Sunday, October 07, 2007

Musée Fedora

Eileen Joy has a lovely and complex post over at In The Middle (everyone's favorite medievalist group blog) . The bulk of it is devoted to the problems of queer histories, especially in the medieval period -- if you're at all interested in things queer, historical, medieval, or theoretical, I suggest you read the whole thing in its glory.

But in the middle (ha!) there's a lyrical invocation of an image, of how Joy thinks about her scholarship.

In his lovely book Invisible Cities, Marco Polo describes to the Kublai Khan all of the cities he has visited. In the center of the city of Fedora, there stands “a metal building with a crystal globe in every room.” This metal building is a kind of museum of all the possible futures once imagined for Fedora, and in each globe visitors can see “a blue city, the model of a different Fedora,” which represents “the forms the city could have taken if, for one reason or another, it had not become what we see today.” For me, one of the chief tasks of any history would be the determination of how it is that Fedora could have only turned out one way, while it would also participate in the “taking stock” of all the missed turns and the subterranean rumblings [anxieties, desires, hopes, fears, unanswered needs] occasioned by those missed turns that continue to circulate “under the surface.”

When I was completing my dissertation [2000-01], I made a crude architectural drawing on an index card, which I placed above my desk, of my dream university. There would be two buildings: one, the Musee Fedora, and the other, the Musee Histoire, and in between there would be a kind of bridge, simply called Lycee. In the Musee Fedora, artists would be busily building the models for the globes, working from their imagination and what they know about what did not happen in history. In the other building would be the archives and the historians, who would be busy writing causal narratives of “events,” from which narratives the artists have learned to take note of the gaps and omissions, which they see as their job to fill in. And in between, everyone would travel back and forth between the two buildings, affectively-intellectually “joining” together in conversation in the middle [the university, in other words, as the site of a certain kind of cultural “traffic,” in which Bill Readings’ vision of the posthistorical university as “one site among others” where “thought takes place alongside thought” would be possible and the “question of being-together” could be raised again and again], and each artist, historian, and student would be a citizen of each domain, with the ultimate aim of cultivating a mindful forgetfulness of which place was which. I’ve kept this drawing [in a box under my desk with my unbound dissertation], and while it seems kind of silly in retrospect, I think it still gets at the kind of historical scholarship, and even a queer “humanities,” I hope is possible.

Isn't that just a beautiful Borgesian picture of counterhistory?

1 comment:

Eileen Joy said...

This is an awfully nice thing for you to say about my post, Tim. Interestingly enough, the Introduction to my dissertation, "Winged Creatures and Honey-Gatherers of the Spirit" [cribbed from Nietzsche] began with a summary of Borges's story, "The Library of Babel." Cheers, Eileen