Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Time and Textual Practices

I have been mulling over two recent posts on time, one at “Reading Archives” and another at the Long Now blog.

The first post considers how time is reflected in records—how recordkeeping can provide insights into timekeeping. (Note the date and time recorded on this post.)

The second post considers the phenomenon of “temporal chauvinism,” an uncritical adoption of a view of time that is disproportionately fixated on the present. (Note the order of the posts here—the past is epi[b]logue.)

Reading through the papers of a former college president recently, I was fascinated by his insights into a time that was characterized by new media, liberating play, and short attention spans. He was writing about the 1920s.

Links to posts: http://readingarchives.blogspot.com/2007/09/time-and-record.html

Image: The Clockmaker, detail from a watchmaker’s advertisement, Maclean’s Magazine, 1954

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Billion-Year Record

Last week was the 30th anniversary of the launch of Voyager 1. In the New York Times, Timothy Ferris reflected on the gold-plated phonograph records that were attached to Voyager 1 and its twin, Voyager 2. Ferris writes that the “information [i.e., a collection of sounds and images of life on Earth] etched into the grooves of the records is expected to last at least one billion years.”

Near the end of his article, Ferris concludes that “the very existence of the two spacecraft and the gold records they carry suggests that there is something in the human spirit able to confront vast sweeps of space and time that we can only dimly comprehend.” Perhaps it is this confrontation with the “mind-boggling” limits of known time and space that inspired the title of this piece, “The Mix Tape of the Gods.”

Something of the divine-like ambitions of the Voyager program is present in Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979). This was one of the first movies I ever saw and I found it be excruciatingly boring (I believe it put me to sleep)—but the set-up is worth recalling here. A damaged voyager spacecraft is found by an alien race of machines, who believe the spacecraft’s origin and mission to be divine. They fix it up to collect information and return to god (i.e., Earth), with disastrous results (until, of course, the Enterprise shows up to save the universe). I suppose an alternative sub-title of “The Collector of the Gods” would have given too much away.

Link to the Times article: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/09/05/opinion/05ferris.html

Link to the Voyager web site (and source of image): http://voyager.jpl.nasa.gov/spacecraft/goldenrec1.html

Friday, September 7, 2007

Supernatural Dialogues

On his blog “Reading Archives,” in the context of a discussion about the book Remembering War (Yale, 2006) Richard Cox suggests that archival research is something like a “supernatural dialogue.”

Many of the earliest texts and textual practices known to us were meant to function in a preternaturally dialogic way: gods inspired sacred texts and humans wrote for divine readers. A few of the oldest records in the collection I curate are documents that were not intended for human eyes—they were Sumerian prayers, written on cuneiform cones, which were inserted into temple walls to be read by the gods. Only millennia later, when the walls were ruins, were they read by humans.

Image: Cuneiform Dedication Cone (circa 2050 BCE)

Link to post: http://readingarchives.blogspot.com/2007/09/remembering-war.html