Friday, January 16, 2009

What I'm Thinking About

Cornelia Vismann, from Files:

Those who work with records are familiar with the problem: files pile up on desks, accumulate in offices, and fill attics and basements. Though registered, their order collapses time and again; though collected, quashed, dispatched, sold, shredded, or destroyed in some other way, they keep mushrooming. Their incessant proliferation seems a natural phenomenon. Masses of paper arise and merge into mountains that join together to form entire mountain ranges. Floods of paper empty into oceans: ravines flanked by shelves cut through impassable terrain. Those brave enough to traverse this paperscape measure the amount of files in meters, kilograms, or basket loads. As a rule, however, it is impossible to count the number of files, for unlike books, files are not discrete or enumerable units. They can appear in all shapes and forms: as loose pages, lying in little boxes, wrapped in packing paper, or enclosed in capsules; they may present themselves as bundles tied with a string or assume the shape of vertical folders ready to enfold anything that can fit between two paper covers. Reference may be to a single file, a procedure covering several files, or the entire content of an archive. Files are the variabIes in thc universe of writing and the law.

4 comments:

Britta Gustafson said...

Have you read The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald? There's a lovely part about an academic surrounded by her piles and piles of paper - here's the Google Books excerpt.

Tim said...

Ah, Sebald! It's even in a passage about Flaubert. Have you read Flaubert's Bouvard and P├ęchuchet? It's the great unfinished modernist novel about unemployed copy clerks -- at the end, they produce the babylonian mounds of papers that Sebald describes.

Tim said...

A Google Books excerpt of B and P.

Britta Gustafson said...

I hadn't even heard of it. I am not surprised that Flaubert had something to say about piles of paper, though. Sebald is a sneaky one.