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  • Gilman's Paperwork:Authorship, Accounting, and Archival Memory
  • Craig Carey (bio)

In 2010, the Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America announced a plan to digitize their entire collection of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's papers. Over the next five years, 34 boxes, 354 folders, and 77 volumes were converted into 34,881 digital images.1 Now organized and searchable by tags, Gilman's paperwork finds itself deconstructed by the calculating memory of digital machines, a discourse network whose archival accounting resists the humanities' preference for textual and narrative approaches to history. As Wolfgang Ernst explains, digital archives liberate historical objects from the burden of narrative by rematerializing the archive's calculating function: "The archive does not tell stories; only secondary narratives give meaningful coherence to its discontinuous elements… In its very discreteness the archive mirrors the operative level of the present, calculating rather than telling" ("The Archive" 48).2 Archives remind us that an archaeological sense of the past begins with the monumentality of discrete data, not the continuity of textual patterns produced by narrative. Accounting for archival memory thus demands a new method of telling and counting history, one that distinguishes the "discontinuous elements" that resist narrative, push back against its textual bias, and calculate historical memory on a register that precedes hermeneutic interpretation.

I argue that archival collections like Gilman's hold the potential to detach our study of authorship from both the linear continuity of historical narratives as well as the abstraction of discursive categories. Most studies of US authorship locate authors in the broader context of cultural, economic, and literary history, reading their [End Page 307] work through historical narratives about the market, print culture, professionalization, mass media, publicity, and other cultural abstractions. In contrast, a media-archaeological approach reconstructs "the author" in the discontinuous intervals of material practice, where the "emphatic subject dissolves into a text of discrete bits," as Ernst writes, and "the phantasmatic desire" to reanimate the past with continuity rubs up against the dead papers, marks, lines, letters, and numbers that calibrate authorship at the archival level of inscription and notation ("The Archive" 48). By dividing the author into "discrete bits," archives submit authorship to a decomposing analysis that exorcises "the author" of its romantic and discursive function, detaching them from what Michel Foucault famously called the "problematic nature of the word 'work' and the unity it designates" (119). In the archive, authors dissolve into a kaleidoscope of bits and blanks, data and intervals, marks and margins, the kind of elementary notations, as Friedrich A. Kittler reminds us, that allow writers "to select, store, and process relevant data" (369), calculating their work into history.3

Using Gilman's archive as a case study, then, my accounting of her authorship unsettles the coherence and continuity of "Gilman's Works"—the phrase she used to describe her production—by throwing into relief both the countable elements (marks, letters, numbers) and nonnarrative techniques (listing, counting, indexing) that allowed her to systematically break down her production into a working archive with its own calculating efficiency. Despite a self-proclaimed distaste for "business," Gilman used her paperwork as a means to reconfigure her authorship as an archival practice, calculating her life's work on paper to ensure its coherence, continuity, and utility.4 A partial inventory of this paperwork includes: 40 annual diaries filled with daily nonnarrative entries; journals and notebooks recording her thoughts and arithmetic; memorandum books marked with income and expenses; index cards organizing the names of readers and subscribers; typed schedules itemizing her lectures by date, location, sponsor, subject, and fee; printed catalogs promoting her work and company; loose scraps estimating letters, numbers, and other individual items; and innumerable miscellany like posters, brochures, course syllabi, and subscription lists. At one point, she even organized her own "Gilman Week," which consisted of a "week's continuous work in one city," as she put it, a serialization of her work dispersed into one of four courses, each divided into six discussion lectures.5 Throughout, we find evidence of a tallying memory whose "business" involved not just producing literature, letters, and lectures, but actually staying busy by listing, enumerating, tagging, and classifying her work into...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1468-4365
Print ISSN
0896-7148
Pages
pp. 307-330
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-24
Open Access
No
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