‘The Archive who Breathes
(listen to extract)
dwells on the circumstances and consequences of archival gaps — the palpable presence of absent narratives. Through a collaging of auto-ethnographic vignettes, epistemological excavations and critical analyses, I seek to propose a reassessment of what constitutes an ‘archive’.
We typically imagine archives as fixed, robust structures: vast depots, virtual servers, museums, libraries. These spaces house immense collections of records and artefacts — itemised and securely preserved. In these carefully maintained sites, the presence of the body is always subject to regulation. Physical documents are believed to suffer from bodily contact — after all, with enough persistence and time, the natural oils of one’s fingers can erode even stone — hence one is often expected to wear gloves when inside an archive, in an effort to maximise the lifespan of the document.
This leads me to wonder: are such archives capable of being similarly hospitable to lives that go without documentation? What of experiences that cannot be readily translated into words or that go unwitnessed? Testimonies of intergenerational trauma, for instance, often elude formal narration or documentation, but may otherwise materialise through psycho-somatic expressions. Thus, I propose that the body can also be understood as an archival vessel — a site of registration — both hostage and host to unvoiced histories.’
Hannah Dawn Henderson
(listen to extract)
I have never set foot on the island where my mother was born, yet alone her first (and perhaps only) home
, but it has surely visited me: a malleable site enclosed by four walls
— a terrain that adjusts its layout depending on what’s needed in the moment, wombing the humdrum ordinances of one day to the next. In the morning, it entertains a pot of cerassie tea — always accompanied by sliced bammy and labrish.
It then shudders to sonic ricochets and exclamations — the mechanised clatter of a Singer sewing machine. Once the sun retires and the horizon resembles a field of lavender, a set of mattresses span its entire floor. The quiet rhythm of shallow yet ever- returning breath both footnotes the day just elapsed and forewords the dawn to come — a sacred punctuation that bridges wakeful life and that place we pass through
when we sleep, daydream, dissociate — that place that is not here.
, in that one-room dwelling, Christine, Julia, Eugene and Junior meet me in their slumber
The pleasure of excavating and excursioning through dreamscapes is the way that they allow for a disentanglement from the limits of temporal and financial feasibility. For all their fleetingness, these sojourns are far more sustainable than a transglobal flight.
There is a particular account, relayed to me a couple of decades ago, that I sense will always remain salient in my memory — an anecdote detailing one October afternoon, when a hurricane
ripped the roof off my mother’s house. This incident seemingly stirred little fear in my mother
, a child at the time, but instead awe and curiosity as she
left. I have never seen one myself, but I surely know their seasons
— always prefaced by the urge to take cover,
to brace oneself
, to reconcile that one’s house may very well implode in on itself. Nothing that stands is beyond collapsing
In Jungian dream analysis
, a house is understood as an allegorical projection of one’s psyche
, with each room signifying a distinct facet of the mind. Jung recounts one such dream, which sees him descend from the uppermost level of a house into its cave-like cellar. The salon on the first floor is fashioned with rococo details — evocative
of the grand, neoclassical houses of late 19th century Switzerland — whereas the ground floor presents a sparse and medieval character, and the cellar is as an archaeological site, strewn with fragments of Roman pottery
and two decomposing skulls:
Consciousness was represented by the salon. It had an inhabited atmosphere, in spite of its antiquated style. The ground floor stood for the first level of the unconscious. The deeper I went, the more alien and the darker the scene became. In the cave, I discovered remains of a primitive culture, that is, the world of the primitive man within myself – a world which can scarcely be reached or illuminated by consciousness. [...]
I had grown up in the intensely historical atmosphere of Basel [...] When I thought about dreams and the contents of the unconscious, I never did so without making historical comparisons; I was especially familiar with the writers of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century. Theirs was the world which had formed the atmosphere of my first-story salon.1
1. Jung, C.G, Jaffé, A. (ed.) (1965) Memories, Dreams, Reflections. Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Random House Books. pp.160–161
As Jung projects this psychological mapping
onto domestic architecture, he simultaneously cartographies the cultural realms that formulate the sensibilities of his perceptions. These are the worlds, images and stories that he internalised and carried within him — an archive, or arkheion2
2.‘…initially a house, a domicile, an address, the residence of the superior magistrates, the archons, those who command. […] On account of their publicly recognised authority, it is at their home, in that place which is their house (private house, family house, or employee’s house), that official documents are filed.’ Derrida, J. (1996) Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression. Translated by Eric Prenowitz. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press. p.2
, sheltered amongst his organs, sinews and tissue.
I have to wander and wonder. How would Jung’s analyses have differed had he spent his formative years not in Basel but Elsewhere, where elaborate, multi-story houses are few and far between. No upper or lower level, but rather a single room that hosts a multitude of overlapping scenes. A room that is a palimpsest, where conversations collide, compete and collage with mundane interjections — the sewing machine, the whistle of the kettle, a neighbour passing by the open window to pick up sugar and gossip.
In this space, where there is little allowance for privacy
, where does the unconscious dwell? In the corners, withdrawn but in plain sight? Or does it intervene from the outside? After all, the threshold that distinguishes interior from exterior can be rather narrow — as thin as the epidermis even. For the body whose movements through the world straddle those seams and fault lines where peripheries meet, it is not uncommon to find that while one leg may have found footing on the inside, the remainder of one’s body is still very much located on the Outside. Perhaps the unconscious is the hurricane that comes and goes with its season, but is never truly absent — for waiting is a mindful labour, and so too is the effort of reconstructing
all that lies in a heap.
The archeological excavation of Jung’s dream cellar — how would that appear had he lived in a land where few such artefacts remain? A land where the remnants of its original inhabitants have been exported to the depots of distant museums
and private collectors, leaving behind only cavities in as much the earth’s sediment as the world’s memory. What if, no matter how deeply and frantically you claw away at the dirt, there is no crypt to be uncovered — for here is not where your ancestors lie? They perished along the latitude of a No-Where you don’t know where.
What then is this land, grasped in fistfuls, to you?
I used to think that my mother’s first house contained many rooms. Maybe that had something to do with how I’ve only lived in places where it’s the norm that houses are structurally divided into different spaces, and those spaces tend to have somewhat defined functions — for instance, a room for sleeping, a room for eating, a room for relaxing. It is — now that I think about it — quite a rigid way of living, and maybe it also reflects how we tend to have a very categorical way of structuring other social spaces — not only literal spaces, but also symbolic spaces. I was a bit stunned when I finally realised that all of my mother’s childhood stories occurred within the limits of one room. I asked her: ‘But how could so much life take place in one room?’ She answered: ‘Well, y’know, all of humanity has its origin in just one womb.’”
“‘Labrish’ is a term in Jamaican patois, referring to low-key scandalous conversations. Gossip, to put it simply. Though I frequently heard patois throughout my childhood, spoken by both my mother and grandmother, I was discouraged from integrating it into my everyday speech. Essentially, my mother didn’t want me to risk exposing aspects of my cultural makeup that, at the time of my childhood, were looked upon by the wider social context as being inferior and inelegant. Still to this day, I find that I cannot freely speak in patois — in the sense that I cannot speak it ‘on command’ or out of my own free will. Rather, I find that it’s only when I’m in the midst of an argument that suddenly, out of nowhere, my impulse is to weaponise this otherwise suppressed vocabulary — a censored archive, but also an archive of censorship that un-censors itself. In those moments, I am never really sure if it is a case of me defending myself through this language, or rather the language asserting itself through me. It carries me as much I carry it.”
“My mother left Jamaica and arrived in the UK in the mid-1960s — the last of several significant waves of migration from formerly colonised territories, largely the result of the British government actively recruiting labourers to recuperate the workforce shortage, post-World War II. Before arriving in the UK, my mother had believed herself to be British — after all, Jamaica, my mother’s island, had been under the crown sovereignty of the UK for several hundred years. However, my mother was quickly confronted with the intense and explicit nationalism that had become prevalent in Britain at that time. See, the 20th century brought forth the formal dissolution of the British Empire, and as such the landscape of colonial violence is shifted — these power-plays now took place within the borders of the ‘home’ nation state and, even more intimately, within the territory of the migrant’s psyche. My mother realised that she will never be viewed as equally British — but, having never again returned to the land where she was born, it’s ambiguous as to what extent she considers herself Jamaican. It strikes me, in my conversations with her, that it is not so much national identities — nouns — that resonate with her, but rather the experience — the verb — of being in diaspora.”
“Maybe memories — even those that are derivative of the memories of others — only exist in the moment of recollecting them — the experience of reviving and reliving them? Otherwise, we’ve effectively forgotten them. I often notice in myself — and I can imagine that this is common amongst many people — that memories make their presence known in the form of what is termed ‘intrusive thoughts’ or ‘rumination’: images and transcripts that repeatedly and compulsively interrupt the regular content of one’s thoughts. That sense of interruption is usually detectable on a conscious level, given that it surfaces abruptly as a mental confrontation, often echoing the original event that created the memory. I find, however, that there are also other ways that memories can live on and take up a kind of ‘tenancy’ in one’s body — ways that don’t always reveal an obvious route back to the original event but nevertheless continue to resonate. Can a stomach ache, or perhaps a certain rhythm of walking, or the impulse of a stutter be the regurgitation of a memory?”
“Some weeks ago, a friend described to me a technique for retrieving memories. She learnt this technique, known as the ‘method of loci’ or ‘memory palace’, to be able recall long monologues — not only the words of a script, but also the sensations and emotions attached to those words. The technique involves mentally picturing oneself walking through some kind of structured layout — for example, a house. It can actually be any kind of building, but the domestic nature of a house makes it a particularly intimate allegory. The different rooms and the artefacts they contain act as chains of associations. So, this imagined space isn’t strictly a depository of memory per se — it’s more like a directory. But then, I have to wonder, where are memories actually stored? The notion of storing something away implies a kind of inertia — something that is static, locked in time, preserved. But are memories ever really so static? My friend was memorising those monologues as part of a study programme on improvisation — it struck me as kind of ironic. The effort of committing those words to memory with such precision — only to later rupture, collage and backstitch them with ad-lib interjections from elsewhere…”
“Back in 2018 I travelled to Paris to see a series of paintings in the Louvre, the provenance of which I had been researching for some months. Once I was finished with photographing the paintings, I went looking for an exit — but, as to be expected at such a museum in the middle of summer, I found myself caught up in a tidal wave of visitors, ushered ever further away from my intended destination. Eventually, I managed to separate myself from this mass — narrowly avoiding selfie-sticks and the stun of camera flashes — by heading down a mostly deserted side-corridor. I had to wonder why this section — part of the Pavillon des Sessions — was so empty. A wall text described this part of the museum as housing items from Africa, Asia, Oceania and the Americas. Y’know, pretty much every geographic region outside of Europe — containing literally hundreds of thousands of cultures — all conglomerated together. Near the exit, I encountered a set of Taíno artefacts. The Taíno were the original inhabitants of Jamaica, before the arrival of Columbus. It’s thought that within just a few decades of colonisation the Taíno population of the Caribbean had been reduced to 15% of its original, estimated figure. The imposed encomienda system (a form of indentured servitude), illness and starvation are amongst the main factors behind this rapid change in population scale. I recognised these artefacts — most of which pertain to rituals and spiritual practice — from books I had read. In that moment, staring at those vitrines, the silence of the corridor seemed all the more loud.”
“Interesting that the word 'place' appears twice here. A 'place' that we pass from waking to sleeping, but in fact is not there. Is it a place or a space? And is it indeed the same place we 'are' in/pass when we daydream or dissociate?”
“Do we ever know what causes or has caused fear in a child?”
“Many centuries before Jung, the house has been widely used as the embodiment of home: a feeling of belonging, safety and contentment. In almost all mythologies our first home is the mother's womb, a place through which we floated safe and free. But isn't the house idealized in this way? Is it always such a paradise? Isn't the house also potentially a prison, a place to avoid?”
“Here, Jung — like many other psychoanalysts — describes a process that actually takes place unconsciously until a moment, like now, when it penetrates our consciousness through secondary means. Where does that process of internalization take place? Is that our mind? And what is (then) the place of our body? Could it be that from a different cultural perspective the body takes a more prominent place as a repository of experiences?”
“Indeed, if the house has no floors and no basement, the question is: where in Jung's symbolism is there room for the unconscious? Can it indeed be translated into that storm that is raging –– or are we confronted with a Western (limited) dualism in which body and mind are separated time and again?”
“About the simultaneous eagerness and impossibility of entering a space — I am reminded of a story about the sage Hillel.
As a young man, Hillel didn’t have much money but he wanted to study. The study hall had a fee for entry, which he couldn’t afford. So, he would climb onto the roof and listen through a skylight — a gap in the roof. Probably he couldn’t see what was going on, but he could listen closely. One night, the weather was hostile and it began to snow heavily — but Hillel was determined to remain listening and learning. When the morning arrived, the teacher realised that there was a figure on the roof — as no sunlight could enter, blocked by Hillel’s body. They fetched him from the roof and lit a fire to warm him up.
Even without being able to inhabit a space, there’s much that one can learn through listening to those who have inhabited it. Sometimes that urge to want to listen can also make us vulnerable. Sometimes that is a necessary risk in the pursuit of (self-)knowledge.”
“Reading about your mother’s house, I have to think about its precariousness — as a physical structure, but also in relation to the lives it held and now the history it symbolises as a kind of ‘second-hand memory’. The fact that you never physically entered it, never even saw a photo of it and have no visual reference — this can also be thought of as a kind of precariousness. It’s the risk of being forgotten, collapsing, being washed away by time…
Precariousness can also contain something that could maybe be called ‘potentiality’. You’ve never entered this house, but you’re haunted and occupied by it and what it represents to you in your family history — the moment before a fracture, the impossibility of un-doing a turn of events that led to intergenerational trauma. So, you’ve decided to occupy this symbolic space as much as it is occupying you. You mirror it from the other side, re-build it, re-appropriate it as a device to function in the here and now — an archive, a place that stores, protects, orientates. You are writing from the other side of the fracture — acknowledging that the ‘gap’ is there and drawing potential out of the ocean that fills it.”
“Second-hand memories are like flotsam — fragments, parts of a disintegrated structure that come to the surface. While you cannot know for certain how that fragment previously formed part of a greater whole, you are nevertheless able to re-form something functional out of it. You re-make it new — which perhaps sounds a bit like a contradiction in terms, given that you cannot strictly re-make something new. It’s either new and original or it’s a reconstruction. But maybe those two ideas are not really a contradiction as such. We always draw on something that is from before, something that we’ve inherited, sensibilities or habits that we can attribute to our parents, grand-parents, great-grandparents. This inheritance then comes into contact with new conditions, eg. our immediate environment. Both of these factors — our environment and our inheritance, interwoven — shape how we construct our imaginations and perceptions…”
“When archaeologists find a tiny fragment of a vase, they are somehow able to reconstruct an idea of the whole. Now, they cannot really know for sure if that reconstruction is necessarily accurate. Reconstruction is actually a kind of fantasy — but it’s a fantasy that serves a certain purpose. In the case of archeology, these functional-fantasies have the purpose of trying to make sense of what happened before our own lifetimes, organising narratives of the past, so as to help us better understand how we have arrived at the present. This is much like what you do with your mother’s house. There is also something to be said about what kind of ‘habituated perceptions’ or ‘motivations’ inform how we create these fantasies. What does one wish to confirm — or, alternatively, contest — with these images? In what ways do pre-established tropes, norms, values, and hierarchies interplay with these images.”
“The process of rebuilding, reconstructing — it also concerns mental imaging, as through imagination you create a gesturing towards a material reality. Imagining a physical movement in all its detail — for instance, what it requests from muscles and the skeleton — provokes neurological processes that are comparable to if one were to actually make the movement.
Take, for example, the scenario of a person needing to re-learn how to walk after an injury — there’s a process of organisation that goes on neurologically before the person even stands to their feet. This organisation is ‘under-standing’ — it serves as the foundation for the movement of standing. This isn’t a thinking process, it’s a sensing process. Knowledge of bipedal movement is an embodied understanding — part of our evolution, hardwired in our brains, even when the actual physical ability to stand is lacking. In the practice of the Feldenkrais Method, we place a thin wooden plate — referred to as the ‘artificial floor’ — under the foot of the person, and by adjusting the position of the plate in relation to the foot it is possible to simulate in the foot the act of walking. This technique is often used for people who may not be able to walk in an upright, vertical, weight-bearing way — for instance, people who require a wheelchair.
The transition from crawling to walking — this is a process that most children tend to not need to be didactically taught, assuming they don’t require physiotherapy. When learning how to walk, infants are essentially reconstructing and mapping primordial knowledge of walking in their body. They learn of their body — which is totally new and unique to them — and ‘re-learn’ what it is to walk, which is an inherited, embodied knowledge. For both a baby (who has a second-hand memory of walking) and someone who is in physiotherapy (who has a first-hand memory of walking), that process is similar.”
“Is ‘home’ possibly a psycho-somatic experience that is triggered by a specific set of circumstances, sensations and ideas?”
See excerpt from the book “Home is the Place you left” by Michael Elmgreen, Ingar Dragset, and Trondheim Kunstmuseum, p. 3.
““Jung’s associations remind me of Edward Burnett Tylor’s approach to anthropology, termed ‘evolutionism’. Tylor is known for his work ‘Primitive Culture’, written in 1871 in England. He conceptualised culture as developing in three universal stages: savagery, barbarism, and civilization. Today, his approach — along with this notion of the ‘universal’ — are, understandably, subject to critique; however, bear in mind that Tylor’s approach was itself a critique of existing theories of his time — for instance, ‘social degeneration’, a theory that essentially justified practices like human eugenics and the criminalisation of miscegenation.
From his evolutionist anthropological perspective, it is possible to trace surviving remnants of so-called ‘primitive’ culture in our ‘civilized' society — which I suppose can be linked here with Jung’s narrative of the embedded, primordial landscape, located beneath the subconscious and beneath the conscious. However, in contrast to Jung, Tylor emphasized that the appearance of differentiated cultural development is unrelated to cognitive capacities, stressing that cognitive ability — what could be called ‘intelligence’ — is equally distributed globally. So, in Tylor’s view, ‘primitive’ culture is just as cognitively savvy as a highly industrialised, technologically advanced culture.
Jung here seems to imply that ‘primitiveness’ cannot readily communicate itself in such a way that it is decipherable — that it is ‘scarcely reached or illuminated by consciousness’. It’s a telling reflection of Jung’s context — the implication of hierarchy, also reiterated by the verticality of the house’s literal structure.”
“In the Shulchan Aruch
, a codex of interpretation of Jewish laws, there is a section on theft and robbery. There it says: who has stolen of many…eg. civil servant who transposes taxes for his relatives unto others… shall have a difficult time to do teshuva [‘return’, meaning to redeem oneself — a kind of life-long recalibrating one’s application of ethics in day to day life]. That is why it’s best that he does something for the community from which he has stolen. In any circumstance, he must return what belongs to those who he knows he stole from… And when those who were robbed are deceased, the thief should return what he stole to their heirs."
(listen to extract)
Homes and archives alike are commonly envisioned as fixed, robust structures — sites that securely encircle and guard their vulnerable contents from the hazards of Outside. Writing of archontic
authority — that is, the combined abode and operating principle of the archive’s guardian, traditionally a legal administrator — Jacque Derrida elaborates:
It does not only require that the archive be deposited somewhere, on a stable substrate, and at the disposition of a legitimate hermeneutic authority. The archontic power, which also gathers the functions of unification, of classification, must be paired with what we will call the power of consignation […] In an archive, there should not be any absolute dissociation, any heterogeneity or secret which could separate (secernere) or partition in an absolute manner.1
1. Derrida, J. (1996) Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression.
Translated by Eric Prenowitz. Chicago, London: The University of Chicago Press. p.2–3
This taxonomic nature
of the archive, as conceptualised through this ontological lens, can be understood as both the product
but also the producer
of the performative, legalising2
2. I refer to the hypothesised etymology of legal, thought to be derived from the Greek legein (λέγειν), denoting the act of utterance, as well as counting, selecting, arranging and gathering. operations of our language
3. ‘The archive is first the law of what can be said, the system that governs the appearance of statements as unique events. […] it is that which, at the very root of the statement-event, and in that which embodies it, defines at the outset the system of its enunciability.’
Foucault, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language. Translated by A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books. p.129
These are operations that confine and relegate us to think, imagine, perceive and act in terms of dualities, binaries, compartments, neat lines and one-directional chronologies
. This propensity is what Édouard Glissant terms as Western thought’s ‘requirement for transparency’
4. Glissant, É. (1997). Poetics of Relation. Translated by Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p.190
which inevitably imposes a compression of complexities — a process of reduction
. Per western Europe’s exercise of global colonialism — not only in regards to militarised occupations and historical land-grabs, but also in terms of contemporary economic, academic, and cultural colonialism — this paradigm of reduction has been exported and embedded well beyond the occidental world:
...whole populations have had to assert their identity in opposition to the processes of identification or annihilation […] Decolonization will have done its real work when it goes beyond this limit.5
5. Ibid. p.17
This emphasis on transparency, homogeneity and absolute unification provokes in me a question: How and where in the archive does one house trauma
— that is to say, fractures
, dissociations, elisions? How does the archive preserve that which cannot be readily named or identified? Where in the archival structure do they who are undocumented reside? Where is the nervous system to be found
— exhausted synaptic relays, an overworked amygdala
, inflamed intestines — amidst the many tributaries of the archive’s taxonomy? parallel
When seeking such narratives in the historical canon, one is likely to suffer what Saidiya Hartman described as ‘the pain experienced in [her] encounter with the scraps of the archive’
6. Hartmen, S. 2008, ’Venus in Two Acts’. Small axe: a journal of criticism. Vol. 12. No. 2. pp.1-14. p.4
This is the violent amnesia of the archive
— violent, for it forsakes the legacies of realities lived Outside, lived Elsewhere.
These are not only legacies of conflict, turmoil and injustice, but also of kinship, desire and resilience. This amnesia not only renders our understanding of the past malnourished, it further instigates a persisting orthodoxy that sees contemporary institutions — the inheritors of the archive’s language and canon— perpetuate this absencing
of that which has and continues to remain estranged from transparency.
Knowledge construction, as formulated through this paradigm of transparency, echoes the archive’s internal organisation — namely, its taxonomic handling of its contents. This results in a hyper-fixation on the noun
— a unit of information that not only can be named (and thus assigned a locality – in other words, categorised
) but that can also be assumed to be static and therefore readily legible. The noun is an identity, a hashtag, a declaration that potentially dons the appearance and vocabulary of a process
yet has already resigned itself to a crystallised, self-predicting form. Transparent knowledge does not
(and I would go as far to say cannot) produce new, reformed understanding — as the mechanics of its taxonomic functioning essentially serve as an unending ratification of itself. That which poses as a potentially destabilising element — an element that is dissonant to canonical truth — is exiled; that is, if it was even invited in
to begin with.
In contrast to the noun
, transparent knowledge struggles to grapple with that which verbs
: that which is potentially moving so rapidly and unpredictably — perhaps trembling, hyperventilating, or writhing around in an effort to shed its skin — it forgoes any legibility, let alone a single fixed name. That it cannot be categorised does not negate that it is surely known
— after all, such experiencing is certainly registered within the various faculties that comprise one’s cognitive processing. Further, it is not merely the case that one does not know the applicable name, but rather that there exists no name — no name that does not serve to only further pathologise, compromise or corner oneself7
7. ‘As much as identity terms must be used, as much as ‘outness’ is to be affirmed, these same notions must become subject to a critique of the exclusionary operations of their own production: for whom is outness an historically available and affordable option.’ Butler, J. 1993, ‘Critically Queer’. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies, Vol. 1. pp.17-32. p. 18
— a corner that one is not the architect of but with which one is surely well-familiar, for it is an architecture that dictates a relentless negotiation.8
8. ‘The West, therefore, is where this movement becomes fixed and nations declare themselves in preparation for their repercussions in the world. […] it spread through the world. The model came in handy. Most of the nations that gained freedom from colonization have tended to form around an idea of power — totalitarian drive of a single, unique root — rather than around a fundamental relationship with the Other. […] Western nations were established on the basis of linguistic intransigence, and the exile readily admits that he suffers most from the impossibility of communicating in his language. The root is monolingual.’ Glissant, É. (1997). Poetics of Relation. Translated by Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. pp.14-15
Sometimes the proof is never committed to the archive—it is not considered important enough to record, or if it is, not important enough to preserve. Sometimes there is a deliberate act of destruction […] What gets left behind? Gaps where people never see themselves or find information about themselves. Holes that make it impossible to give oneself a context. Crevices people fall into. Impenetrable silence.9
Machado, C.M. (2019). In the Dream House: a memoir. Minneapolis: Graywolf Press. pp.2-3
A corner, a crevice, a space so narrow one must necessarily belittle oneself in order to just
about fit — and even then, one never quite does. Much still remains on the Outside.
“A collector of orchids explained to me the difference between ‘pure species’ and ‘hybrids’. Darwin, he told me, wrote a study on orchids — titled: ‘On the Various Contrivances by Which British and Foreign Orchids Are Fertilised by Insects
, and On the Good Effects of Intercrossing’
. The collector also explained to me the naming and categorising system created by Carl Linnaeus — the botanical taxonomy that is still in use today.
Linneaus was born in 1707. His system has been applied to orchids for around two hundred and fifty years now. Fossils of orchids indicate they may be as old as eighty million years…
…I wish I could know the wisdom of orchids.”
“The first time I heard the word ‘trauma’ used in medical context was when I suffered a fracture to my ankle. As it was being wrapped in a gypsum cast, the nurse explained that ‘trauma’ simply refers to the result of experiencing a sudden, blunt force. Curiously enough, she never asked about the circumstances of my fracture.”
“‘Amygdala’ is the title of a film written and directed by an acquaintance of mine. I had heard of the word previously, but it was only after watching several early cuts of that film — always leaving me with quite an unsettled feeling in my gut afterwards — did I look into what the word actually means. It refers to two small parts of the brain — deeply embedded, mirroring one another, not much bigger than one and a half centimetres. These little, almond-shaped bits of brain matter essentially regulate how you respond to all other matters that you encounter throughout life. The physical responses of both anxiety and excitement alike, as prompted by hormonal reactions triggered by the brain, can be owed to amygdala.”
“Later, you speak of 'processes of reduction'. Couldn't one also see (the legalising operations of our) language as an example of this reduction?”
“Is the nervous system the primary site of archiving (trauma) and memorization?”
““Does this mean that the archive can be seen as an ‘in-between’? A space that captures the past, with all the limitations that entails, in order to compensate for the loss of memory? An in-between place that bridges remembering and forgetting? A space with a double identity?”
“A quote of Moshe Feldenkrais: 'Learning means that you can do the same thing in at least two or three different ways. If not — it’s not learning, it’s just another compulsion.’”
“The word ‘process’ is itself a noun
- this thought came up when reading this, an automated trigger-response, tainted by the process of compartmentalisation and reduction that these words written here try to point out in the first place.”
JB in dialogue with HDH: “Hm, thinking about transparent knowledge… I am reminded of how I would be asked to identify [myself]…and how often I would try to hide, circumvent or bypass the request and the consequences of answering it...the fear of being despised. Those attempts to defer being identifiable – for the sake of personal safety – would create a kind of resentment, on both sides.
...Nowadays, the dynamic has changed in some way, but also not. My ‘identification’ – that is, both the act of verbalising an identity and the identity in itself – is positively encouraged, and in some contexts even considered desirable. But, still, this practice of identification entails the effort of fitting oneself into language, and vice versa – making language fit oneself. Whose language? On whose terms? The refusal to answer isn’t necessarily self-erasure – it can also be a gesture of insistence, to insist on the fullness of one’s being, sans reduction.”
(listen to extract)
It is perhaps jarring to consider that while archives in their origin are, quite literally, housebound
, they are evidently (per their lack of evidence, paradoxically enough) lacking in hospitality. Archives, it would seem, do not make for kind hosts. Then again, the covid-19 pandemic has surely made it apparent that a mere week of quarantining will readily supplant the otherwise soothing embrace of domestic placidity with a near-asphyxiating atmosphere — monotony, isolation and listlessness.
While the pandemic has made such claustrophobia common knowledge, it has conversely been long familiar to many that one’s abode can be a site of unease at best, violence and helplessness at worst. This is understood by the body who struggles with the deadweight fatigue of burnout, by the body who only ever creeps along the perimeter of rooms so as to avoid further bruises, by the mind who must necessarily dislocate itself from its corporeal vessel in order to manage another day. For an unseen, silent multitude, this knowledge was never an epiphany ushered in by social distancing mandates — the new normal
— but rather the lived definition of everyday reality.
Observing reactions to the pandemic in my immediate environments, I am reminded of the words of Johanna Hedva during their 2015 lecture, titled My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic But I Also Love It
& Want it to Matter Politically
Everywhere in our discourse on illness, trauma, grieving, and pain, is the notion of moving on and getting over it. Getting back to work is what keeps the capitalist patriarchy going, so silence, denial, and erasure are necessary.1
1. Hedva, J. 2015, My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic But I Also Love It & Want it to Matter Politically. [online] 7th October, Women’s Center for Creative Work, Los Angeles. Available at: vimeo.com/144782433
More than ever in recent history, talk of illness, infection rates, and symptoms has become a fixture of common discussion. Yet, for all the commentaries dissecting new regulations, for all our attempts to maintain communication via an array of virtual interfaces, we seem to yet still refrain from openly and plainly acknowledging that we are undergoing a collective trauma. This comes as no surprise: in much the manner that trauma has never been permitted in the archive, we have suppressed the possibility of allowing for a vocabulary with which to speak of and through trauma — and, by extension, with which to respond rather than simply react
2. Reactivity can perhaps be understood as comparable to the patellar reflex — commonly known as the knee-jerk reaction — or, alternatively, the gag reflex. It is a gesturing that occurs impulsively, sans any self-observation prior to the enactment of the gesture. Here, ‘self-observation’ refers to a prefatory, introspective review of the gesture’s motive, its intention, the organisation of its execution, the breadth of both its reach and risk, and its potential consequences.
To react, as opposed to respond, arises from habitual framings of one’s self and the surrounding situation. What one is reacting to is not necessarily the situation, but rather to familiar, fixed narratives and archetypes that — out of unconscious compulsion — one has superimposed onto the present moment. As such, it is a mechanism of escapism — an attempt to circumvent unfamiliar circumstances by relying on predictable choreographies.
In contrast, behavioural responsibility entails sensing and addressing the conditions of the situation as it actually presents itself, without any additional embellishment of presumed intentions, risks and outcomes. It is to approach the situation afresh, integrating oneself into it as an active participant capable of expressing agency. To respond is to behave from considered observation (of oneself, of the situation at hand), rather than solely impulse.
In their lecture, Hedva presents an early iteration of their Sick Woman Theory
. Drawing on their experience of chronic illness and its impact on mobility, making it physically impossible for Hedva to enter public spaces and participate in protest demonstrations, the theory speaks of an embodied, internalised protest and ‘insists that the body and mind are sensitive and reactive to regimes of oppression, particularly our current regime of neoliberal, white supremacist, imperial-capitalist, cisheteropatriarchy. That our bodies and minds carry the historical trauma of this. That it is the world itself that is making and keeping us sick.’3
3. Hedva, J. 2015, My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic But I Also Love It & Want it to Matter Politically. [online] 7th October, Women’s Center for Creative Work, Los Angeles. Available at: vimeo.com/144782433
Hedva’s theory eschews the modern clinical gaze
that configures a division between not only mind and body, but that further segments anatomy through the scrutiny of localised pathology.4
4. 'The space of configuration of the disease and the space of localization of the illness in the body have been superimposed, in medical experience, for only a relatively short period of time—the period that coincides with nineteenth-century medicine and the privileges accorded to pathological anatomy.’ Foucault, M. (1973) The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception. Translated by A.M Sheridan. London: Routledge. pp.3-4
This gaze, which echoes the compartmentalising operations of the archive, is limited in its ability to recognise the ripples and resonances of one area of the body radiating towards another
— how, for example, recurrent stomach aches, arising from prolonged financial precarity, may trigger the release of stress hormones, which in turn may manifest insomnia, acne, and appetite loss. Further, the gaze’s hyper-fixation on locality truncates its urgency to critique wider sociological frameworks — that is to say, our economic ideals, our labour norms, our educational curriculum — that erode bodily and psychological functioning.
In contrast, Hedva’s holistic conception of not only the mind within the body (and vice versa), but also the body of the individual within society at large, offers more than only a re-imagining of the act of protest — it further proposes a re-imagining of the archive’s prognosis. What if the archive were to be understood as a body
who bears chronic sickness? After all, surely no other experiencing of illness could be more apt for an archive. What if the archive were a body who has survived
ideological regimes, both past and current — but whose immune system has been so over-stimulated
it has become hostile to the very stories for which it was supposed to serve as a host. Hostile yet host
, wounded yet persisting
I want to make a case now for the callous as an analogy for trauma, not the scar […] The scar is a mark on the surface that shows that something happened beneath it but is now passed and is over. A callous is something that builds up to protect the part of the body being used, and then it continues to be used. It’s not over, it doesn’t end. […] I want to propose the callous when thinking about sickness and trauma because it means that instead of rejecting these experiences, moving on, and getting over them, silencing them, and of thinking of them as something that will and ought to end, instead we envelop them into our daily, lived, accumulating and embodying experience.5
5. Hedva, J. 2015, My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic But I Also Love It & Want it to Matter Politically. [online] 7th October, Women’s Center for Creative Work, Los Angeles. Available at: vimeo.com/144782433
“The amygdala’s evolutionary duty is to prepare the body for moments when it needs to maximise its chances of survival — for instance, by stimulating adrenaline and cortisol, in order to run away or battle an opponent. Such hormones momentarily lower your ability to perceive pain — so, you can run faster and further when you would otherwise be overwhelmed by the burn of your lungs. You also won’t notice how severe your wounds are until the fight is over. In cases of chronic anxiety, it’s theorised that the amygdala is ‘misfiring’ — that is to say, reacting in moments when no actual threat is present. This can be a result of habitual conditioning — a learnt response of sorts. After excess exposure, those hormones begin to have a polluting effect on the body. The body’s need to survive becomes its sickness, and its sickness is a testament to its ongoing survival.”
“From where did the idea that hosts are hospitable emerge? I cannot recall an experience of having been hosted in a hospital that was hospitable…”
“Foucault describes this approach as 'classificatory thought', solidified in hospitals in part to advance this new understanding of the body. It is an approach which eventually became the focus of medical education, which circumvents the living patient. The knowledge is amassed by opening corpses (19th century) and localizing disease by other means (MRI and CT-scanning in the 20th century). Classificatory thoughts (ie. Linnaeus, DSM-V) group phenomena according to external similarities to achieve 'truth' through 'objective' descriptions of what is visible, thus increasingly locating the truth in abstract understandings of disease and causation. In this way, biological reductionism splits the body (already split from the mind) of the medicalised body, detaching it from the society and culture in which we live. The question is how it could and should be done differently....”
“The body defined as a single physical object loaded with history and subjective meaning? Or do we have to read this body as 'the society'?”
“This thought is certainly not dominant in the biomedical discourse, but there are certainly authors and doctors, including myself, who approach the body (and by that I mean the mind, body and brain) in this way. Bessel van der Kolk's beautiful book ‘The Body Keeps the Score’ is an example.”
“A person who has suffered injury learns the new conditions of their body as though it is a new body, like a baby learning their own body. This is because the body is materially different after experiencing injury. This is true for any kind of trauma, as any trauma (including psychological trauma) is located in the body . The synaptic relays of the brain alter after a traumatic experience — a physical change that manifests psychological signs. We revalidate ourselves by re-establishing awareness of the present physical reality. When we over-think — making the process highly intellectual, becoming detached from the body’s reality — we might experience anxiety and distress. Anxiety is our body making us aware of its urgency and presence. As adults, we have an unfortunate habit of approaching recovery in a cerebral way — usually because we have a vivid and recent memory of how we used to do something prior to sustaining a trauma, and we measure ourselves against that memory. Take, for example, burn-out. Burn-out is your body’s self-defence mechanism — it’s a protest. Put bluntly, your body is stopping you from working yourself to death. After experiencing burn-out, some people have this idea that recovery means working towards getting back to their old self and that’s how they gauge their recovery — whether they resemble that former image. Recovery doesn't necessarily have to be that. It can also be creating and accepting a new image in an old home.”
“A quote from Moshe Feldenkrais, translated from a lecture that he gave at the School of Psychological Sciences in Tel Aviv:
‘The dichotomy between the body and spirit is unacceptable to the mind. There exists a unity between the two that at its foundation relates to either energy or matter. […] How could we ever conceive matter as being separate from the spirit? How is it that we are told about all kinds of phenomena, thinking emotions, without being occupied with bodily, psychological and neurological systems? How can we think there is no relation between the human and the cosmos? […] There is a strong relation between the cosmos, astronomy, the body and its nervous system. All this impacts the body, the environment, the public, the culture. All this involves the neurological system.’”
“There is a commentary in the Shulchan Aruch
that says a mourner or a sick person does not have to stand up for even a nasi [the equivalent of a president or prime minister]. According to the codex, it is appropriate that if one’s friend – either sick or in mourning – wants to stand up [eg. to show respect, such as when exchanging greetings], then one should pay them tribute to remain seated. However, one should not directly say ‘be seated’ to them, as then it seems as though one is saying: ‘Remain [seated] in your mourning or sickness’. The implication is: we should not tell a sick person to ‘get over’ it – we should acknowledge [the differentiated extent of ability, as determined by] their state and appropriately support the individual, but we should not verbalise a commentary – and certainly not a personal judgement – on their state.”
JB in dialogue with HDH: “Which world are we talking about here and whose world is it? Nas [Nasir bin Olu Dara Jones, an American rapper] said: ‘the world is yours…’, but can we really construct our worlds ourselves? Hedva’s statement is, I suppose, a reflection of how ‘the world’ has been configured by a limited group – people in positions with more power, more agency. These are configurations that precede our own lifetimes – inherited and further facilitated. Again, that facilitation is exercised by a relatively limited group – for instance, back in 2019, only 10% of adults in the world own 85% of global wealth.* What then is the role of the majority? How do we go about imagining new configurations? How do we channel antibodies for a sick world?”
* Source: Credit Suisse Research Institute, Global wealth report 2019, published October 2019.
JB in dialogue with HDH: “Back when I was living in The Hague, before we met, I used to visit [a building frequented by both JB and HDH before knowing one another]. I would learn Tai chi there. Tai chi, like acupuncture, is centred around ‘chi’. Chi means ‘life force’ – similar to the Hebrew word, ‘chaim’, which also means life. Chi is channeled through nodes and meridians in the body that can be inhibited or blocked, because of an underlying cause located elsewhere. This ‘elsewhere’ is relative to where the symptoms are initially detected. For example, you might have noticed a pain in your foot, but it could actually be indicative of strain in one of your central organs. In that school of thought, there is no separation between body and spirit. So, if there is a physical manifestation of unbalance, it will have an impact on the expression of your life force – something that in clinical psychology might be deemed a ‘mood imbalance’ or something to that effect.
In the context of western medical research, I see that there has begun to emerge an urgency to acknowledge this vital relation between the physical and psychological, prompting studies and a re-evaluation of the limitations that the existing medical paradigm presents. For example, Dr. Mai Chin a Paw – currently the Research Chair professor at Amsterdam University Medical Center – spoke about a preventative approach to healthcare during her appointment speech, back in 2014. Her research is concerned with the health implications of a lack of physical movement. Generally speaking, when we think about ‘exercise’, we tend to think of an activity that has its own designated, demarcated timeslot – for example, going to the gym every Tuesday and Wednesday evening for a couple of hours. However, Dr. Chin a Paw’s research found that this kind of approach isn’t necessarily preventative of health complaints; it’s not the intensity of the exercise, but rather the frequency of movement throughout our everyday life that actually strengthens one’s immune system. Daily movement is also thought to improve cognitive and mental health. Perhaps because when moving – even if it's a very small, light movement – the whole body is activated and engaged, present and responsive. So, surely this too applies for one’s spirit, one’s life force.”
Gaps, holes, crevices
(listen to extract)
. These are the words with which Carmen Maria Machado, author of The Dream House
, describes the landscape of the archive. The Dream House brings together a series of episodic vignettes, forming a memoir of a relationship in which Machado’s lover designates her as the primary recipient of furious jealousy and bouts of rage. Whether the lover’s behaviour is a conscious exercise of precise and purposeful torment or is rather the explosive regurgitation of unreconciled pain is unanswerable. As the relationship ensues, Machado’s estrangement is only further exasperated by the absence of other comparable narratives within the context of queer relationships.
That no such history has been gathered should not be mistaken as a confirmation that such situations possess no historical preface; all it confirms is that we do not today have at our disposal a language with which to address such experiences. Such mutism can be traced back to the wider absence of queer-stories within canonically accepted histories of sexuality, romance and community. On this point, I must return to a question posed earlier — how and where in the archive does one house trauma?
— and expand it to include why should an archive house trauma
? It strikes me that there is a correlation to be drawn here: a link between the lack of exosomatic memory
— archival utterances
— recounting the trauma that is often bound up in the experience of inhabiting and being inscribed with a queer identity in a socio-political environment dominated by heteronormative ideology, and the seeming aphasia that inhibits one from identifying destructive interpersonal transactions
within a queer relationship. How can we possibly begin to interrogate such transactions
— which typically emerge as a desperate externalising of prolonged alienation and unaddressed suffering — when we do not have words, stories, documents with which to retrace and contextualise one’s primordial wounds
? That is to say: the silences that extend across generations, that hover over and permeate our intimacies, existing in social consciousness only as gaps, holes, crevices — prompting the often unwitting perpetuation of mechanisms of dismissal, trivialisation, and erasure.
Primordial wounds are much like spectres that live both within and amongst us. It is the mood fluctuations that I inherited from my mother, ever anticipating the return of the hurricane. It is the self-doubt your father bequeathed you — an echo of how he questioned his own right to be, to breathe, to occupy the space of existence that was his own life. It is the heart palpitations and hyper-vigilance we share with those whose lives long predated our own but whose bodies were inscribed with the same identities
as us — those who knew too well this precarious negotiation of inside and Outside, here and Elsewhere.
By producing language, images, narratives with which to speak of and through trauma — to be an interlocutor with these ghosts
— we not only acknowledge and soothe the primordial wound, thereby integrating it within social consciousness, but also to the other ruptures and fractures that are often borne of it. This task begins with articulating the gap — that is, writing from within the space of that which is absent. One must inhale the silence, deeply and attentively, in order to propel the words with which one will authorise histories in the now.
The architecture of this archive will not be fixed. Rather it is ephemeral, fragile, wandering
. It will not catalogue its contents in a chronological fashion, but rather shall unfurl along the prosody of meandering, code-switching, associative conversations
— even if such conversations be with oneself — readily shifting between temporalities and geographies in a single sentence.
This archive declares: ‘As far as my identity is concerned, I will take care of it myself. That is, I shall not allow it to become cornered in any essence.
1. Glissant, É. (1997). Poetics of Relation. Translated by Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p.190-192
Embracing its illegibilities, it rejects the dogma of transparency and reduction. It may stutter, dawdle, panic, go on and on and on — all the while forgoing the niceties of punctuation in favour of urgency. Sometimes it simply sighs, and, in doing so, it testifies to the courage of allowing one’s breath to escape, in spite of the risk of it not necessarily returning.
This is an archive woven of opacities, inviting its listeners, its readers, to dwell ‘on the texture of the weave and not on the nature of its components’
2. Glissant, É. (1997). Poetics of Relation. Translated by Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p.190-192
for it has retired itself of that ‘old obsession with discovering what lies at the bottom of natures.’3
3. Glissant, É. (1997). Poetics of Relation. Translated by Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. p.190-192
It makes no apologies or disclaimers for having its secrets — in-jokes, oblique references, love notes.
This is the embodied archive
— the archive ever circulating within you, for which you are both the abode and the custodian
. It exists there, along the tide of your breath, cradled by your ribs, always present and animated — confirming that amongst the ghosts, there is surely life
“I was once offered a tour through a municipal archive, during which the head archivist spoke at length about a colleague of his — a historian. In a voice that seemed to move between restrained affection and gentle resentment, he described how his colleague makes ‘little fictions’ from the archive’s documents. ‘Fictions’, because his histories are only ever an interpretation of the archive’s documents. ‘Historians always get a lot of praise for their research,’ the archivist remarked, ‘but people don’t see all the effort involved in truly preserving the past. We archivists don’t pick and choose what is or isn’t interesting — what is or isn’t on trend — we want to, and we will, keep everything.’ He then went on to excitedly describe how the building was due to be renovated and extended over the coming years. I then asked: ‘But what will you do if there’s ever, I dunno, an earthquake or flood and you lose everything?’. The thought seemed too much for him to contemplate, and instead he began to explain how innovative the temperature control system is….
Is it true that archivists don’t pick and choose? I didn’t ask him, and I doubt he’d tell me anything but fiction even if I had.”
“Transactions — the word implies a motion of gesturing, a choreography that moves across and encounters another, someone who can receive and respond to these movements as though a familiar dance…
What kinds of choreographies do our muscles memorise and habitually repeat — impulsively — as though one’s survival depends on it? What words do we utter again and again, going through the motions of the same scene but with revolving actors? How much free will and agency does one have in these echoes. Are the roles truly so clearly assigned and performed? How far and yet how close are self-preservation and self-destruction?”
“O— asks: ‘How would we live differently if we necessarily had to live in the fashion of Maroons? Maroons could leave behind no trace of their presence, their movements — for doing so would risk exposing their hiding place. How would we live if we knew we would leave behind no material reminders that we were once here. I answered: ‘I don’t know how to explain why I think this, but I deeply feel that we would cherish each other so much more — knowing that this moment is all there is. This moment contains the whole world, the whole cosmos even, and it’s all perishing — you, me, this earth, the stars and the sun too — it’s all perishing every second, all at once.’”
“A friend and I walked through the Hague. Halfway along the Wagenstraat, I pointed to a nail salon and explained that this used to be a restaurant — the first I ever visited in The Hague, almost ten years ago. And eighty years earlier, it was a small ‘shul’ (synagogue). Eventually, we arrived at the Rabbijn Maarsenplein, approaching the gates of the Nieuwe Kerk.
My friend turned to me and remarked: ‘You know, sometimes monuments are made of stone — or some other material of great weight — embossed and imprinted with words and dates. But sometimes a monument is an empty school or home. The house may very well be occupied anew, but the home never again received the presence of those who previously dwelt there — those who never returned. Sometimes a monument consists of not what is there, but what and who is not. Absence suffers an immense gravity — much heavier than any material.’
‘That is true,’ I tell her, ‘Though we should also remember that gravity plays an essential role in the act of orienting and propelling oneself. Did you know that gravity even influences the particles of oxygen in your lungs — affecting the mechanics of respiration, of breathing? Do you know what that means? It means that every single sigh — whether shaded by exhaustion, love or frustration, a mundane testament to one’s existence — is an articulation of resistance? To push air through one’s lips, to rise anew, to walk is — quite literally — to counter the pull of gravity. Gravity is not solely a force of suffering — rather, it is an invitation to resistance. Breathing, no matter how quiet, ruptures the silence of absence.’”
“On resisting transparency: today I was interviewed and was asked if there is a central theme in my practice – I answered: “I would describe it as a question – namely: what kind of knowledge and perspectives emerge from the experience of inhabiting a position that appears as compromised? In other words: when one encounters limitations – eg. to be in a pose that is awkward, restrictive, perhaps even demeaning – what routes towards self-understanding, perhaps even self-empowerment, present themselves? For example, I am often described as an ethnic minority — more specifically, I am often addressed with terms that situate me in a certain paradigm of racial categorisation. This is a process of what can be called ‘racialisation’ — and we can often take those kinds of categorisations as objective descriptions, but they aren’t. Where do these categories come from? What purpose have they served in the past? It’s important to ask these questions — to think about the language one is using and how it shapes one’s ideas about both one’s self and other. So, when I am described, for instance, as ‘mixed race’ — because I have a father who is read as ‘white’ and a mother who is read as ‘black’ — I find that kind of wording very limiting and dubious. It’s a frustrating experience, but because of that very frustration I feel compelled to question the concept of how society conceptualises ethnicity, marginalisation, the idea of being in ‘the minority’. So, what I mean is: the external limitation creates a kind of internal expansion in one’s thinking. This is a kind of resistance. Think of it like this — if someone is holding you in so tightly you can’t really move, you will naturally start to look for different ways of moving — you will start to notice all the little spaces where you do have room to move, even if the majority of your body is restricted and limited. By concentrating on those small spaces and the possibilities that these spaces propose, you find a way to loosen the grip of the other person. You find a way to free yourself, if only just somewhat — but that ‘somewhat’ contains a multitude.”
“Could it not be the case that if the trauma(s) –– think, for instance, of severe childhood adverse events –– are not discussed the traumatic traces are stored in the body with a high chance that they are passed on intergenerationally? Or is it indeed the lack of words? How healing can an empathetic ear be?”
“Do traumatized people 'know' how (and how deeply) they are inscribed?”
“Defined as…? There is a problem in the sense that 'identical' has two senses, corresponding respectively to the Latin ‘idem’ and ‘ipse’. According to the first sense, identical means: exactly the same, and consequently: immutable, unchanging over time. According to the second sense ‘ipse’, identical means: own, and is therefore opposed to other or foreign. The aporia consists in the fact that reflection is seeking a notion of identity that combines the two senses of the world: the identity of what is the same and the identity of what is similar. In line with Ricoeur, one can argue that this narrative constructs the enduring character of a character –what we can call the character's narrative identity – by constructing the kind of dynamic identity of a well-told story. I propose that it is in the plot of our life-story that we have to seek the mediation between permanence and change. Aren't we constantly refiguring our-self(s) in relation to what we tell 'the other'?”
“What lies lie at the bottom? Do we know that they are lies?”
The Relationship Bill of Rights
by Eve Rickert and Franklin Veaux
“Similarly we are both abode and custodian to our inner-child as well, that child requiring our acknowledgement of their experienced neglect, abuse and enmeshment. As trauma is located in the body, the embodied archive might – besides housing trauma – also be able to heal it.”
Any Single Thing
in The Nick of Time by Rosemarie Waldrop, p. 52.
“When I am alone and look into the mirror...I sometimes transcend myself, and see tomorrow, today.”
Hannah Dawn Henderson (1991) is an artist and writer, based in The Hague. Her artistic practice is underpinned by a research drive that sees lyrical narratives accompanied by (choreo)graphic and haptic methods of image handling. The resulting works — films, texts and installations — explore what kinds of sensibilities and knowledge can arise from the experience of inhabiting positions that are characterised by liminal and illegible qualities. In turn, this enquiry stimulates critical reflections on how bodies become politicised/political entities, whilst simultaneously remaining individual vessels in which singular, autobiographical experiences are compiled.
Rana Ghavami (1984) has been teaching design education since 2013 and is currently conducting research for ArtEZ University of the Arts. Parallel to this, Ghavami organizes and facilitates workshops and a lecture series for Studium Generale (‘How on Earth?’, Still, against all logic, ‘One more time, with feelings’). She is also working on self-initiated projects such as frontlinie.org, together with Roel Griffioen, and Center for Reproductive Labour, together with Sakiko Sugawa. Ghavami lives and works in Amsterdam.
Lotte Lara Schröder (1988) navigates the study of ecological natural phenomena through a narrative voice emanating from the realm of personal experience. Balancing her practice on the border between pragmatic and poetic, her works manifest as drawings, printed matter, soundworks/installation and video. Touching upon her background in design, her works are often underpinned by graphical frameworks and formats.
Her ongoing research has most recently brought her to contemplate volcanic energy. Since receiving the Talent Development grant from the Stimuleringsfonds, her main focus has been developing various works all deriving from her research into Volcanoes as; art object, subject, social surrounding, anomalies, distructors, and ground to look into the more personal and poetic aspects of this predominantly scientific topics.
Yael Davids (1968) is a performance-installation artist and Feldenkrais instructor, living and working in Amsterdam. Davids examines the capacities in which the body operates as a documentary vessel in connection to collective heritage, political narratives and private biographies. As a trained instructor in the somatic practice of the Feldenkrais Method, Davids employs the method as a device for examining how the forces of psychology and physics influence perception, movement, relationality, and self-awareness. Composed of performative, sculptural, and archival elements, her works often take the form of choreographic assemblages.
Bert Derkx specialises in a medical approach in which he tries to question and broaden the western biomedical approach of the body. Until 2010, he worked at the Academical Medical Center (AMC) as a paediatrician with the sub-specialisation gastroenterology and later on in behavioural paediatrics. His interest in the mind-body relationship drove him to start training in psychoanalysis, completing this education in 1998, working mostly in the area of what (western) medicine calls ‘psychosomatic disorders’. He is also an advisor at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten, Amsterdam.
Vincent Smith is an artist and counsellor focused on healing relationships – with others, ourselves, our environment, and our Source – through honesty and congruence with reality in a difficult world.
Karolina Rupp (1988) is an artist based in The Hague, working primarily in site-responsive sculpture, installation and performance. She grew up in South Africa and has spent the last years in The Netherlands. Besides her art related studies, she holds a BA in Anthropology and Sociology from the University of South Africa. Her interest lies in the relationship between art and everyday life; through phenomenological and new materialist methods, her works explore the overlaps between what is real or found and what is performed or constructed. Understanding the body (as distinct from the mind) as a vessel of knowledge, especially in relation to the ecological environment, is at the core of her working process.
Joost Blokker (1992) is an independent anthropologist with a background in environmental studies. In his various research trajectories, Blokker analyses stigmatizing discourses in contrast to people’s lived experiences. He has investigated houselessness in conceived and lived space, inequality in participatory politics, and the unfolding of integration policies in The Netherlands. During his master studies he expanded his research field to ritual studies, studying digital Jewish rituals during the Covid-19 lockdowns of 2021. He aspires to further excavate how ritual practices have the potential to produce experiences of connectedness to symbolic communities, in contrast to stereotypical discourses reifying homogenizing depictions. Parallel to his anthropological pursuits, he is also keenly interested in somatically-oriented recuperative practices and socio-ecological sustainability.
Butler, J. 1993. ‘Critically Queer’. GLQ: A Journal of Lesbian and Gay Studies.
Vol. 1. pp.17-32
Foucault, M. (1972) The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language.
Translated by A. M. Sheridan Smith. New York: Pantheon Books
Foucault, M. (1973) The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception.
Translated by A.M Sheridan. London: Routledge.
Glissant, É. (1997). Poetics of Relation.
Translated by Betsy Wing. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press
Hartmen, S. 2008, ’Venus in Two Acts’. Small axe: a journal of criticism.
Vol. 12. No. 2. pp.1-14
Jung, C.G, Jaffé, A. (ed.) (1965) Memories, Dreams, Reflections.
Translated by Richard and Clara Winston. New York: Random House Books
Machado, C.M. (2019). In the Dream House: a memoir.
Minneapolis: Graywolf Press
Hedva, J. 2015, My Body Is a Prison of Pain so I Want to Leave It Like a Mystic But I Also Love It & Want it to Matter Politically. [online] 7th October, Women’s Center for Creative Work, Los Angeles.
Available at: vimeo.com/144782433
and the rest of the bookshelf...
Conversations with our mothers.
Uttered stories that have no title nor end.
An autobiography of the autobiography of reading (2001) by Dionne Brand
“Speaking Nearby”: A Conversation with Trinh T. Minh-Ha (1992) by Nancy N. Chen
The Body Keeps Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2015), by Bessel van der Kolk, MD
Embodied Wisdom: The Collected Papers of Moshe Feldenkrais (2010), edited by Elizabeth Beringer
Empire (2000) by Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt
All About Love: New Visions (2000) by bell hooks
I and Thou (1937) by Martin Buber.
The Souls of Black Folk (1903) by W.E.B Du Bois
White Innocence: Paradoxes of Colonialism and Race. (2016) by Gloria Wekker
A Collection of Parables: Route of Flowers (2022) by Ratu R Saraswati
A Lover’s Discourse: Fragments (1977) by Roland Barthes
Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants (2013) by Robin Wall Kimmerer
The Ear of the Other (1985) by Jacque Derrida
Ain’t I A Woman? (1981) by bell hooks
Unpacking my library (1931) by Walter Benjamin
The Archive who Breathes
was commissioned by ArtEZ Studium Generale, curated by Rana Ghavami.
Website design by Lotte Lara Schröder, build together with Glenn Ryszko.
ArtEZ Studium Generale curates and organises gatherings, talks, training courses, podcasts and publications about the state of the arts and its relation to today’s challenges.
The project was developed during Hannah Dawn Henderson’s residency at the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. The printed text was produced
in the academy’s Print Lab, with the support of technician Pieter Verweij.
For their support, guidance and trust, Hannah Dawn would also like to thank:
Rana Ghavami, Lotte Lara Schröder, Karin de Jong, the team at PrintRoom, Yael Davids, Bert Derkx, Karolina Rupp, Joost Blokker, Vincent Smith, Kees van Leeuwen, Andrea Knézović, Ansuya Blom, Pieter Verweij, Emily Pethick, Virág Szentkirályi.