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De File
Does Collecting Make You Feel Dirty?
Where Does the Time Go?
For so long now, I've been holding off making work on my long-term pursuits public, because I can't seem to find a format that suits them or, better said, me. Years ago, I'd hoped to turn this Live Journal into such a place, but it always felt a little too self-indulgent to go on at great length about the same topics over and over and over.

The problem with this reluctance, though, is that it has deprived me of the benefits of what I'll pretentiously and awkwardly call "externalization." When I do post something here, I remember it better and usually end up referring back to my post later on, as I return to the topic.

It could be that Google+ ends up providing that kind of "placeholder" medium in the future, once I get my new phone. Right now, though, because I was inspired by siyeh's reappearance on Live Journal today, I'm going to take tentative steps towards repurposing this mostly fallow blog towards that end.

Anyway, one of the projects I've been working on for a long, long time -- the project that motivated me to start this journal and title it "De File", in fact -- concerns a cluster of related topics: archives, collecting, memorabilia, what I call the "documentary impulse." And this Nick Paumgarten article, in this week's issue of The New Yorker, does a remarkable job of provoking questions about all of them.

Yes, it's about the Grateful Dead, which, with all due respect to my Deadhead friends, have never been a significant preoccupation of mine, musically or otherwise. But I remember, during the brief period when I attended their shows, being fascinated by the people who were set up to record them. I had the distinct impression that I was witnessing the future in that strange sight, even though the equipment was there to keep the past close at hand.

It wasn't simply that the band's openness to being documented in that way, without strings attached, pointed the way towards a world where sharing content, however legally, was paramount. I also recognized, on a crude, pre-theoretical level, that the unique perspective captured by each taper was as important as the concert itself, in the abstract, if not more so. That is, what was being documented wasn't the show from the simulated "God's Ear" of the soundboard, but the experience of listening from a location that could never aspire to the illusion of objectivity.

Here's a telling passage from Paumgarten's piece (which, because of the way The New Yorker configures their site, is easiest to reproduce as an image):
A passage from Nick Paumgarten's 11-26-12 New Yorker piece about the Grateful Dead and the vast archive of their recorded concerts
That final sentence, "We like what we like," is one that resonates for me in relation to my other big long-term project, centered on questions of taste. But the take-home point from this paragraph where my interest in the "documentary impulse" is concerned is the way in which a sense of perspective, of distinctly mortal "thereness", is precisely what makes the recording in question special to those who care about it.

There's a wealth of good reading in this piece, if you are anywhere as interested in this kind of thing as a I am, as well as plenty to excite any of you who may be Grateful Dead fans. I don't want this placeholder of a post to reach the length where I will start feeling bad for its fragmentary, hastily assembled character, so I'll bring this entry to a close simply by noting the title I gave it and how that bears on my project. Specifically, I'm always fascinated to ponder the paradox that the urge to capture an experience by recording it, in some fashion, ends up either creating a backlog of archives that bear heavily on the present -- often literally -- because they are stored away and not reexperienced or leads to a situation in which spending time reexperiencing the past through these recordings takes time away from living in the now.

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11 comments or Leave a comment
From: batdina Date: November 25th, 2012 09:49 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
speaking as a Deadhead whose subscription to the New Yorker died along with her income, I wish to thank you profusely for the link to this article I might not otherwise have known about.

also? nice to see you!
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 27th, 2012 10:06 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
(Sorry for the delay in replying. LJ was down -- of course -- when I had time to answer comments yesterday.)

I was thinking of you when I posted this, of course. It's a really fun read, with much food for thought.
siyeh From: siyeh Date: November 25th, 2012 10:49 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I always feel like if I'm not archiving "the past," the somehow the experience wasn't as good or as authentic. And somehow I associate my failure to document in the last couple years with my overall dissatisfaction. But at one point, weirdly, I convinced myself that I wasn't writing because I was happy...
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 27th, 2012 10:11 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
(Sorry for the delay in replying. LJ was down -- of course -- when I had time to answer comments yesterday.)

I've been having a major crisis with regard to my archival tendencies. I have failed to document quite a bit over the past year-plus. And I haven't kept the pledge I made to myself to start turning all the shit I have stored away into something meaningful. Maybe it's just a phase.

I will say, though, that, even when I've convinced myself that I'm not writing and/or sharing my writing because I'm happy or busy or not desperate for affirmation, I was fooling myself. I'm not happy when I'm not writing for a public. And I'm not writing for a public much when I'm not happy.
alsoname From: alsoname Date: November 26th, 2012 03:25 am (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
It occurs to me that I've never (knowingly) heard a Grateful Dead song in my life.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 27th, 2012 10:08 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
(Sorry for the delay in replying. LJ was down -- of course -- when I had time to answer comments yesterday.)

I had the same thought as a teenager. But then their comeback album Touch of Grey came out and their music was on the radio all of a sudden, including older songs.
alsoname From: alsoname Date: November 27th, 2012 11:41 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Funnily enough, just last night I was watching Salvation Boulevard, a film in which the Grateful Dead's music was prominently featured. So now I can't say that I've never knowingly heard the Grateful Dead. Of course, I don't really remember how the song went ...
mallorys_camera From: mallorys_camera Date: November 26th, 2012 01:09 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
I liked that article a lot. But my God -- "postlapsarian"?

Mostly what I liked about the Grateful Dead, though, was not their music per se, but how far off the grid they were. I still find myself humming Friend of the Devil on those vast interstitial distances between country music stations on long car rides.
cbertsch From: cbertsch Date: November 27th, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
(Sorry for the delay in replying. LJ was down -- of course -- when I had time to answer comments yesterday.)

There's a way in which New Yorker articles always seem to make their subject matter more important than it would otherwise seem to be. And the Grateful Dead, to their fans, have always been a lot more important than anyone else thinks they are. So maybe the term fits in that context.

The off-the-gridness attracted me, too, especially when I initially became interested them -- see my comment above -- as a teenager because I knew they were a phenomenon in the 80s but had somehow, in that pre-file sharing, pre-YouTube era, never heard any of their music.

I do think that taping culture and the distribution networks that made it into a collective enterprise have a lot to tell us about how social networks unfold. I suppose pre-internet porn culture does as well, but the Dead provide a more wholesome alternative!

mallorys_camera From: mallorys_camera Date: November 27th, 2012 10:52 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
have a lot to tell us about how social networks unfold

Oh, definitely. Do you know the Well? It's like the (many ellipses go here) great-grand daddy of all social media, and I discovered it in like 1989 which makes me a veritable horsetail among Internet users. Anway, back in the early days, three-quarters of the Well's user base was Deadheads trading tapes. They really got the use of the medium. Took the rest of the world aa long time -- and millions of miles of fiber optic cabling -- to catch up;.
elizabeg From: elizabeg Date: December 4th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC) (LINK TO SPECIFIC ENTRY)
Good to see you here! I've been rather absent from these spaces myself lately too and keep finding myself wishing I had a public to write for or, alternately, simply something to say. I randomly added a bunch of food blogs to the Google Reader app on my phone in a vain hope that reading more--of anything--would somehow get me writing again. But I just find myself wishing their lives were my lives, as if transposing their pristine kitchens into my messy apartment would somehow make everything make sense. But I digress. Good to see you here, as I said--and hope to see you in AZ this winter!
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