June 23, 2016
“For the archives . . . ”
by Taylor Sperry
We’re into archives at MobyLives.
We wrote about the recently discovered, eighteen-page, amphetamine-fueled letter that Jack Kerouac wrote to Neal Cassady, which Christie’s expected to auction for up to $600,000; an IndieGogo campaign to “amass the largest-ever archive of punk rock material”; one fan’s collection of John Updike’s literal garbage; a London library’s records of feminist writing; the NYPL’s acquisition of “editorial materials” from the New York Review of Books archive; a controversial love letter to Martin Amis; a cache of 2,600 undelivered letters from the seventeenth century . . . and that’s just in the past six-ish months.
The implication—both in the consistency of our own reporting and the worth of the materials themselves—is that the value of The Archive transcends pure nostalgia and instead lies somewhere in its ability to contextualize something we’ve already decided is important.
In her terrific piece for the New York Times Magazine, Jenna Wortham writes about how the internet—with its abundance of new media and materials—may represent “a totally new type of archive: a multidimensional ledger of events that academics, scholars, researchers and the general public can parse to generate a more prismatic recollection of history.”
The “thorny questions” remain the same: “What will we save and how? Whose stories are the most important and why?”
The crucial difference is that where before we had something like drafts, we now have track changes.
Taylor Sperry is a former Melville House editor.