Charlie Bertsch (cbertsch) wrote,
Charlie Bertsch

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.
Tags: archive, defile, documentary impulse

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