The Personal Archive

Benjamin’s archive, as discussed in class, hoped to “prevent the waste of loss.” The personal archive stores those pieces of information relating to you / about you, preserving them from decay (or does it?? see below)

Personal archives are often consciously recorded – diaries, correspondence, photographs, oral family stories – but also include those records about ourselves which we do not actively strive to maintain (birth certificates, documentation etc. about you)

A particularly humorous interpretation of the personal archive comes from This American Life episode 559 (Captain’s Log), where, as part of a stand-up routine, Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg read through people’s text messages from the early stages of dating:


(I believe they published a book about this project, Modern Romance, which I have not read)

Tavi Gevinson has worked with personal archives quite a lot in her writing and editorial for Rookie. As it is a youth-oriented magazine, the archives tend to reflect a yearning for teenage life, an attempt to preserve the memories of youth from deterioration:

from Memory Lane on Rookie, a photo series of one woman’s collection of her old diaries and friend-notes from the 60s-70s

For Tavi, “writing was like emotional hoarding”:

From video above (around 15:45-19:00) “I look back on my diaries from high school and there are realisations and special events and moments that are interesting, but I’m like, why did I feel like everything was about to be taken away from me and like I had to write down the colour of his shirt … I think writing is also a space where you can be authentic and just say whatever comes to you or whatever, but that’s not how I was doing it before”

She writes about the personal archive’s power to destroy the event – in recording we diminish the strength the actual moment had on us, we kill the past reality in favour of preserving it in a more accessible format (This also relates to Andy Warhol’s archival method I think – casting everything into a box obliterates it as his current reality, and even as an archive it is impossible to preserve it due to decay)


From Gevinson’s The Infinity Diaries Part One


Self-censorship and editing in personal archives also deserve some consideration in this respect. When I videoed my home and possessions (below) this summer before travelling abroad, I wanted a pure, untainted reminder of my life here in case things became hard to bear far away, one that breathed rather than a flat photograph (even these video clips, of course, are themselves an edited version of my homelife, I waited for good weather and light, and recorded the parts of my home I wanted to remember, not all of the mundane details which had no emotional impact).

However, when things turned extremely horrible on my J1 I recorded the experience in a lighthearted way, censoring the most miserable moments and describing the trip as a humorously terrible adventure. This was partly as the blog posts were to be read by others, however it also helped me personally, to reframe my memories into something more palatable. See (Everything went wrong on my J1, parts one and two)

I notice this too when adjusting the lighting/saturation on photographs, which I have been doing constantly for LitSoc to make it look like our events were magical technicolour wonders – Sometimes we record not to remember exactly, but to depict the kind of reality we wished had existed, or believe should have existed.


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