Daily Archives: May 18, 2021

Blog #3- Is it Really a History Lost in Recovery?

When we think of History, we immediately  think that we will be learning about nonfiction events which have already occurred in the past. However, how often do we oppose what we are learning about in history ; we usually just accept what is being told to us and move on. In the Question of Recovery, Laura Helton explains that when Amos Beman looked up the history of Africa and its people, all that was found was racial arrogance and ignorance. 

Similarly in his novel, India and the Shaping of the Indo-Guyanese Imagination 1890s-1920s, Clem Seecharan explains that the overall history of East Indians was also always presented in an ignorant manner.  Both texts strongly supports Helton’s point of whether or not the information being recovered and archived can be trusted when it comes to learning about our histories. I am somewhere at the midpoint of Helton’s 2 proposals because while I do strongly believe the truth is lost throughout history, I also believe that without the hard work of previous historians and archivists, we would not have been educated about our history. So in essence, there could be successful arguments which support either side of this debate. It is for this reason that I chose to create an exhibition of postcards. I believe that postcards will give its audience a chance to interpret what the images and scripts on the postcards show rather than to read someone else’s interpretation of them. 

On my final project (part 2)

I would like to outline several challenges I think I might face while working on this project.

First and foremost, you don’t have just one archival collection of materials related to the artist. The papers of Jacques Hnizdovsky are held at several different institutions around the country. There are at least two institutions in New York that preserve his papers. There is another one in Connecticut which has his materials. Finally, a small collection of his papers is part of an institution based in Minnesota. And these are just the collections that have the artist’s materials.

When conducting research, we should not forget about the papers of others who also might have archival materials of Hnizdovsky. And, indeed, I was able to locate several of such collections, where you have Hnizdovsky’s correspondence as part of that archive—and these are a publisher Hnizdovsky cooperated with, as well as several poets he collaborated with.

This leads to the second major challenge—accessibility. I’m hopeful the archives in New York will open soon enough so I can start working and preparing material as early as this summer. The same concerns the institution located in Connecticut. Also, I look forward to trying and requesting scans of archival materials from other institutions mentioned below. Taking into account that often this is something that is done for a fee, it would be worth considering and applying for a grant that can help to cover these expenses.

On my final project

When Jacques Hnizdovsky, born in what is now Ukraine in 1915, passed away in 1985, the New York Times published an obituary in which pointed out that the artist was known for this woodcut prints exhibited in museums and galleries across the country and elsewhere in the world, but also underscored that he illustrated books by John Keats, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Frost.

Of course, this was not the only three books the artist illustrated. As the recent bibliographical guide on Hnizdovsky suggest, the artist worked on more than two hundred books (he began as early as in the 1930s and worked until the end of his life). Most of his book cover designs and illustrations were commissioned by various Ukrainian publishing house operating in the diaspora in the United States, Canada and Europe. However, Hnizdovsky also cooperated with American publishing houses—and this cooperation, and the result of this cooperation, is a focal point of my research.

Hnizdovsky’s artworks have their special place in both Ukrainian and American art. And his artworks are interesting for several reasons. First, he really managed to create his own style, a style that is quite recognizable. Second, he was successful in finding his own niche and place in the US, and many American art scholars and critics highly regarded his works—something very unusual for artists of his generations who came to this country as refugees after the end of World War II. Third, throughout his whole career, Hnizdovsky had special attention to books and, more importantly, work on books was a significant part of his creative output.

The visual part of the book—specifically, its cover and illustrations—shapes the way we look at books. They are both fragments and details of these books. As Hnizdovsky himself said: “An artist should not interpret the text. A book illustrator should merely suggest.” The artist’s observation should be formulated in such a manner they don’t create a distorted or limited image of the book.

Blog Post 1: On Recovery

This is a reflection of our readings coming from the 2016 issue of Social Text, that probe the possibilities and impossibilities of recovery as both historical method and ethico-political act. In Helton et. al’s “Questions of Recovery,” the authors flesh out a brief history of historical recovery and the expansion of the archive as prominent and, at the time, essential practices, whereby “the consolidation of a global color line” and “in the wake of efforts to forge black internationalism in the 1920s and 1930s” seemed to necessitate attempts to “to preserve and narrate pasts that could be used to contest global inequality.” Foundational to these attempts are the fundamental belief “that one of the most pernicious manifestations of racism was the exclusion of Africans from narratives of historical progress“ (emphasis mine). However, as the authors go on to explain, contemporary thought regarding the relationship between blackness and the archive—especially among those who take seriously Patterson’s “social death” thesis—call into question the supposed utility and political purpose of historical recovery (and thus, archives) by understanding the archive as “subject” instead of source”, in light of “the discrepancy between a present marked by racialized forms of social negation eerily similar to those of slavery, and conventional frameworks for understanding the black past that revolve around the progress from slavery to freedom.“ In this sort of analytic, the archive is a “mechanism of racialized discourse and governance” as opposed to a “storage mechanism” that can provoke, say, a flat and impossible empathy by revealing the “humanity”—or, in da Silvian terms, “transparency”—of the racialized subaltern. As such, the ongoing exploitation—as opposed to exclusion—becomes the primary signifier of anti-black violence in this critical move, paralleling the call to unpack what Hartman has dubbed “the afterlife of slavery.” Historical recovery, here, must reconfigure its political purpose against desires for liberal inclusion, and reconsider, then, what “justice”, “freedom”, and “democracy” should mean and look like.

I appreciate the authors uptake of the “social death” thesis not only because the idea is heavily contested and disregarded in the academy (especially as it’s taken up by Afro-pessimists), but also simply because I personally see it as the most apt analytic in a moment where historical recovery and archival expansion/reconfiguration has seemingly been unable to produce even adequate conceptions of “justice.” As I elaborate in my own project regarding the uptake of archival practices in light of recent movements against “anti-asian violence”, the recovery and documentation of anti-asian violence—in an effort to produce public empathy in opposition to “hate”—has led to carceral (which is to say, anti-black) notions of justice, producing legislation and public desires for increased policing and surveillance. I don’t think it would be far off to claim that this uptake of historical recovery, in the context of recent “never forget, never again” recovery projects within the Asian American community, is inextricable from earlier movements for global racial justice, which include 20th-century Black social movements, as well as the global confrontation of the Holocaust and the intense memory practices that followed it. However, as Valentina Pisanty asks in The Guardians of Memory: “Is it really sufficient to remember past events to guard against the eventuality that something similar might happen again?“ Given the continuation of anti-black violence and terror in our contemporary moment despite the now extensive documentation of anti-black violence in the US, it would seem that “progress” is called into question.

Thinking off of Helton et. al’s “Questions of Recovery,” I’m also considering two other things. The first is the relationship between “recovery” and of “humanity” in the first instance, whereby both may be considered liberal humanist projects. Lowe elaborates on this relationship briefly in “History Hesitant”: “To focus the inquiry on recovery mobilizes the different valences of the term: a sense of the retrieval of archival evidence and the restoration of historical presence, on the one hand, and the ontological and political sense of reparation, on the other, that is, the possibility of recuperation, or the repossession of a full humanity and freedom, after its ultimate theft or obliteration.” Here, Lowe draws a connection between the ethico-political act of recovery to a desire to be included in—yet reveal the always-already being-of—the ontological status of “Human.” However, as Lowe seems to gesture towards but doesn’t fully elaborate through Hartman, Fanon, and Mbembe, the notion of “The Human” and “humanity” is a racialized project in and of itself. Recovery, then, is also an attempt at an ontological intervention. Without going too much into it, I’m wondering then, in what ways does “dehumanization” fall short as an analytic for recovery? How does this play into liberal hegemony?

The second thing is the fetishization of the archive as a gesture towards global justice. While Helton et. al, Lowe, and Rusert acknowledge the racialized history of the archive as contingent upon the sovereign goals of a select (white) few—and as such, an understanding that “recovery” also (perhaps inevitably” leaves things out—I think what could be useful in corroboration with this acknowledgement is a comprehensive understanding of how the archive becomes fetish: What are the ways that, perhaps, that liberal hegemony is entangled with humanist desire, such that “never forget—never again” becomes a political go-to and an ethical imperative? As Dominick LaCapra explains in History and Criticism, “The archive as fetish is a literal substitute for the ‘reality’ of the past which is ‘always already’ lost for the historian. When it is fetishized, the archive is more than the repository of traces of the past which may be used in its inferential reconstruction.” What makes the archive so seductive, especially within the academy, and how might this understood through material understandings of the state? These are the sorts of questions I think, might be helpful in future work re-considering the political possibilities and limits of historical recovery and archival research.