Reconstructing the Archive







I am Josephine Miles: A Digital Reprocessing



“Performance is a promissory act...not because it can only promise possible change but because it catches its participants—often by surprise—in a contract with possibility: with imagining what might be, could be, should be. one way of practicing the interdependence of human selves."

—Della Pollock

When I first found Josephine Miles (1911-1985), she was a poet. When I found her for a second time, she was a compositionist. I was struck by her ability to seamlessly work as a poet, critic, and compositionist, but also the way in which she allowed all those things to bleed into one another in order to amplify and deepen her own intellectual inquiries.  I was struck, too, by the way her method had something to say to us now about the relationship between past, present, and future. I wanted to recover not only her forgotten trajectory—her method—but also her intellectual disposition for our disciplinary history. I wanted to bring her back to life in so many ways.

This took the shape, at first, of studying her life’s work—her scholarship, poetry, letters and notes—postponing, as she herself suggests, my own tendency toward narrative through a method of “thick description” (61). Throughout this process, an intimacy grew between me, as researcher, and Miles, as archived persona. Miles began to saturate my thinking. You might say I was haunted by her, a not uncommon result of working with archives, according to Michelle Ballif, who writes that the practice of historiography is and should be a hauntology. When we practice historiography as a hauntology, we risk the “challenge of the dead’s re-materialization, and thereby risk the instability of the conceptual border between living and dead” (150). When a scholar “resists a historiographical practice that aims to bury the dead, eulogize the dead, memorialize the dead, then we effected” and affected can thereby address and converse with the dead, not as a laying to rest, but as a presencing (150). Indeed, this kind of conversation with the past opens up what Avital Ronnell calls a visit or relation to another person or text, where the researcher’s role is to allow the conversation through the act of writing or composing (154). My work with Miles, then, takes Ballif’s invitation and extends it to ask how digital composition and production can further risk re-materialization of the past.

On this, Mark Amerika, Jussi Parikka, and Paul D. Miller have argued that digital culture invites us to “process” archival and source materials through a combination of our own embodiment and digital technology. Indeed, as Parikka questions, “The idea is that the whole responsibility of ‘caring’ for collections is translated into a question of use: how are collections used in productive practices, from amateur practices, parodies or just haphazard reuses of material from YouTube to more professional takes like Eclectic Method Mixtapes, livecoders’ performance practices?”(31). One area where this kind of work is happening already is in media theory and media art, where scholars like Simone Osthoff argue that the line between archive as document and archive as artwork has become usefully indistinct. Practitioners like those in this in this collection—Jody Shipka, Erin Anderson, and Alexandra Hidalgo—have also begun to occupy, inhabit, and perform archives, disrupting the space between history and art, researcher and archive, toward new conceptions of collective memory and imagined futures.

In the piece that follows, “I am Josephine Miles,” I have taken Ballif’s invitation to be haunted, along with Amerika, Miller and Parikka’s call to reuse our archives through the act of performance and processing. I use the Josephine Miles archives, my own voice and body, and digital recording to practice a new historiographical method of digital reprocessing. As part radical recovery, part digital reprocessing, and part digital performance, I highlight this method for not only thinking about our archives, but also our own role in activating histories. This is what Miller has called the potential of the digital to “bridge the gap” between past and present, researcher and archive, art and source material (016). Our own embodiment paired to that of digital recording and editing can open the door to a new kind of archival practice and a new kind of researcher. What Miller names a practice of the “poetics of presence” (032), where the potential of the digital opens a space in which the researcher becomes artist becomes performer becomes processor to recontextualize, remix, and sample the past into something new and present through the digitally recorded outputs of her own body.

The piece itself employs audio and video recording to digitally perform the relationship between me and Miles, us and our archives. I began with my notes of her work and her oral history transcript, and from these documents I wrote a script, in which my “I” becomes Miles’s “I” in and through the act of performance. Echoing Amerika, who asserts that “close reading” and intimacy with our source materials comes out of the practice of performance, I speak as Miles in order to process her and give her a presencing. Indeed the notion of performing has become part of the “creative process in digital production…you perform to see exactly what it is you are becoming” (xii). Della Pollack further invites us to see performance as a “contract with possibility” (2). To this end, digital performance makes archival materials present, useful, and there for the future reimaginings of another scholar, idea, and future. While at the same time, digital performance risks the contamination of my voice with Miles’, my subjectivity with Miles’s, my embodiment with the texts and documents of another. This is a risk I underscore and willfully undertake for its potential to compose new forms of scholarly production and new methods of historiography. Yet my move here is to also “show my work,” as Miles did and as digital production allows (61). In “I am Josephine Miles,” I cease being the distant researcher risking instead a conversation and experience with the past, as artist, as processor, as compositionist, and as interdependent human self.

In producing this experimental and intimate digital performance, I have also meant to imply the resonant entanglement between my voice and Miles’s voice, between the digital and the body, as a way of practicing the magic of in-betweenness and our mutual capacity—both mine and Miles’s—to act and be acted upon.:

Works Cited

Amerika, Mark. Remixthebook. Minneapolis & London: U of Minneapolis P, 2011. Print.

Baliff, Michelle. “Historiography as Hauntology: Paranormal Investigations of the History of Rhetoric.” Theorizing Histories of Rhetoric. Ed. Michele Baliff. Carbondale: Southern Illinois UP, 2013. 139-53. Print.

Breger, Helen. Sketch of Josephine Miles. Bay Area Literary History. 1990.

Miles, Josephine. “Poetry, Teaching, and Scholarship.” Interview with Ruth Teiser and Catherine Harroun. Bancroft Library, Berkeley, University of California Regional Oral History Office. 1974. Print.

Miles, Josephine. Portrait. 233 × 277 pixels, file size: 9 KB, MIME type: image/jpeg. Source = Fair Use. Miles, Josephine. Reading Selected Poems. Archive of Recorded Poetry and Literature, Washington, DC, April 14, 1981.

Miles, Josephine. Coming to Terms. U of Illinois P, 1979. Print.

---. Eras and Modes in English Poetry. Berkeley: U of California P, 1957, 2nd edition, 1964. Print.

---. “Interview with Josephine Miles.” Published by Wiley on behalf of The American Society for Aesthetics. Print.

---. Poetry and Change: Donne, Milton, Wordsworth, and the Equilibrium of the Present. Berkeley: U of California P, 1974. Print.

---. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1964. Print.

---. “Reading Poems.” The English Journal 52.4 (1963): 243-46. Print.

---. “Quartos.” Poetry Magazine. August 1954. Web.

---. Style and Proportion: The Language of Prose and Poetry. Boston: Little, Brown, 1966. Print.

---. “The Freshman at Composition.” College Composition and Communication 2.1 (1951):  7-9. JSTOR. Web. 26 October 2015.

---. The Vocabulary of Poetry: Three Studies (contains “Wordsworth and the Vocabulary of Emotion,” “Pathetic Fallacy in the Nineteenth Century,” and “Major Adjectives in English Poetry: From Wyatt to Auden”) Berkley: U of California P, 1946. Print.

---. “What We Compose.” College Composition and Communication 14.3 (1963): 146-54/ JSTOR. Web. 26 October 2015.

---. Wordsworth and the Vocabulary of Emotion. Berkeley: U of California P, 1942. Print.

---. Working Out Ideas: Essays in Composition. Berkeley: U of California P, 1979. Print.

Miller, Paul. Rhythm Science. Boston: MIT Press, 2004. Print.

Pollock, Della. “Performative Writing.” Ed Peggy Phelan and Jill Lane. The Ends of Performance. New York: New York UP. 73-103. Print.

Parikka, Jussi. Interview. Ed. Annet Dekker. Speculative Scenarios. Baltan Laboratories. Web.

Ronell, Avital. “Preface to Dictations.” The UberReader: Selected Works of Avital Ronnell. Ed. Diane Davis. Urbana: U of Illinois P, 2008. 145-55. Print.

Steinman, Lisa M. “Putting on Knowledge with Power: The Poetry of Josephine Miles.” Chicago Review 37.1 Neglected Poets. (Winter 1990): 130-40. Print.

Sounds and Music “Female Counting” Oceanictrancer. Creative Commons License: 0. Web. April 2015.

“Future Impact” by Cedaresounds. Creative Commons License: Attribution. Web. April 2015.

“Introduction by Celticvalkyria. Creative Commons License: Attribution. Web. April 2015.

Johnson, Robert. “Kind Hearted Woman Blues.” Open Source. 1936. Web.

“Lost Time” by Setuniman. Creative Commons License: Attribution. Web. April 2015.

“Male Whispering Numbers 1-10 by Jagadamba. Creative Commons License: Attribution. Web. April 2015.

“Piano Resonance/Room by Stone B. Creative Commons License: Attribution. Web. April 2015.

“Processing” by NoiseCollector. Creative Commons License: Attribution. Web. April 2015.

“Swiffless by Corsica_S. Creative Commons License: Attribution. Web. April 2015.

“Violin End” by Ramagochi. Creative Commons License: Attribution. Web. April 2015.

“Violin Original.” Jcveliz. Creative Commons License: Attribution. Web. April 2015.

A note on Fair Use: This project and method is about using archives as source material in order to reprocess, re-perform, and enliven them once again as ideas and affects. However, it seeks to do so as carefully (full of care) and thoughtfully as possible, with proper attribution and citation. That said, I’m citing Fair Use doctrine in my project because I use the material for a limited and “transformative” purpose, as Fair Use allows. This includes using material to comment upon, criticize, or parody. Such uses are allowed under Fair Use. I textually quote Miles’ own words about her life and research, while also quoting her actual voice along with my own. I do not manipulate her words or attempt to deceive my audience in any capacity. Everything is cited and transparent to the audience. According to Fair Use, a project must offer benefits to the public, which is enhanced by the use of archived or copyrighted material. In this case, I argue that my experimental quoting and reusing offer benefits to the public and our research through the cited use of archived material and this new method of reprocessing.



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