archives, adam and eve, and the ancestry of a chair
“The grid and its trash, the archive and what it stores, emerge at the same time so that one cannot be easily subtracted from the other. In this archive, the objects stored and the principles that organize them are exempt neither from time nor the presence of the spectator. Never quite selfsame, the archive oscillates between embodiment and disembodiment, composition and decomposition, organization and chaos.” — The Big Archive, Sven Spieker
I am haunted and tormented by stories as much as I’m enraptured and in love with them.
Most people, I am told, look at an object and see the object as it exists in the present, an uncomplicated image for the brain to process. My love is a blessing, my love is a curse— my love is a relentless pursuit of a greater mythology in everything I do and everywhere I am. It turns my entire existence into both the present iteration and the millennia of evolution that managed to birth it into that present iteration, existing in the precise way that it does. I’m hungry for the story. I’m always running after the story. I am always present within the story, a constant story, a story that is even more eternal than God and the universe.
(For the chair in our living room, first we had to evolve out of the sea and into something that had the correct body parts to “sit”, which took us millions of years. Then we had to figure out what sitting on an elevated surface and not the ground was— maybe something that didn’t take us too long, but who knows? That time never got archived. Then we learned how to build, a process we’re still mastering, and I’d imagine we started with something a little more essential, like shelter. Then we started building for pleasure, nonessentials like chairs coming to life from wood, from stone, from fiber. Think of how many iterations the “chair” must have gone through to become the shitty leather wingback that my parents picked up off a curb twenty years ago. Millions. Billions, even. There’s an expansive list of them on Wikipedia, but that can’t begin to cover every single prototype and chair that’s ever existed.)
I’m sure that you can see why this is a bit of a problem. It’s not something that I can turn off, which lends a particular sort of weight to existence— all that survival and struggle, just to lead up to whatever I’m doing with myself and the precious privilege of life that I have. I’m not worried about it. Billions of the others that came before me have spent their time in the same small way, if only with some variation on what we spend that time on. But it does contain a certain gravitas to think of the history that contextualizes the present joy. In turn, that acknowledgement affirms that we’ve lived through it before, and we’re going to live through this now.
It’s an archive. Existence is an archive that lacks a formal archiving. The past has contextualized the present, which will contextualize the future. And it’s always, always happening, some parts recorded and others ignored. This is the heart of my agony. How do we, as an ignorant (we try, but our brains can only handle so much information) species, get to decide what gets archived and inherited and what gets discarded as trash? If we consider the full effect of our actions, how a single grain of sand can contribute to massive erosion, can anything get discarded at all?
(I dreamt about it, you know— it followed me into my subconscious. I went to sleep in my room and when I woke up I was in Heaven with a capital-H, and Heaven was an archive bigger than anyone can imagine. It contained everything. For each person, there were millions of smaller archives full of everything they had ever touched. It was like God was keeping the remnants of their lives for them. It was like God was expecting their arrival and saved their scraps in a gesture of grace, letting them have everything they knew how to long for. I walked through the archives for days, staring at file upon file of cigarette butts and apple cores and the socks that went missing in the dryer. Of course, not even Heaven is exempt from decomposition, but the ghosts don’t know any better, so they eat moldy meals and read bloated books and talk to recorded voices on rusted phones.
When I walked far enough, I found Adam and Eve— both standing on a collection of plucked grass blades and wearing the rotted skeletons of leaves. In a stunned silence, I watched them go about their time. Eve heard the whispers of doubt and disobedience from the empty carcass of a serpent, Adam took a bite of the decaying apple, and they held each other and shook as a recorded voice banished them from Eden. It was a strange and uncanny sight, all those dead and embalmed things. There was to be no death in Eden.
Even if I could’ve moved to wake them from their eternal reliving of the Fall, I’m not sure I would’ve. A lot has happened since their time, leaving too many new concepts like war and hatred and harm to introduce to them and depress them. Besides, they were happy in those moments. The punishment and fear felt good to them— you could see the satisfaction of a discovered boundary in the shaking of their thighs, the wetness, the heat. It felt good. I am not one to disrupt something that someone enjoys without reason-- this is no exception.)
There’s a modern way to determine what gets archived and what doesn’t, revolving around the terms domus and arkheion and not my dream’s logicalization of the afterlife. Domus is a Latin word for a dwelling— in a contemporary and archive-focused lens, it's defined more as a gesture-based narrative, the human life lived within the fold of nature. It’s a personal archive of what holds sentimental value and our stories and what we as people assign value to, which creates a contextual narrative. Arkheion is a Greek word for public building, and represents all that is opposite of the domus while still remaining on the same spectrum— the arkheion is a factual history. It’s a matter of lists, not narrative, and therefore represents the formal sense of an archive. The things worth archiving fit into either the arkheion of culture-relevant public events and items or the domus of personally relevant possessions and stories.
Of course, the domus is much more tricky because it involves bias. What we decide is trash in the moment may be something we end up regretting throwing away, something that only reveals itself as important when you can’t get it back— that dress your mother donated that you loved with your whole heart, the stuffed animals you gave up when you thought you were “grown up”, the CD that always played in the car.
(When I was little, I had a collection of plastic horses that ranged from ten inches to four inches tall, all startlingly lifelike. I took them everywhere with me. Even as a child, I was never one to put an awful lot of importance on my possessions, but the horses were different— they were my friends, and they all had voices and they would tell me beautiful things about the world and about what it was like to be some of the last true mustangs on the plains. Tragically, their souls were stolen when they got captured and broken in by the Bureau of Land Management. As I’m sure you can tell, I had a reputation for having an overactive imagination, but nobody knew where I had got my sudden hatred of the Bureau from. My father loved it, though— our family’s tribes clashed with the Bureau so often that one of my uncles had a sticker on the back of his truck reading “FUCK THE BUREAU”, which if there was an archive dedicated to him, I imagine that sticker would be in it. My mother thought I had spent too much time with my father’s side of the family, and from there on out, I only got to stay at my grandparents’ house for two weeks instead of the usual month.
My horses were beautiful, though. The biggest was a paint, a massive stallion. I also had a palomino and her matching foal, a roan Nokota, a white horse that was frozen mid-run, and a dun mare. I loved them as much as I love anything. Of course, in a juvenile attempt at adulthood, I got rid of most of my playthings when I was thirteen because I thought people would take me more seriously. They didn’t. It wasn’t a battle, but I still managed to lose.
You must understand, it’s been five months. If we’re being precise about it, it’s been exactly 163 days. I searched for hours for that white horse and threw up when I couldn’t find it, nauseous from guilt and fear. Although archives are ultimately a fetishization of the linear progression of time, what happens when there’s no archive? What happens when there’s nothing to inherit? The stories, even when written down, will fade into nothing in no time at all. Where does it leave us and our heaps of dead?
I got a Terry Pratchett novel and ring. That’s all. That is his archive— that and all the things his family donated, lost to the wind forever.)
The archive of the self is tricky. I’m not quite sure I believe in a “self” yet— well, I believe in it, but in the same sense of how one believes in any sort of mandated societal construct. I’m not quite sure I like the “self”, to rephrase. But it does raise an interesting question— is the self, when you take away all the glitz and glamor of modern psychology, just an archive? Is the body just an archive of genetics and experiences?
(I never grew out of my twelve-year-old body. It’s not a matter of height or hitting puberty or losing baby fat— you can see malnutrition on me. Too many gas station snacks and diner meals as kid and not enough of the kind of food that puts meat on your bones, my parents reckon, but there’s not much to be done about it at this point. I’d like to think that somewhere out there in an alternate universe, there’s a me that wasn’t restricted by money or being far from home and could eat as much as she wanted. I’d like to think that I wasn’t born to be skeletal. Nonetheless, it’s archived in me— I ring with my background, a morning bell for all the decomposers that haven’t gotten a bite of me yet. It's terribly Nietzschean.)
I don’t even know what I would put in a self-archive if I had to make one. I’m not big on possessions. I’ve got a bunch of clothes and furniture that don’t matter to me and some stuffed animals that kind of do and a hundred trinkets I can never keep track of, pieces of art I never bothered finishing, a trash bin full of the wrappers for things my mother doesn’t let me eat. It all means nothing. It all means everything. If I up and leave with no warning and no bags packed, leaving everything in my bedroom the exact way it is, it could serve as an archive. God knows there’s enough notebooks in my room to write an entire biography on me. There’s a section on my Substack labeled “archive” with everything I’ve ever posted, and one with similar contents on my tumblr, but those aren’t be-all-end-all's to who I am. Nothing is— no collection of objects or diary entries or personal essays will say who I am.
But that’s exactly it, isn’t it? Although our possessions can define us, some more than others, we can’t fully lean into the possession side of an archive. It’s like Francis Picabia’s Alarm Clock— we are more than the sum of our parts because the ordering of the disordered reinvents relations and the spectator’s view of it.
I am changing my answer. Get plane tickets to bring in everyone I love. I am not my story to tell— when I die or disappear or however I am removed from this life, I won’t be there to tell it. I won’t be there to correct people. At the center of an archive lies a viewer who bears witness to the archive, who records and collects and arranges and categorizes and references, and I am not the viewer.
I am not a spectator sport.
Every time I’ve been seen has been for love— not sex, not boredom, not interest in me, not fascination. A peek into my life is only granted for love. An archive is only created out of love. All the evolution and stories and inheritances and heirlooms are given for love.
It’s all for love. All this is for love.
Hasn't it always been?