• “Its material form makes it harder to grasp. It is excessive and overwhelming, like a spring tide, an avalanche, or a flood. This comparison with natural and unpredictable forces is not arbitrary. When working in the archive you will often find yourself thinking of this exploration as a dive, a submersion, perhaps even a drowning . . . you feel immersed in something vast, oceanic. This analogy to the ocean can be found in the archive itself. The archival inventories are subdivided into fonds, a the name given to collections of documents, which are grouped together either because they are similar in subject, or because they were donated by a particular individual. These numerous and ample archival fonds, stored in library basements, bring to mind the hulking masses of rock in the Atlantic, called basses, that are visible only twice a year, during the lowest tides” (4).
  • “The archival document is a tear in the fabric of time, an unplanned glimpse offered into an unexpected event” (6).
  • “In this sense the archive forces the reader to engage with it. It captivates you, producing the sensation of having finally caught hold of the real, instead of looking through a ‘narrative of’ or ‘discourse on’ the real” (7–8); “These overwhelming feelings never last; they are like mirages in the desert. No matter how much the real seems to be there, visible and tangible, it reveals nothing more than its physical presence, and it is naive to believe that this is its essence” (11).
  • Archives as sites of tensions and conflict; we feel responsible to the past even as we’re overwhelmed by its massive anonymity (14).
  • Exact recopying as a “necessary,” even ethical act, though one still described as “exclusive and privileged” (16). Recopying as an embodied process of self-insertion.
  • Interlude on the social drama of using archives; it feels like some academic self-absorption, and maybe it is, but it’s never a bad thing to remember that we’re human too.

[Consult Zotero annotations.]

Archive and Impact

  • Farge is an historian of eighteenth-century France; her histories are often of the women of Paris and “drawn from a vast judicial archive” in the city (x); this book is meta-history, in the sense that it’s about her own personal experience of the Arsenal library, the police archives of Paris.
  • I imagine that this will be chiefly useful from an affective perspective: alongside someone like Carolyn Steedman (not on the list, but I think important as an interlocutor), we’re re-inserting the physical space of archives and the labor associated with them. (Michelle Caswell’s essay on archival practice is also important here; unsurprisingly these are all works by women.)
  • Reading this against Foucault: