally contained subject is a residual bastion of Eurocentrism in critical thinking.“ [Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect] How we think about ourselves as material and emotional beings turns out to be a style of thought, one that emerges from a specific place (Europe) at a specific time (modernity). Against this historically imposing style of thought, I am fully invested in the conviction that our bodies and minds are less discrete that we have been led to believe. Bodies and minds: I confess, I have already lost the difference between them.

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Suddenly I am aware of the body as both archive and archivist – in a crucial sense, it gathers its own materials. Control over the assemblage that I am turns out to be pure fantasy.“