#10 'The Archive of Affect Aliens' - 17/04/18

For our tenth and penultimate session, we will consider Sara Ahmed's body of work in relation to the recurring trope of the archive. Ahmed's own oeuvre, as we've explored this year, forms its own kind of archive, housing a litany of affect aliens, including strangers, killjoys, wilful subjects and many more. In 'Happy Objects' (2010), Ahmed excavates the 'unhappy archives'; she opens Willful Subjects (2014) with 'A Willfullness Archive'; meanwhile The Promise of Happiness (2010) and Living a Feminist Life (2017) discuss the importance of feminist and killjoy archives.

As background reading on the role and significance of archives, we recommend reading Michel Foucault's ‘The Historical a priori and the Archive’ from The Archaeology of Knowledge and the Discourse on Language (1972), accessible here.

Below, we have collected passages from different essays by Sara Ahmed that best exemplify her position on archives. We recommend reading these short excerpts before the session, but we have linked the full articles for those interested in reading further.
  • In the introduction to a special issue of New Formations, entitled 'Sexism - A Problem With A Name,' Sara Ahmed imagines archives as resistance. She writes:
"Our sexism archive is full. Our archive is stuffed. Our archive includes not only the documents of sexism; the fragments that combine to record an upheaval. The archive makes the document into a verb: to document is to refuse to agree to something, to refuse to stay silent about something. Bodies are part of this archive; voices too. Our archive is an archive of rebellion. It testifies to a struggle. To struggle for an existence is to transform an existence. [...] there is hope in the assembly." (13) 
  • In her blog post, 'Evidence,' Ahmed speaks of the importance of collecting stories of sexism (as well as sexual harassment and racism). She suggests:
"Add it to the archive is an expression that allows us to think that an experience however difficult might have use value as evidence (we have somewhere to put it; we have a place for it to go). But of course when I say “add it to the archive” I say so with a degree of skepticism; if that archive is already stuffed, more evidence might be what we do not need. [...] Evidence: what you accumulate when you are not given places to go. This is why: we need somewhere to go with our evidence. We need feminist deposit systems. Everyday Sexism and Strategic Misogyny are places we can go, virtual sites in which we can insert our stories, so they generate a collective."
  • Also in 'Evidence,' Sara Ahmed stresses how we must notice what the archive excludes. As she explains:
"Evidence of violence can be removed. There is violence in the removal of evidence of violence. Documents can disappear from an archive because of what they would reveal. In 2011, an archive became public: a collection of documents, 8,800 files to be exact, from 37 former British colonies. They are called the Foreign and Commonwealth Office Migrated Archives. These documents are held at the highly-secure government communications centre at Hanslope Park in Buckinghamshire. These documents form a necessarily incomplete archive. We can read that history of incompletion; we can read what has gone missing. Because included in this archive are documents that document destruction; that document how the destruction of documents is willed as policy. We have now access to papers that issued instructions for the systematic destruction of other papers, an instruction made in 1961 by the secretary of state for the colonies."

Based on these passages, and our knowledge and awareness of the many archives that permeate Ahmed's work, we want to consider: how archives form part of a feminist toolbox; how we can excavate pre-existing archives and recalibrate them as part of an intersectional feminist project; the importance of archives as a public project (etymologically, the word 'archive' has roots in the Greek for 'public records').

This is also intended to be a kind of conclusion to our year of reading Ahmed's body of work together, and so we also welcome more general questions or comments, indications of ways that Ahmed's works have informed your thinking, and remarks on this year's Quilting Points.

All welcome!

Details: Tuesday 17th April, 5pm-6:30pm, Packhorse Pub, 208 Woodhouse Lane, Leeds LS2 9DX


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