Several Things I've Been About

Friday afternoon, I listened to a professor speak about the importance of glaciers to the reconstruction of past climates, and about the ways in which you could use that information to speculate on global climate systems and cycles. She ended on what one might call a more speculative note, almost thinking about glaciers both as physical record and metaphorical image. Glaciers, she said, do not play politics. There is unmistakable visual evidence that they are melting, disappearing at rapid rates, with profound political and ecological consequences for all of us. But it's not only that, she said, As these glaciers are disappearing, melting into the ground, so too are our paleoclimate records disappearing. In a very real and physical way, our access to this data - this memory of climate, if you will - is melting.

Then this weekend I started a book entitled Dust. It's by Carolyn Steedman, and while I haven't exactly sussed out the full implications of her work, she's playing around - though seriously - with questions of the archive and history, and the always problematic process of writing a past from a present. But one of the things she encounters is the way in which archives don't often say anything at all. In other words, the narrative content, the bringing-to-life that one might take as ethos or ambition of historical writing, is often absent in the archive. What you find, instead, is an absence of those things. In a strange way, then, history gets written out of what's missing from the archive.

That in turn came back in a different way this afternoon. The LA Public Library sponsors a series of free public events, and today's talk was the second of three loosely grouped around the idea of "Ground Truth". Without delving too deeply into the substance of the talk - a really fascinating project entitled "Invisible-5" - I was again struck by thinking about the ways in which it might be possible to make history visible.

I don't have much more beyond that for the moment, but coming out of the subway this evening, the sky the pale blue of what passes for winter here, a steady breeze in from off the water, and clouds still carrying something of the sun's sharp brilliance.


jenny said…
thank God for Dust! I loved this book so much, I finished it all in one day, I've been meaning to tell you. Can we talk about this?

Popular Posts