I first came across Confessions of the Fox in this interview/review by Justine Hyde in April – I was hooked by this quote from the interview/review and had a copy of the book within 24 hours of reading it:
“There are many things missing from archives but sometimes even what is there can obscure more than it reveals.” Although it wasn’t his intention to write a transgender novel, Rosenberg suggests that fiction – and speculative fiction in particular – is a necessary counterbalance to fill the gap left by historical archiving practices. He quotes Jacques Derrida and Anjali Arondekar, who both illuminate the problem of mistaking archival materials for historical realities.”
It reminded me quite a bit of this Archer magazine article by Archie Barry which I love and might have shared once or twice before and will do so again.
“It seems I’ve now naturally fallen into a role that many queer and gender-diverse people fall into: that of informal researcher. We silently horde content – URLs, zines, ads, pamphlets, stickers, mp3s, books, posters – to build a personalised buffer, a kind of archive armour, between the self and the cis-hetero world.
Our ability to construct this type of armour is improving, as a number of new initiatives in archiving transgender histories emerge.”
Confessions of the Fox is a great example of the archive armour Archie describes and I’ve been thinking for a while that I would love to facilitate research skills classes for queer and gender diverse folks – in collaboration with MPOW and ALGA – to help them become informal researchers and build their own archival armour.
I started writing this for the GLAM blog club theme ‘Secrets’ as thought it might be a good chance to share a little about Confessions of the Fox and where it and its extensive resources list at the end have taken me on this year. It was the queer, trans, anti-racist and anti-imperialist piece of historical metafiction of my dreams. I recently finished Frankissstein by Jeanette Winterson and was not for the first time struck and disappointed by a cisgender author’s apparent obsession with and objectification of trans peoples genitalia (see also some reflections on Walkaway), and the care the Rosenberg (and the character in the footnotes) took to avoid doing this as well as to avoid deadnaming characters was amazing. I don’t want to reveal too much so as to spoil it but hopefully I’ll reveal enough to make everyone go out and by it. I am really keen to start a reading group to collectively read, discuss and respond to it (and the resources list) as I feel this would be in the spirit of the book, so if you have read it or do read it and are keen, please get in touch!
One of the books mentioned was Scenes of Subjection: Terror, Slavery, and Self-Making in Nineteenth-Century America by Saidiya V. Hartman and it led to a scene in the book which captured my library activist imagination deeply. I ordered it for the collection at MPOW and haven’t finished it yet because it is not surprisingly very intense, but what I have read has influenced my information and archival literacy teaching in a subject on histories of slavery and human trafficking. Over the past few years, I’ve adapted this class quite a bit to help students find community archives and primary sources created by survivors or people who have experienced slavery, including creative works, and to encourage them to go beyond government records and critically engage with what government records reveal and question what they obscure. I was more confident doing so this year after these and related readings. I also introduced students to some ways to trace politics of citation and encouraging them to critically evaluate and question who is being cited on particular topics (and try to not just cite old white men).
Another scene from Confessions that spoke to me involved a re-imagining (and renaming) of archives as:
“…stretches of time, but also stretches of space. And they don’t just mean space as a place; they mean space as a practice: the way we make space in our own bodies. To them, I think, this is history: breathing air into a previously unfelt opening… ” (Rosenberg 2018, p.267).
Confessions of the Fox, Scenes of Subjection and Archie Barry’s article made me keen to explore ways to encourage collective reading and engagement with texts and partly led to starting an initiative to gather reading recommendations from MPOW’s community and share them in bookmarks throughout the library and on social media. Gathering recommendations and momentum is taking a while for various reasons, but I’m optimistic that I’ll be able to get it off the ground eventually and I have a smaller scale version of this in the works too – involving connecting past and present alumni.
I’ve also been slowly experimenting with LibGuides to make them a bit more participatory and challenge the meaning of ‘expert’ by creating Padlets and crowdsourcing recommendations, resources, experiences, and tips rather than claim or attempt to be an ‘expert’ on everything and acknowledge and capture lived expertise. Please share resources and tips at the link above.
The Reading/Making room I wrote about earlier was an example of facilitating collective reading and collective, critical and creative responses to reading. Quinn Eades and I will be adapting this in a breakout session for this year’s CRIG seminar to encourage academic librarians from around Victoria to critically, creatively and collectively reflect and create spaces to do so in their libraries. Come along if you’re in an academic library in Victoria!
I’ve started building on all of this by exploring collective biography as a genre and historical research methodology, duo-ethnography, currere, and other collaborative research methodologies.
I’ve recently met an academic who studies affective histories of books (possibly my new favourite research area) amongst other things and is keen to do some things that are related to collective, affective reading. We’ve also been planning a class on referencing as a party or scholarly conversation (which like most parties I know of includes politics!) – partly influenced by one of the texts students in the class are studying (The Argonauts by Maggie Nelson), and chatting about “meeting (and sometimes drinking with) your bibliography” at conferences. Our conversations and planning reminded me of this post on literature review imaginings and re-imaginings by James Burford. I love getting students, usually in honours classes, to share their systems for storing and organising research/literatures with each other in a similar way to how Burford describes in the aforementioned post and have been delighted to discover that some people use spreadsheets and scrapbooks. Personally, I am particularly on board with the scrapbooks idea.
I have also been reminded of discovering rhizomatic learning and education, the community as curriculum, and collaborative knowledge construction in my early days of looking into ways to facilitate digital literacies development and how it was one thing that led to the creation of our library staff journal club – a space for critical and collective reflection on our profession…. I think it might be time for me to dig deeper into Deleuze and Guattari to explore the rhizome metaphor and anti-genealogy and anti-memory more.
I feel like the upcoming Next Fest – hosted by La Trobe’s School of Humanities and Social Sciences – and the Digital writers festival Digital archives and disruption session are going to be good ways to consolidate and continue a few of these readings, thoughts and conversations.
I have helped plant a seed (and invited Alex Bayley to participate in) this tweetchat on Open scholarship and activism for Open Access Week which will discuss activism for open scholarship and activism with open resources, and am hoping to see a few activist archivists, radical recordkeepers and researchers, liberatory librarians and militant museum workers get involved in the discussion, as I think this could be another way to build on these thoughts and conversations.
I have mentioned wanting to start a podcast a few times, and think the medium lends itself well to doing something connected to collective reading, research and reflection, so this could be the podcast idea that takes off. I already get to have such great conversations about reading and research with researchers, students and GLAM workers, and I think people would enjoy listening!