Cultures and Knowledge Workshop - Shannon Lee Dawdy

January 25th, 2023

On Monday, February 6th, the Institute on the Formation of Knowledge will present "The Arctic World Archive: Storing Human Knowledge for a Long Winter" as part of the Cultures & Knowledge Worskshop Series. This workshop will be presented by Shannon Lee Dawdy.

Register HERE for in-person registration

Register HERE for Zoom access

Description: In 2017, deep in an abandoned coal mine in the arctic archipelago of Svalbard, a Norwegian company built a vault designed to store backup archives of human knowledge for thousands of years, inspired by the so-called "Doomsday Seed Vault" just down the road. The "memories", as the company calls the contents, include portions of the Vatican's secret archive, hamburger recipes, and videos of an Indian wedding. In 2019, they took on their largest client yet, a subsidiary of Microsoft that manages the platform for the largest hive mind of the contemporary world -- open-source software. The CEO talks about the need for a "civilizational reboot" and "futureproofing", as well as a desire to communicate with beings 10,000 years in the future. What sort of imaginaries are at work in this project -- about human knowledge, about archives, about time itself? And why do these types of deep future projects seem to be proliferating? I will share some early thoughts based on visits to Svalbard in October 2019 and July 2022.

Below is a list of further reading on the topic compiled by Shannon Lee Dawdy:

Archive Fever: A Freudian Impression
Jacques Derrida, Translated by Eric Prenowitz 

In Archive Fever, Jacques Derrida deftly guides us through an extended meditation on remembrance, religion, time, and technology--fruitfully occasioned by a deconstructive analysis of the notion of archiving. Intrigued by the evocative relationship between technologies of inscription and psychic processes, Derrida offers for the first time a major statement on the pervasive impact of electronic media, particularly e-mail, which threaten to transform the entire public and private space of humanity. Plying this rich material with characteristic virtuosity, Derrida constructs a synergistic reading of archives and archiving, both provocative and compelling.

The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness
Rebecca Solnit

The incomparable Rebecca Solnit brings the same dazzling writing to the essays in The Encyclopedia of Trouble and Spaciousness. As the title suggests, the territory of Solnit's concerns is vast, and in her signature alchemical style she combines commentary on history, justice, war and peace, and explorations of place, art, and community, all while writing with the lyricism of a poet to achieve incandescence and wisdom. Gathered here are celebrated iconic essays along with little-known pieces that create a powerful survey of the world we live in, from the jungles of the Zapatistas in Mexico to the splendors of the Arctic. This rich collection tours places as diverse as Haiti and Iceland; movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Arab Spring; an original take on the question of who did Henry David Thoreau's laundry; and a searching look at what the hatred of country music really means. Solnit looks back to history and the progress of political movements to find an antidote to despair in what many feel as lost causes. In its encyclopedic reach and its generous compassion, Solnit's collection charts a way through the thickets of our complex social and political worlds. Her essays are a beacon for readers looking for alternative ideas in these imperiled times.

The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire
Thomas Richards

Nineteenth-century Britain could be seen as the first information society in history--for the simple reason that it accumulated knowledge from the far-flung corners of its empire faster than it could easily digest it. The British Empire presented a vast administrative challenge; by meeting that challenge through maps and surveys, censuses and statistics, Victorian administrators developed a new symbiosis of knowledge and power. The narratives of the late nineteenth century are full of fantasies about an empire united not by force or civil control but by information. In The Imperial ArchiveThomas Richards analyzes the ways in which the Victorian organization of knowledge was enlisted into the service of the British Empire, as fields like biology, geography and geology began to function almost as extensions of British intelligence. Richards argues that the techniques invented for managing this information explosion established an enduring axis between knowledge and the state and also suggested a powerful new direction for the novel. He illustrates his argument by careful reference to a variety of institutions--above all the growth of the museum--and texts, including works by Rudyard Kipling, Erskine Childers, H.G. Wells and Bram Stoker.

The Purchase of the North Pole
Jules Verne

The Purchase of the North Pole or Topsy-Turvy (French: Sans dessus dessous) is an adventure novel by Jules Verne, published in 1889. It is the third and last novel of the Baltimore Gun Club, first appearing in From the Earth to the Moon, and later in Around the Moon, featuring the same characters but set twenty years later. Like some other books of his later years, in this novel Verne tempers his love of science and engineering with a good dose of irony about their potential for harmful abuse and the fallibility of human endeavors.

Theory for the World to Come: Speculative Fiction and Apocalyptic Anthropology
Matthew J Wolf-Meyer

The future has become increasingly difficult to imagine. We might be able to predict a few events, but imagining how looming disasters will coincide is simultaneously necessary and impossible. Drawing on speculative fiction and social theory, Theory for the World to Come is the beginning of a conversation about theories that move beyond nihilistic conceptions of the capitalism-caused Anthropocene and toward generative bodies of thought that provoke creative ways of thinking about the world ahead. Matthew J. Wolf-Meyer draws on such authors as Kim Stanley Robinson and Octavia Butler, and engages with afrofuturism, indigenous speculative fiction, and films from the 1970s and '80s to help think differently about the future and its possibilities.