Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

Writing Through Art and Literature

ENGL 165.301

In recent years, archiving has increasingly been referred to as the new folk art, something that is widely practiced and has unconsciously become integrated into a great many people’s lives, potentially transforming a necessity into a work of art. Like quilting, archiving employs the obsessive stitching together of many small found pieces into a larger vision, a personal attempt at ordering a chaotic world. It’s not such a far leap from the quiltmaker to the stamp collector or book collector. Walter Benjamin, an obsessive collector himself, wrote about the close connection between collecting and making in his essay “Unpacking My Library”: “Among children, collecting is only one process of renewal; other processes are the painting of objects, the cutting out of figures, the application of decals — the whole range of childlike modes of acquisition, from touching things to giving them names.” In Benjaminan terms, all of these impulses — making, collecting & archiving — can be construed as folk practices.

Let’s add to that the organizing of digital materials. The advent of digital culture has turned each one of us into an unwitting archivist. From the moment we used the “save as” command when composing electronic documents, our archival impulses began. “Save as” is a command that implies replication; and replication requires more complex archival considerations: where do I store the copy? Where is the original saved? What is the relationship between the two? Do I archive them both or do I delete the original?

This year-long seminar will explore the intersection between the acts of archiving and the writing of literature. Coinciding with Penn's Institute of Contemporary Art's 50th anniversary year and their monumental retrospective of the archive-driven works of sculptor Jason Rhoades, we will spend the year examining ICA's archives and institutional structures in order to explore ways in which these materials can give us clues towards the creation of new types of literature. Throughout the year, we'll study artists (Marcel Duchamp, Andrea Fraser, Louise Lawler, Fred Wilson, Marcel Broodthaers), poets (Vanessa Place, Georges Perec, Charles Reznikoff) theorists (Fredrich Kittler, Lisa Gittleman, Vilém Flusser, Marshall McLuhan), historians (Claire Bishop, Rosalind Krauss, Benjamin Buchloh), archivists (Rick Prelinger, Brewster Kahle) and online institutions (aaaaarg, UbuWeb, monoskop, PennSound, EPC). In addition, we'll be granted unprecedented access to the ICA's extensive archive documenting its own history. The class will feature several class visitors from prominent practitioners in the fields of archiving and institutional critique and will include frequent class trips to New York City.

This seminar — which is co-sponsored by the Center for Programs in Contemporary Writing (CPCW) and the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) — will culminate in a major publication to be launched at ICA's 50th anniversary party in the Spring of 2014.

Note:  This is a year-long course.

fulfills requirements