Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Lessons from the archive II: as the days dwindle down to a precious few

When I arrived and started working, it felt as though I had all the time in the world here. I could pursue some loose ends, look at letters of minor interest, and so on.

But now, every piece of writing becomes an exercise in time management, or maybe I should say time anxiety. What if I spend a lot of time on Box X, when Box X + 1 has what I really want? What if I get back and discover that the part of the letter I didn't transcribe is the one I need?

The answer to this one is simple, but not cheap: throw money at the problem. Plan to return, or, barring that, request copies.

That's only part of the solution, though. What's different about being here is that if I see a lead, I can pursue it, something that's difficult to do long distance.

Also, and I think this is the real issue: I like being inside Author's head for now. It's nice to be immersed to the point where you start to see certain phrases showing up in her letters to several people, or to see her sense of humor, or to read her response to a cranky lecturing letter she's received from someone.

But now I want to know more about certain things: why did she abandon some stories and finish (and publish) other ones? With some of them it's obvious, since the plot has no place to go, but others are at least the equal of those she did publish. More to the point, why were a number of stories that she didn't finish or publish about a particular kind of relationship?

I guess she's never going to answer that last one, so coming up with an answer, however hypothetical, is my job.


Moria said...

Oh, and until this very moment how I harbored hopes that you worked in a field very different from the field in which you must work, if your Author is such as you describe. Hélas.

The Big Revelation of one of my small projects toward my M.A. was: good god, I am only trying to recover what they already knew! They knew things, in this case, that we, as a culture, have forgotten. Re-knowing was my task. It should have been despair-inducing, but what exhilaration! That there was knowledge already there to recuperate!

Just remember to be thrilled, is all.

Ink said...

How wonderful to have that insider view. There is something so magical about archival work. Cool that you get to immerse!

Lots of copies IS a great idea. I spent tons of money on copies and never regretted it. Some of that material has come in unexpectedly handily for completely different projects, like teaching a seminar on Author ten years later.


profacero said...

I haven't finished using some archival stuff I got -- actually whole bookshelves and file drawers of it -- in 1981 at the very beginning of graduate school.

I was terrified of not getting enough because I was a beginner, and wanted to be responsible with funding. I thought I did OK, more than OK, felt perfectly happy, got some papers out of it, saved the rest for later. I didn't realize at the time that I'd gathered a gold mine in xeroxes.

After that there was a big war in that country and I do not know how easy the originals would be to get again.

undine said...

Moria--oops! I hope I haven't outed myself in some way. Your point about recovering what they already knew is exactly right--and, yes, I am thrilled to be working in this way.

Ink and profacero--you've convinced me. I went back and ordered something I'd only taken notes on, just in case.

Ink said...

Yay! Possession of copied materials from archives that most people don't have = score! :)