The concept of the archive runs through this week’s readings in various permutations: as a place, a space, a metaphor, but, above all, as a construct. Conceptualizing the archive as an imagined way of ordering information causes us to question the legitimization that the term implies–this is not to suggest, of course, that the archive is false or that its contents are fabrications but rather an askance that we consider how the construction of the archive plays with notions of history and memory. Furthermore, this intersectionality gains additional weight with the realization that not only is the “archive” a construction but that it, by its very nature, also serves to (re)invent its contents; put another way, the archive’s artifacts are the invented products of the intersection of history, identity, and critical theory. As Joan Scott argues in “The Evidence of Experience”: “Experience is at once always already an interpretation and is in need of interpretation. What counts as experience is neither self-evident nor straightforward.” We must not only question the story being told by the contents of the archive but also how such a story figures in a larger narrative about history as a subject.
Dominick LaCapra comments in History and Criticism:
“The archive as fetish is a literal substitute for the “reality” of the past which is “always already” lost for the historian. When it is fetishized, the archive is more than the repository of traces [and, according to Derrida, representations in an archive are always a trace] of the past which may be used in its inferential reconstruction. It is a stand-in for the past that brings the mystified experience of the thing itself–an experience that is always open to question when one deals with writing or other inscriptions.”
In various ways, this notion of the archive forces us to examine our practices of sight and seeing (metaphorically at least, if not physically) and how these stances overlap with the known and the knowable. For me, one of the most valuable ideas of Akira Lippit’s book was the differentiation of two types of invisibility: things that are obscured contrasted with things that are outside the realm of sight. The archive, I think, is often associated with the former category (i.e., its contents are items that are rediscovered, reintroduced, or rescued from history) but I wonder if we should challenge the archive to assume the philosophy of the latter; I think that we must actively engage in a process whereby we question what sorts of items are not included in an archive and why this may be so. What things did we see (and thus include in the archive) and what might we have missed? Although the archive undoubtedly houses pieces that belong to history and allows us to reflect on our past, I also think that it possess the potential to spur forward-thinking as we participate in a process that endeavors to uncover new ways of seeing.
Similarly, Ann Cvetkovich speaks to Lippit’s definitions of invisibility through a discussion of trauma: according to Cvetkovich, trauma is not only bounded by the confines of domesticity but also occasionally “doesn’t appear sufficiently catastrophic because it doesn’t produce dead bodies or even, necessarily, damaged ones” (3). Through Cvetkovich’s mention of trauma we again witness the two-fold way in which something can be rendered invisible and a call for an expanded rendering of what is (or should) be seen and therefore known. I continue to think on the way in which individual/private trauma competes with collective/public trauma for a place in our memories and our archives–what is “worthy” of remembrance? What happens when our cultural/national identities are haunted by travesties that we do not have a direct relation to? Or do archives allow us to overcome this supposed gap and connect to a past that we have not experienced for ourselves? How do projects like that AIDS quilt that embody both an individual and collective identity, history, and trauma intersect with movements like PostSecret, StoryCorps, and One Hello World that represent collections of individual narratives? How is the current interest in archives situated in societies obsessed with innovation and marked by rapid cultural turnover?
There is, for Western male bodies in particular, a very distinct sense of the body as discrete and whole. In contrast to permeable female body—associated with tears, lactation, childbirth, and menstruation, women demonstrate a tendency to ooze—male bodies appear much more concerned with integrity and resistance to invasion or penetration.
The male anxieties surrounding penetration are also a bit ironic given that, in some ways, the current ideals of straight Western male bodies derive from an attempt by the gay community to respond to the threat of AIDS. In short, one factor in the rise of the ideal hard body—although certainly not the only influence—was the effort made by gay individuals to project a healthy and robust body in the 1980s. As AIDS was considered a “wasting disease” at the time, exaggerated musculature served as an immediate visual signal that one did not have the disease. As this particular image propagated in society, societal norms surrounding the male body changed and straight men began to adopt the new form, although importantly not for the same reasons of gay men.
This process, then, challenges the naturalization of the ideal body—and even the idea of the body itself. The concept of the body can be seen as a constant site of negotiated meaning as our understanding of what the body is (and is not) arises out of an intersection of values; this means that we must look closely at the ways in which we privilege one form of the body over another, maintaining a static arbitrary form in the process.
Here, Jussi Parikka’s notion of body as assemblage offers an interesting lens through which to examine the concept of the body: the “body,” in a sense is not only an amalgamation of parts, sensations, memories, and events but also is forged in the interaction between the components that make up the body and those that surround it. What if we were to rethink the sacred nature of the body and instead understand it as a fusing of parts on multiple levels? Would we care as much about the ways in which organic and inorganic pieces interacted with our bodies? What if we changed our understanding of our body as inherently natural and saw it as a prosthetic? The state of the body is in constant flux as it responds to and affects the world around it—put another way, the body is engaged in a constant dialogue with its surroundings.
On a macro scale, this adaptation might take the form of Darwinian evolution but on an individual level, we might also think about things like scars or antibodies as ways in which our body (and not our mind!) evidences a form of memory as it has been impacted by the world around it. Although layers of meaning are likely imposed upon these bodily artifacts, on their most basic level they serve as reminders that, as stable as they seem, our bodies continually contain the potential to change.
And, ultimately, it is this potential for transcendence that forms a thread through most of my work. Stretching across the lineage of Final Girls who had power in them all along, to youth striving to maximize their education, to the transhumanist tendency to push the boundaries of the body, I hold most affinity for people who cry, “This is not all that I am.”
When I was younger, I often saw Public Service Announcements alerting me to the idea that “Knowledge is Power.” At the time, I believed that the goal of these messages was to keep me in school, but, on some level, I must have internalized the point, for I still believe in the value of education to this day. My belief in edification has led me to pursue higher education, to work for a University, and to write for a sexual health education website. And, as I grew up, I became firmer in my belief that education carved a path for empowerment—learning was essential to betterment. Thus, it only made sense to me when I heard about the United States’ plan to combat HIV and AIDS in Africa.
Ever since I can remember, the United Sates has been pouring money into Africa with the goal of eradicating poverty, famine, and AIDS, with a portion of the funding going toward education measures. For most of my life, I didn’t pay much attention to the whole situation—I knew that AIDS was bad and that we were fighting it. That had to be a good thing, right?
But what happens when education doesn’t work?
In 2007, an economist named Emily Oster published a paper that suggested the poorest Africans had adopted fewer safer sex habits as they had less incentive to. It turned out, according to Oster, that remaining free from AIDS or other STI’s was not so important when your life expectancy was not very high.
Whether you agree with Oster’s findings or not (there are plenty of people who don’t), one conclusion that you can draw from all of this is that educational/prevention programs must provide relevant information for the populations that they are attempting to serve.
As I mulled over the importance of Oster’s paper, I began to think back to a number of Latino students from Santa Ana mentioning how they grew up in an environment that expected them to drop out of school or become pregnant and, all of a sudden, the problems of Africa didn’t seem so far away. What if I was running into the same problem? What if I was going about all of this in the wrong way? What if I wasn’t providing pertinent advice?
I took a breath.
I’ve managed to get to a point in my life where I know enough about sex to keep myself safe; I know what I value and I’ve developed the skill set to ensure that I make smart choices (well, most of the time). On the one hand, this provides me with the ability to share my knowledge and mistakes with all of you. But, on the other hand, I think that I occasionally forget how hard it is sometimes to be a teenager facing all of the pressures out there today. For one, I certainly don’t have other people worrying about if I’m having (or not having) sex and with whom said sex is or isn’t occurring. Well, at least, if they are, I don’t know about it.
So, while perhaps my experiences are not exactly the same as yours, I think that my job as a writer is to find the universal truth of situations and to help you feel what I’ve felt. With any luck, you can relate to parts of my story (if not the entire thing) and use my words to point you in the right direction. I don’t pretend to know all the answers, but I do think that I know a little something about the subject of sex and sexual health. As I’ve said many times before, sexual health education isn’t just about learning how to use a condom or to avoid rape—those things are important as well, but maybe, this time, it’s about the “expert” learning from you.