About the Archive

The Archive

The Revenants Archive, stewarded by Olchar E. Lindsann, attempts to chart and provide the materials for the detailed reconstruction of 19th Century avant-garde communities--a long, rich, and complex history that has been almost effaced from the communal memory of today's Eternal Network of avant-garde counterculture. Still in its early stages, this DIY micro-archive is assembled, maintained, and designed to function as a co-ordinated part of the ongoing evolution of this alternative community--unfunded, idiosyncratic, and without institutional ties or resources. Its' sister project, Revenants Editions, publishes English translations of works by this same matrix of communities, many of those texts drawn from the archive itself. The recently-launched journal Rêvenance publishes texts and translations from the archive alongside historical research, translations, and experimental historical engagement from avant-garde historians and writers around the world.

The archive began as a working research library, from the practical necessity of exploring a community, most of whose work has gone unprinted throughout the 20th Century. It grew out of a long-term project to re-evaluate the early history and evolution of avant-garde, subversive social and cultural practice. This research is anchored in the seminal avant-garde collective of 1829-33 known variously as the Bouzingo, Bousingot, Jeunes-France, and Petit-Cénacle, the first self-declared collective whose members are known to have referred to themselves by th term "avant-garde". Though the archive focuses on artifacts relating to the 19th Century avant-garde, Frenetic Romanticism, and related phenomena, it also draws in related communities, individuals, and traditions from both intellectual and mass culture: Gothic subculture, mainstream Romanticism, Socialism, Decadence, Anarchism, Weird Fiction, Satire, children's literature, etc.--whatever represents an alternative current or disjunctive intervention into the dominant stream of culture during the consolidation of Bourgeois power during the 19th Century.
 The archive currently contains 372 relics: 
168 Books
142 Issues / Compilations of Journals
22 Lithographs
12 Etchings
6 Letters
4 Folios of Sheet Music
2 Pencil Drawings
2 Ink Drawings
2 Literary manuscripts
2 Unused Bookplates of avant-garde archivists
2 Promotional Adverts
1 Copper Medallion
1 Calling Card w/handwritten note
1 Book invoice from a 19th Century Avant-Archivist
1 Anonymous, hand-written notebook
1 Carte-de-Visite photograph
1 Photoglyptie Poster
1 Set of Educational Acetone Slides
1 Magic Lantern Slide
At least 26 books & drawings in the archive were previously owned by other identifiable writers, activists, and historians of counterculture, in addition to many copies owned and marked upon by anonymous or forgotten members of avant-garde and intellectual communities.
 
 
Manifesto on Archiving, Reading, Necromancy, and Nurturmancy

The physicality, the embedding in real space, the dead weight of the book which, object that it is, is so unapologetically oblivious to the virtuality of Thought, renders the very notion of consciousness more palpable—and simultaneously, more fundamentally impossible—than any virtual, digital, or more exclusively visual text could do. The age of the old book, its persistence through a span of time longer than any human life, the traces of those lives, and the consciousness itself (whose impossibility is thus even more disturbingly revealed) of its age, make imminent a relationship to time and subjectivity that underpins the notion of 'existence' as such.

To hold and read such a book, with the care and delicacy and even the small risk that it entails, cradling it in one's hands as the boards stretch always a bit farther away from the spine, physiologically enacts a gesture of reverence, a physical recognition of the precarious thread by which the notion of humanity, not to say being, is suspended in its own void: a thread so thin as to vanish at the very moment it becomes apprehensible.

Take into your hands a book well-worn, scuffed, bent, dented and rubbed away with the love of a century of reading, and open it: fit your fingers to the depressed edges of the boards, where the fingers of the dead have left the imprint of their habitual grasp; rest the spine along your palm at the very spot where the deads’ palms have supported, for countless hours, the dead weight of the book. 
 
Allow your own spine, your arms, your neck, your head, your lungs, to settle into the position implied by these marks of habitual use: you have become the dead. Your body, with your brain, is a vessel for the dead.

Now read. Read the pages marked with pencil pen, dog-eared or parted with pressed flowers, as you retain the posture of the reader who has disappeared. What forms does Thought take on within your brain, emerging from the matrix of the printed page and the repeated posture of the reader, or readers, who are dead? What incipient present emerges from the past that has slipped between the fibers of your consciousness?

Now bid the dead goodbye for a spell, and read the book yourself; mark it in pen or pencil, hold it in the way you hold a book. You are reading your death, and writing what, and who, shall come to read when you, too, and all that you shall ever think will have died and passed into text.

A well-directed archive is like Perseus' mirror: looking toward the past, we advance toward the future. Staring at ourselves, we approach what we intend to destroy.
  
 
Archival Ethic and Mandate

Although most of the objects collected in it are products of intellectual and artistic activity, the archive's mandate, like the understanding of the 'Avant-Garde' implicit in its goals, is not aesthetic but social. It is conceived of neither as an investment in precious objects, nor as an ossuary for nostalgic orisons; it sets out to be an archive of a particular community, or network of communities, with a common mode of living, of which the books, images and other objects collected here are relics and tools. We do not hesitate to call it "our" archive, not an archive of an impersonalised dead past, but a committed act of memory in the service of a collaborative present which continues to unfold. Among other roles, the archivist is a kind of Griot or Scop, a vehicle for the collective memory of the community, warden of its potential pasts, wisdoms and follies. The archive aspires to play an active role in the present and future of the avant-garde, as we enter a period that is sure to be fraught with massive uncertainty and change. An archive of the avant-garde community has the responsibility to keep in constant dialog with the contemporary community which it serves: its role is to give the dead a voice in the present--not to preserve them, but to continue to allow them to grow, to contribute, by not only collecting objects, but operating within a broader historiographic context that responds ethically and sensitively to the demands of today's and tomorrow's intellectual countercultures. An archive must preserve for the living the companionship of the dead--not only to find themselves within the dead, but to learn how we differ from the dead, and how we must continue to change. Between the past and the present, we cultivate our futures; let us keep the soil rich. 

The archive has therefore been approached not as an 'art collection' or 'rare book collection' but as an archive of relics of communal activity. It is naturally, therefore, interdisciplinary in scope. If it consists so far primarily of 'works' of art/literature/music, this is simply because these were the relics designed by the community to last, to be passed on. Few other relics have come to my notice so far; some have been catalogued under "Personal Artifacts" and "Ephemera". Although the archive is subject to tight financial restrictions, many networks of creative relationships among these communities in question are already indicated in the relics here, with many names reappearing in the catalogue in multiple and sometimes surprising contexts, in various webs of direct or indirect collaboration.
 
Because its focus is on the social, communal, trans-generational activity of the avant-garde, this archive does not fetishize objects in pristine condition--i.e. books that have never been read, prints that have never been exposed to view. The materials in this archive derive their value not from the market nor exclusively from the name attached to them, but from the fact that as objects they bear the tangible traces of use, the material remains of the roles they have played in the lives of other avant-gardists and readers over more than a century. They are direct links to these other individuals, about whom we often know little or nothing else. So, naturally, many are worn, tattered, with loose signatures or detached covers, torn pages, etc., not to mention marks, marginalia, dog-eared pages, and corrections. This evidence of the love that these specific objects have facilitated make them worthless to 'collectors'. All the better for us. 

 
Purposes of the Archive

The proposed purposes of the archive are manifold. In one dimension, it is intended as a resource and encouragement for the research outlined above and other, intersecting, projects. Though many of these texts are available online (and the entries in this catalogue will eventually contain links to digitized versions), some of the most interesting and important texts have not been digitised; and if--as archiving must teach us to do--we are to think in the long-term, physical copies may have as good a chance at survival across generations as the complicated, global set of relations that must remain in place indefinitely in order to maintain digitised material, while the globe is poised for massive and possibly catastrophic shifts of climate, scarcity, and power. Co-relative to this point is the fact that, due to its historiographic marginalisation, few people are proactively attempting to preserve this material, let alone to maintain it within its broader social-intellectual context; the very lack of legitimation that makes the archive possible to assemble on a small budget is also a symptom of the precariousness with which the historical recoverability of the first century of self-declared 'avant-garde' activity is balanced on the edge of oblivion.

As noted above, beyond the information contained within these books, a physical archive can serve as a vehicle for the more intimate interaction of the present and the past, between the living and the dead; objects serve as touchstones, bearing the scuffs, marks, damage, alteration, and decay imprinted by generations of readers, usually within earlier evolutions of our own community. The past becomes more tangible through our contact with these relics, and our understanding of our own place in the historical process is made more personal and nuanced. This direct contact with the imprint of a particular past has pedagogical implications as well, and the archive has served as a resource for both high school and alternative-model classes, lectures and exhibitions.

The Revenants Archive is quite emphatically a vehicle for original research and interpretation, an exploratory archive which, though guided by the work of a handful of earlier historians and archivists, is working in territory largely unexplored by academia. Only through original research is it possible to determine what the archive ought to contain, and sifting through the digital version of the dollar-bins of auction sites and European booksellers often turns up an unexpected discovery that has evaded the grand-narratives, and even the notice of our few predecessors. Often, the historiographic significance of a text is only discovered after it has been acquired.  

The archival and bibliographic process is thus inseparable from research, is in fact a unique form of research in which specific material objects are taken as both the basis and expression of historiographic reconstruction. The archival or bibliographic catalogue (such as this one) should be therefore seen as a particular form of historical account, in which the charting of a complex, topographical web of associations, discourses, debates, collaborations, influences, and related projects takes precedence over a narrative synthesis of consecutive events, and in which conversations can be seen to emerge regardless of chronological distance.

Finally, there are kinds of histories--those which are most intimate and most grounded in everyday life--which cannot be traced through essentialised 'texts' or 'images', but can be conveyed and activated only by individual copies of early-edition books and prints. The ways that readers alter their books, intentionally or otherwise, can allow us to discern how these books were used, what roles they played in the lives and thought of intellectual communities. Inscriptions, marginalia, custom bindings,  indexical marks, text corrections, notes and items tipped in between pages--all furnish subtle but important clues about the continually-evolving avant-garde lifestyle, the forms of consciousness and sociality which it created, and the practices of reading that have sustained it.
 
 Practical notes on Micro-Archiving 

It has been stated that the archive is the product of an underground, countercultural community, and it is largely determined by that circumstance: unfunded, unacknowledged outside that community, without institutional or financial support. It has been assembled on the disposable income of manual labour and low-end service jobs over several years, more recently on a high-school teaching salary. The total cost of assembling the archive over seven years has run around $2,000. Indeed, a subsidiary function of the archive is to demonstrate the feasibility of archiving on this level, if the subject of the archive exists within or across historiographic lacunae to make them more or less invisible to 'market value'.
 
Since the focus of the archive does not line up with any recognised 'collecting' markets (though its overlap with some renders the work of certain pertinent people nearly impossible), and many of the participants in the communities in question do not appear in standard 'literary', 'artistic', or historical canons, prices are not artificially inflated despite these items' scarcity. In some cases, sellers have not even asked themselves who an author or lithographer was before setting a price; they look at it as simply another old-timey print that will match someone's living room, or an old book that will look good in somebody's office. In the age of Ebay, Amazon and Abebooks, bibliography has become a disorienting and amorphous mish-mash of flea-market venders, knowledgeable booksellers, and futures-traders in uncut pages and morocco leather.
 
By the same token, the market's understanding of 'Condition' often works in the favour of an archive with a mandate such as this one. To be sure, an object that is far from deterioration has a genuine value for preservation and research; but in each specific instance this quality must be weighed against the other values which, as explained above, accrue from marginalia, inscriptions, indexical marks, and other symptoms of actual human use which the market categorically brands as de-valuing blemishes on a volume's Condition and market value--making it possible to acquire relatively cheaply. 
It is true that many of the pieces that are affordable on such a budget are not the most interesting or characteristic works by a particular writer or lithographer, particularly when their reputation among 'Collectors' exceeds their renown among 'Art Historians'. To take one example, I will never afford a piece of Devéria erotica, because there is a 'market' for erotica 'collectors'; but I can frequently swoop down on more innocuous pieces for $20. The popular, innocuous prints of his Heurs du jour series, several of which are archived here, are not pieces on which Devéria exerted great effort or thought; they are bread-and-butter pieces to support him and his large extended family while he concentrated on his proper work. Nonetheless, it is a relic of one aspect of the concrete activity he was engaged in during the same year as planning Hernani, co-founding the Petit-Cénacle group, and experiencing the July Revolution--and Baudelaire later remembered the series fondly in his review of the Salon of 1845. A similar logic keeps down the prices of mass-produced prints and cheap paperback books, printed on cheap paper and in mass circulation (the earliest paperback in the archive is from 1816); they are not 'fine' enough for the taste of most 'collectors'--making them available to the rest of us in the very form for which they were originally conceived.
Olchar E. Lindsann.

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