Imitation Versus Mediation: Individual Concerns (Jana)
Archive as Body
In the early letters between Brown and Edgar, there is an astonishing number of references to the photographs that were sent for the purpose of publicizing Brown's work. Edgar's dissatisfaction with the early photographs (shown here) led to another set of photographs that he deemed adequate for publication. The second set of prints are not included in Brown's archival material, but we can see in the newspaper biography of Brown the picture that was eventually chosen for publication. In the chosen image, Brown's dress is more conservative; similarly, the head shot renders Brown bodiless. In the narrative of the second picture, her image is allowed to enter mainstream media primarily as mind and not body, as author disconnected from the text and from the reality of lived experience.
Edgar and his circle in Toronto proceed to mediate Brown's absent figure to a Canadian public. Part of this mediation is a narrative that defines her: female, disabled, and peripheral. Part of this mediation is also her volumes of work, selected and edited by Edgar and Random House. It is this head shot and its accompanying mediation which has informed all scholarly work on Brown and threaded, however weakly, through a history of early twentieth-century Canadian literature.
Like Edgar and his circle, I too hope to mediate an absent form. However, the material that I access is primarily archival, and I select material that I hope will translate to contemporary discussions in Canadian poetry. Thus, my questions: in what ways can the translation of materials from offline archives to online spaces speak to existing contemporary issues that surround archival practices in literary studies? And, by extension, what issues are not addressed in this process?
Contemporary Issues in the Literary Archive
One important contemporary movement in discussions on Canadian history is the problematization of archives and archival practices. Marilyn Rose articulates this issue in her essay on Anne Marriott. She writes that
an archive is clearly at best a repository of possible truths that are available to the situated archival reader, rather than the truth about anything or anybody, least of all its ostensible subject. Thus much depends upon the personal, intellectual, and cultural climate into which the “buried treasures” are retrieved. (234)Thus, in present discourse, there is growing recognition that encounters with the archive are always marked by the aims of the archivist and the context of the encounter. Marriott also speaks to the problematic ways institutions have historically owned and managed archives without question as to social and political interest. I think that bringing this archival material into the digital world will really speak to these issues in Canadianist criticism in new ways by drawing attention to the act of translation as part of any archival experience.
Modeling the Issues
I hope that an online experience of Brown's archival material will highlight the fact that the material has been relocated into a different medium, a different space, and a different context. My exhibit on Brown works to foreground these issues in order to problematize my own role as mediator and allows visitors the opportunity to consider other possible contexts into which other narratives might be retrieved. In thinking about the potential for online space to address these issues, I turn to McCarty's notion of the model. Because I expect that each reader will come to the material from his or her own understanding, I attempt to avoid thinking of the exhibit as a static, linear narrative. Instead I am using Scalar to think through how I might create a "model" of this material as defined by McCarty in order to foreground the idea of exhibit as event. McCarty describes computational models as "temporary states in the process of coming to know rather than fixed structures of knowledge." In thinking about this definition in terms of the archive, I hope to foreground the ways in which a visitor's path through the material could be different each time. In learning something along his or her first path through the material, the visitor could then decide to choose a different path, thereby changing the model in effect. In using Scalar to exhibit the material, I hope to create the opportunity for visitors to "handle" the exhibit in order to allow them their own direction of the experience as much as possible. I hope this will allow them to come to their own crystallization on Brown and her work. I also hope that visitors will recognize the possibility of other encounters, other combinations, and other crystallizations of the material.
Author: Jana Millar Usiskin
Word Count: 757
Word Count: 757
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