Six impossible things before breakfast.

A library science student's perspective on life, the universe, and everything.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Performance Piece

Today I spent some time reading about archives and recordkeeping. In one article, author Thomas Mallon explored the value of a collection of checks saved by his father and the surprising insights he gained into the life of his father from this study. Mallon argues that in some ways physical records from daily life, such as these canceled checks, are almost more valuable to researchers and historians than items like journals, because something like a check provides more than just a record of what happened, the check itself was a transaction and an untainted piece of a former life.

Mallon goes on to explain that, "letters and diaries are supposed to be the preserved written instruments by which the dead are revealed to posterity, but each of these is a formal communication, and any written communication, from even the least self-conscious soul, is a performance... Even the most private diarists are always conscious of an eventual, albeit anonymous, audience."

This is something I've always been vaguely aware of when I'm writing; regardless of whether what I'm writing a paper that is intended to be read (and read by a very specific audience), or the beginnings of a story, or an entry in a totally unknown, unread blog, or even just the scrap of an idea jotted down on the back of a receipt. It's hard--virtually impossible--to imagine writing something that no one would ever, ever read. And it's inevitable that awareness of this someday future audience would change and possibly distort the way we write and even the very facts or account that we are writing about.

Mallon, T. "Memories Held in Check: Pursuing a Lifetime of My Father's Expenditures." Harper's Magazine. October 1993. (75-82)

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