Object Retrieval and Abject Refusal: Conversational Processes in Knowledge Conservation (& all Attendant Silences)


Halfway in to this post I note that Richard has pre-empted me and is working on post entitled 'The Turn Of The Screw', which suggests the violence of curatorial processes, which here I will extrapolate further, waywardly (always an unfinished job):

In response to a post-it note (blue, but I'm turning it yellow)*:

"Conservation practices - was this a botch job?"

1. The object is inside a perspex case inside a perspex case. The case closest to this object is, to me, ugly (OR: it was to me ugly - I am growing fonder of it somehow, but still...), Its casing and the note that I found unsettled a thought that I had had, on seeing the object (encased) for the first time: that a certain amount of violence has been done to it in the course of its preservation.

2. We can note from the photographs the over-large screw screwed into the bottom of the toy-car to mount it, and around this we (the research provocateurs) seemed early to agree on the violence implied in the shabbiness to the overall presentation, the conditions under which the object must be retrieved (and / or rescued from).

3. Hinged on the Pathology Collection's preservation methods, a certain pathos (from the Greek: fate, harm). The meeting between the object and the boy's body was fateful, harmful. We presume a slow decline.

4. Jacques Derrida, in Archive Fever: something (early on) about how the archive is always for the future.

5. Here & Now: some possibilities: 5.1: that we are staging the object in order to sketch out a (seemingly tenuous) history 5.2: that this event (retrieval), finding out very little of the object's history. Our revisionism interrupts the quiet methodical tellings of its tale (recall that the model comes from a teaching collection) with wild speculations, wilfull suppositions, an awful lot of fiction and some cold, hard fact.

6. Otherwise, this history seems to begin and end in the ring-bound, typed-out notes that we house in front of the object. The collection notes, placed in front of the object, seem to be folded around it, wrapping it, and seems as though we might at some point be in danger of playing more with the packaging, less with the toy.

7. The archive, essentially a collection of teaching materials, teaches us with a quiet, curt, refusal to alter itself or its story. The object seems singular, inadmissible.

8. A current crisis: UCL are hosting an event - 'Disposal' - a series of dialogues on what to cut out and what to keep from the their wide-ranging archives.

Abjection means, literally, a state of being cast off. This object, - just one of many - might be on the verge of being cast off. Abjection has connotations of degradation, baseness, meanness of spirit. Of course, these sentiments feel far too negative, but there is a certain, if indeterminate resonance, between the fate of the Museum Collections, the fate is this object it houses, and the fate of the boy.

9. At first I considered the object immutable - incapable of change. My earlier post - 'Sweetness' - consider the changeability of the object (from toy to sweet). Today I consider the object immutable - incapable of change.

10. The observer-principles, in which the act of observation changes the thing observed, seem to me, at this early late hour,** to no longer apply. The object seems to retain its unknowable quality to the last. While it invites speculation, it declines to answer (with what Richard, in conversation, has called "deliberateness").

11. In response to the yellowing-blue post-it, this project may or may not be an act of knowledge conservation (conservation seems the wrong word given the violence already done to the object before we began to curate it). But if the original mounting was a botched job, we can't afford to botch our chance. We might consider this a critical moment in the object's history, but it is a lack of criticism (or a lack of precision in our critique) that might conserve it's history.

The object, and its attendant notes, belong to another time, another vocabulary, another set of curatorial practices, with their inherent value judgements.

12. The notes themselves seem unspeakable, and yet we have to utter them over, two impolitic phrases ("Non European Extraction" / "Mental Retardation") catching in our throats.

13. I propose here that the worst thing we could do - I mean the most aggressive, the most crass, the most unfeeling thing we could do - would to be to search for meaning, as if the object were not already meaningful, as if it were not already articulate in its sparest, most elliptical detail.

I propose it this "worst case" because somebody had to: Not because I think that we are (over) doing it; nor to congratulate ourselves on our not doing it (yet). Object Retrieval is a dialogue (not as wide as it could be, perhaps, but dialogues establish rules, the project will remain healthy if we keep altering these rules)

14. The object (for me, at the moment, at least) invokes a kind of silence, one that requires to talk and talk and talk, as a way of manoeuvre, away from the object itself towards, in one direction << its base elements, zinc, lead and other compounds (or, when under the microscope, the patterns that emerge from its handling, its tongued touch, its weathering) and in another direction >> towards (whichever way we're going...)

15. Richard's 'Turn of the Screw' proposed the following, that "we should not consider it as another stage in this object's history but the deconstruction of one object and the assemblage of another"

In (latenight-again) response:

I am reminded also, of Maurice Blanchot's statements in 'The Infinite Conversation' and 'The Space of Literature', that Research is all turning:

(R): "Searching and error then would be akin. To err is to turn and return, to give oneself up to the magic of the detour. One who goes astray, who has left the protection of the centre, turns about, himself adrift and subject to the centre, and no longer guarded by it" (Blanchot, 1993, p. 26 and 1982, p. 238, cited in Peters, 2003, www.ijea.org/v4n2/index.html, retrieved 16-10-09).

Whether we turn backwards and face the past (Moncrieff / Ford Sunliner &c), or labour in this frenzied present, or tend towards the future, I suggest that we are, in any case, in whichever direction, turning about this centre, between the object and the pages that first described it, already the beginning and end of the lesson.

16. (R): With a thought for the future I am reminded of Simon Jones' 2003 paper on the remit of practice as research: "practice-as-research potentially invokes a very different model of knowing, that moves outwards in two opposing directions simultaneously, towards the interior void of the soul and the exterior void of absolute possibility, rather than inwards towards a common ground or sense of knowing" (www.bris.ac.uk/parip/jones.htm, retrieved 16-10-09).

17. The silence has to be broken, absolutely. Speech is always interruptive and yet, it is always a welcome (Emmanuel Levinas knew this).

And I am obliged to the object, obligated to its silence which I have called, variously: immutability, abjection. But the object, of course, refuses these terms. So: the silence we are faced with as we face the object requires that we turn to each other.


Jones, S: (2003) The Courage of Complementarity (www.bris.ac.uk/parip/jones.htm, retrieved 16-10-09)

Peters, G:(2003) The Aestheticization of Research in the Thought of Maurice Blanchot, www.ijea.org/v4n2/index.html, retrieved 16-10-09)