On Archives of Feeling

Blog Home    |     04.17.2017 by     |    


The second set of readings on archival power and normative technologies of absorption place racial and social minority groups as examples of how liberatory grassroots movements become, to a degree, depoliticized by their inclusion into archiving institutions of the nation-state. In doing so, a genealogy of power within American universities is presented as an articulation of a new form of coloniality. The piece by Ferguson is provocative and further problematizes the role of the archive in the development of area studies departments, such as Native American Studies, African American Studies, Asian American Studies, Chicano Studies, and Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies among others. Ferguson’s arguments tease out the complexities of power in academia and the power’s fine attunements within neoliberal and postindustrial structures that shape practices of knowledge production and consumption.

In an allusion to the work of Lisa Lowe, Ferguson reminds the reader of the “inevitable paradox” contained in the scholarship of area studies departments: speaking of/about difference while being part of a larger structure of neocolonial power that attempts to depoliticize by absorbing and including otherness. Ferguson reflection on the space “the subaltern” occupies within the archival tactics and strategies of empire calls into question the ethical engagement of knowledge workers. More concretely, what does it mean then to produce knowledge from the archival practices of Empire? What archives or other technologies of power are enacted and activated to produce the inscription of heterogeneity into public scholarship?

Newfield’s article on the erosion of the public university waged by conservative groups through economic practices synthesizes this “inevitable paradox”. Newfield’s historiography also resonates with Ferguson’s notion of archival tactics of power reproduced at universities. I read Newfield’s interpretation of the public university as an archival site that needs to be defended because, in spite of its tactics of power, the mission of the public university seeks to restructure the power dynamics and social relations that continue to permeate a hierarchal model of knowledge production. Conversely, Ferguson shed a critical light on the mission of the university as a technology of the nation-state and its transition into the neoliberal era of globalization and neocolonial expansion through cybernetics. Both authors, however, question the role of the academy and the university as a place of empire.

From these readings, the following questions came to mind: if the public university after WWII emerged as a site of empowerment, to embody the ideals of a renewed humanity invested in diversity, to what extent absorption and inclusion into institutions of knowledge production are necessary to contest the normativity and universality of the university as a site of empire. To what extent are public humanities contributing to the technocratization of the humanities in an ever-changing neoliberal market that requires technical public scholars to ensure its development?

Romeo Guzman’s piece reflects on the very notion of what constitutes an archive, what subjects are seen as positioned as legitimate voices of official history, and how to find sites of ethical engagement in archives. What seemed to hover over Guzman’s interpretation of the archive was an affective charge in the inscription of history, one that turns writing and archiving history as a personal, intimate and relational act. In this sense, I question to what degree out intimate archives of the world serve as strategies to decolonize and dynamite the very notion of canonical archives for the sake of nation-states. Moreover, what alternative possibilities of archiving emotion and affect exist, particularly when subjugated stories of trauma, ostracism, or violence occlude the telling of difference. I further question what lies behind archival silences and whether those silences are also considered sites of knowledge production.