Repackaging the Archive (Part II): Inhabiting Rama

This was an astonishing piece of luck, Norton told himself, though he felt that he had earned it; they could not possibly have made a better choice than this Illustrated Catalog of Raman Artifacts.  And yet, in another way, it could hardly have been more frustrating.  There was nothing actually here except impalpable patterns of light and darkness.  These apparently solid objects did not really exist.

—Arthur C. Clarke, Rendezvous with Rama

Having recently had my project proposal approved,[1] and being faced w/ the slightly daunting task of actually reading (for reals, not for fakes[2]) Being and Time,[3] I’ve been mildly—and I stress only mildly, b/c in my mind right now, everything relates . . . —irresponsible in my reading.  Like some (or perhaps most/all) irresponsible acts, however, it emerged from some other fundamental need, obligation, or responsibility, which is, namely, actually finishing all (of the projected 3, but perhaps more) of the parts of “Repackaging the Archive” which have been so wonderfully neglected these past months.[4] Which is to say that I’ve been on a bit of a SF bender of ridiculously relevant books w/r/t/t notion of “archive” recently: Neal Stephenson’s recent and wonderful Anathem(2008), Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle’s The Mote in God’s Eye(1974), and Arthur C. Clarke’s opaque Rendezvous with Rama(1972).  Though all probably deserve a lengthy entry here, for the purposes of actually “repackaging this/some archive” I will only mention the absolute centrality and necessity the archive plays in the world/civilization (re)building which occurs in every one to some degree or another—i.e. the archive in each novel is a physical instantiation which presupposes and protects against catastrophic, world-wide collapse, so as to rebuild or repair said world (though it is slightly more ambiguous in Rama).  These are active archives, defined by (perpetual) crisis, which are ultimately the only tools to provide any stability to the functioning of the species in its (cyclical) “project.”[5] (Is this not how archives operate always?)  So, for lack of another kind of “disclosing,” it would have felt irresponsible (heh) to not mention this at the outset of something titled “repackaging the archive part II (!).”

In his ridiculously brief discussion of Rama in Archaeologies of the Future,Frederic Jameson[6] writes: “Clarke’s alien mystery story is somehow uniquely more satisfying than any of those with solutions (including his own later sequels) and suggests that God’s creation is best imitated by the invention of questions rather than answers.”[7] He does so in order to locate what he calls Clarke’s “agnostic . . . representation of alien otherness” as opposed to Stanislaw Lem’s wholly atheistic representation.  What is more surprising about Jameson’s statement, however, is that though the crew members of Endeavor didn’t have time to find any “solution” to the “mystery” of Rama before it rocketed out of the solar system[8]—as seen in the epigraph above—at least the possibility of all those answers were right at their fingertips, something that Jameson more-or-less ignores.[9] It is fairly clear that Rama is, among other things, a giant archive, potentially housing all of Raman culture w/in itself—in the form of a holographic (but ultimately a networked/digital) archive; and furthermore, this archive appears to have the express purpose of “re-seeding” that very culture.  W/r/t Jameson’s discussion, what is esp. relevant here, is the fact that the unknowable, alien, radical (or elsewhere formulated “wholly”) Other, literally appears as archive.  The “South Pole” of cylindrical Rama is one giant checkerboard/patchwork of various “crops” (or something, here the mystery is clear[ly ambiguous]), presumably for use by the “biots”[10] whose role it is to maintain and repair Rama.  Rama’s “sea” contains all the necessary minerals from which to construct these biots.[11] And indeed, Rama’s primary goal for tarrying through “our” solar system is to “store-up” enough energy from the sun by “flying”[12] ridiculously close to it, so as to slingshot out into the void of inter-galactic space.  In other words, everything “mysterious” about Rama, whatever there is to be “solved,” is right there on the surface and close-at-hand.  Whatever detective work there is to be done is merely the act of sifting through and deciphering the rules of the archive.  The “wholly/radically” Other finds itself here under the simple nomenclature: archive.

I point toward Rama here under the heading of “unknowability”[13] b/c it appears that something quite essential about the simple act of “archiving” is in play[14] here, something which, though it hasn’t been “ignored,” forms a certain kind of ground for both understanding archives themselves, and, more importantly for myself, describing my own archival foundations, tracing, as I traced my relationship to baseball cards earlier, the paths and limits of “archival-being” (or perhaps “Archsein”[15]).  For this reason, rather than immediately attempting to formulate, theoretically or otherwise, what this foundational thing may be, I feel a few more anecdotal accounts of my own relationship to archiving(-play) may be quite useful here.

It is difficult for me to remember a time when archival organization was not an essential part of my relationship w/ material objects.  Any guest of my current home will surely be aware of my penchant—bordering on (if not wholly a symptom of) an obsessive compulsive disorder—for putting the objects around me “in their place.”  Every single one of the thousands of books I own are organized by category,[16] alphabetized, and—if they haven’t been removed and placed back on the shelf too often—chronologically ordered if I have more than one work by a particular author.  The same goes for my records, divided into “rock,”[17] “classical,” 7”s, and “other,”[18] as well as my DVDs, vids, files, and clothes.  A notable absence at the moment is my lack of CDs or tapes, as they languish in boxes in my basement, mostly b/c those archives have been wholly absorbed into the digital.  (There is no need for their physical presence when they all exist on my computer and iPod.)  The same goes for my file system on the computer.  I literally still have every single thing I’ve typed since I was in about 7th grade, organized incredibly idiosyncratically, w/ many gradations of “filing.”[19] Perhaps one of the more depressing things, is that all of this fits on a 256mb flash-drive.  Thus I am constantly carrying my entire written archive whenever I go anywhere.  (For the extreme logical extension of all of this, look here.)  Otherwise, my living space is quite spartan.  Beyond a few images on the walls, a couple of strange statues,[20] and the necessary furniture and play-back devices, there are very few objects anywhere.  Furthermore, a couple of visitors to my home have noticed this.  Everything around me is highly functional, geared toward “ease-of-access” and a “lack of clutter.”  I do not hoard.  I am not a packrat.  And I would like to think that there are very few extraneous things around me (though why I’d like to think this is up for debate).  In other words, my dwelling, my home, my space, is one of a highly complex order of technicity, various singularities of pattern emerging from a lifetime of (often times random) accumulation.  Why is this?  Where does it come from?

To suggest that this isn’t precisely the case w/ other people would be completely wrong, but that would also ignore the fact that I am more-often-than-not completely baffled by how other people organize the objects in their space.  To see a bookshelf on which the books are organized hurdy-gurdy—that the bookshelf is simply a container and not a logical system—often gives me the howling fantods.  In my younger days when CDs were still in play, seeing them strewn everywhere, w/o cases, oftentimes incredibly scratched b/c of this, confused the heck out of me.  Operating other people’s computers, and for some reason esp. Macs, always feels unheimlich, as their interface is not completely crafted, prioritized, and organized for efficiency and ease-of-access around me (or seemingly anyone else).  Though there is something very important here regarding individuation, subject construction, and my own relationship with various Others, I don’t feel competent to pursue this at the moment b/c of either the threat of a spiraling narcissism or else b/c the questions involved are too complex to pursue answers in this forum.  Either way, this all suggests something about my own relationship to archiving and objects which must be pursued to provide the necessary framework for this entire project, for attempting to explain why this archival accumulation is happening at all.

It is, of course, one of the most difficult things in the world to explain oneself, either to yourself or to other people, and completely ignores the necessary psychoanalytic presence of the Other in doing so, but, as will anecdotally be seen, this isn’t necessarily a vain pursuit (though it might be self-indulgent, but that’s the whole point of blogs anyway, right?).  In other words, I am interested in giving an account for the precedence in my own life of this archival tendency, of providing the same kind of background around baseball cards w/ other things, if for no other reason than the fact that this precedent exists, and may illuminate the present (project).  Hence this (perhaps necessary) apologia for what follows in subsequent parts.  In other words, I am going to talk about Teenage Ninja Turtles and such.  This entry was meant to discuss that, but has now been sitting here unfinished for too long, and now must be posted.  Hopefully it stands (more-or-less) on its own.


[1] The project is pitt’s version of exams.  I don’t even really wanted to get started on how it relates to The Hyperarchival Parallax.

 

[2] This is not even to approach jargons of authenticity.

[3] as opposed to starting it, getting about fifty-to-one-hundred pages in or so, and getting distracted, oh . . . about five times.  Though I must say I’ll probably finish it tomorrow.  This is not to mention the other 110 or so books on my list.  If Heidegger has the presence of mind to say: “and that means that Da-sein as such is guilty” (Heidegger, Martin.  Being and Time.  Trans. Joan Stambaugh.  Albany: SUNY Press, 1996.  263.), then I for one feel no compunction at all echoing something an old teacher of mine said w/r/t just this problem of not feeling like one is doing enough because one is irresponsibly doing all this other shit (all while doing a thesis on Nietzsche)(i.e. reading): fuck guilt.  And this is all to really say, that this entire entry is now being finished over two months later for just the same reasons as just mentioned—i.e. I finished B and T in MAY!

[4] And have been further neglected since I wrote this.

[5] I feel like I hear the words “difference and repetition” floating around somewhere.

[6] Who was at pitt about a month ago and gave 3 incredibly lucid and (I feel) important talks on realism.

[7] Jameson, Frederic.  Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions.  New York: Verso Press, 2005.  107.

[8] and though I agree with Jameson’s assessment of the novel as “satisfying.”

[9] Presumably because he was talking primarily about Stanislaw Lem rather than Clarke.

[10] Biological Robots.

[11] Freud’s notion of the “oceanic” as archive?

[12] is that the right word for what a cylindrical archive/spaceship/world does in space?

[13] Indeed Jameson’s title for this chapter on Lem/Clarke is “The Unknowability Thesis.”

[14] I use this word quite deliberately here, as will become clear.

[15] And it is perhaps not a coincidence that I realized tonight that “archive” comes from “ark.”  How did I not see this before?

[16] Currently those categories are: SF, Fiction (“Literature”), Poetry, Drama, Essays, Philosophy, Art (History/Crit.), History, Biography, Lit. Crit., Science, and Reference books (much gets placed under this category, including anthologies, dictionaries, thesauri, style guides, almanacs, religious lit. [Bible, Koran, Dead Sea Scrolls, the Rig Veda, etc.], periodicals [less b/c they’re reference books, and more b/c they are closer to “anthologies,”], and “miscellany”).

[17] quite loosely defined.

[18] 10”s, my skull shaped Orchid 8”, Three Mile Pilots propeller-shaped record.

[19] For example, some of the fundamental categories of this particular archive are: “as close to the real world as you’re going to get,” “closer,” “functional important shit,” “useless shit,” “ALL WRITING DOCS,” “a lifetime of petty tragedies,” etc.  I do not envy the person who ever attempts to sort all of this out, but I, of course, know where everything “is.”

[20] One of Jesus teaching a kid how to play golf, but looking more like he’s giving the kid a reach-around.

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