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The disorder of things: the postmodern art library

  • Simon Ford (a1)

Postmodernism has stimulated a ‘new art history’, which challenged, and then displaced, the highly selective canon of the ‘Old Masters’ and ‘Modern art’ with a broader approach, recognising a wider range of art and interested in investigating both the contexts of art, and the nature of art history itself. The new art history is represented on the shelves of art libraries, but a ‘new art librarianship’ must do more than passively reflect this cultural shift. A new art librarianship will expect of art librarians that they should be aware of the ways in which art libraries legitimise certain books and artworks, thus reinforcing the hegemony of the dominant culture, and that they should be prepared to use the power of art libraries knowingly and productively. Instead of imposing order through inflexible classification schemes, the new art librarianship will embrace the ‘disorder’ of a vast complex of knowledge seen from multiple viewpoints, accommodated by hypertext, for example. It is possible that electronic networking will eventually liberate information from the custody of libraries; the new art librarianship will not resist this, but will in parallel with such developments re-value art books, and books as art, as historical artefacts, reviving a more museum-like function from the history of librarianship, while continuing to serve as a manifest symbol of the wealth of human knowledge.

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1. Foucault, Michel. Language, counter-memory, practice: selected essays and interviews. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1977, p.67.

2. Preziosi, Donald. Rethinking art history: meditations on a coy science. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989, p.xvi.

3. Jameson, Frederic. Postmodernism: or, the cultural logic of late capitalism. London: Verso, 1991, p.36.

4. Harvey, David. The condition of postmodernity. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989.

5. See also Walsh, Kevin. The representation of the past: museums and heritage in the post-modem world. London: Routledge, 1992, p. 148159.

6. Harvey. Op cit., p. 284.

7. Johnson, Barbara. Cited in: Cuddon, J. A. A dictionary of literary terms and literary theory. 3rd rev. ed. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1991, p.222 . The situation is further confused by the much quoted statement by Jacques Derrida ‘Il n’y a pas de hors-texte’ translated as ‘there is nothing outside the text’. It has recently been painted proudly on the window of the highstreet bookshop Waterstones in Charing Cross Road, London. Is this the victory for deconstruction or merely the latest slogan to sell books?

8. See Rees, A. L. and Borzello, Frances. The new art history. London: Camden Press, 1986.

9. Agger, Ben. Cultural studies as critical theory. London: Falmer Press, 1992, p.2.

10. Preziosi. Op cit., p.43.

11. Ibid, p.33.

12. Derrida, Jacques. Cited in: Ulmer, Gregory L. The object of post-criticism. In: Foster, Hal (ed.). The anti-aesthetic: essays on postmodern culture. Port Townsend: Bay Press, 1983, p.87.

13. Eco, Umberto. The name of the rose. London: Picador, 1984, p.129.

14. Thompson, James. A history of the principles of librarianship. London: Clive Bingley, 1977, p.209.

15. Lyotard, Jean-François. The postmodern condition: a report on knowledge. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1986.

16. Ibid., p.4-5.

17. Gregory L. Ulmer has characterised this in the phrase ‘copyright now means the right to copy’. Ulmer. Op cit., p.96.

18. Pearce, Susan M. Museums objects and collections: a cultural study. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1992, p.233.

19. Foucault. Op cit., p.67.

20. Foucault was even very briefly in line to be director of the Bibliothèque Nationale. See Eribon, Didier. Michel Foucault. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1992, p.297.

21. See Merquior, J. G. Foucault. London: Fontana, 1985, p.100.

22. Foucault, Michel. Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977, p.194.

23. See Foucault, Michel. The archaeology of knowledge. London: Routledge, 1989.

24. Foucault, Michel. The order of things: an archaeology of the human sciences. London: Tavistock, 1970, p.xv.

25. ‘Institutional legitimation imposes a grid of the permissible upon the field of the possible.’ Burgin, Victor. The end of art theory: criticism and postmodernity. London: Macmillan, 1986, p.158.

26. Gabriel Naudé. Cited in: Thompson. Op cit., p.139.

27. Benjamin, Walter. Illuminations. London: Fontana, 1973, p.60.

28. Bakewell, K. G. B. A manual of cataloguing practice. Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1972, p.14.

29. Hunter, Eric J. and Bakewell, K. G. B. Cataloguing. 2nd, rev, and expanded ed. London: Clive Bingley, 1983, p.10.

30. Bakewell. Op cit., p.15. Although Thompson, Op cit., p.225, puts this at the 13th century.

31. Bakewell. Ibid., p.15-16.

32. Foucault, 1977. Op cit., p. 195-228.

33. Bentham, Jeremy. Panopticon, or, the inspection-house: containing the idea of a new principle of construction applicable to a sort of establishment, in which persons of any description are to be kept under inspection: and in particular to penitentiary-houses, prisons, houses of industry … and schools: with a plan of management adapted to the principle: in a series of letters, written in the year 1787. London: Reprinted and sold by T. Payne, 1791.

34. Assemblée nationale constituante. Instruction pour procéder à la confection du catalogue de chacune des bibliothèques sur lesquelles les directoires ont dû ou doivent incessamment apposer les scellés. Paris: De l’Imprimerie nationale, 1791.

35. Preziosi. Op cit., p.195.

36. Merquior. Op cit., p.92-93.

37. Foucault, 1970. Op cit., p.132. As a brief but revealing aside, the librarian’s love affair with statistics can be found at the roots of both the modern library movement and of institutionalized statistics. In 1848 Edward Edward published his Remarks on the paucity of libraries freely open to the public, in the British Empire; together with a succinct statistical view of the existing provision of Public Libraries in the several states of Europe, a paper first delivered to the Statistical Society (founded in 1834) [Thompson. Op cit., p.75], (For an account of the uncertain beginnings of the institutionalized discourse of statistics see Poovey, Mary. Figures of arithmetic, figures of speech: the discourse of statistics in the 1830s. Critical Inquiry. 19, Winter 1993, p.256-276.) It would be nice to consign statistics permanently to this modernist period but a feature of postmodernism is the requirement for ever more detailed and accurate management information.

38. Guild, Reuban A. The librarian’s manual: a treatise on bibiography, comprising a select and descriptive list of bibliographical works; to which are added, sketches of publick libraries. New York: Charles B. Norton, 1858, p.41.

39. Preziosi. Op cit., p.76.

40. Saumarez Smith, Charles. Museums, artefacts, and meanings. In: Vergo, Peter, (ed.). The new museology. London: Reaktion Books, 1989, p. 19.

41. Derrida, Jacques. Of grammatology. Baltimore: John Hopkins, 1976, p.8687 . Hypertext also stretches traditional forms of cataloguing based as they are authors, places of publication, and distinct measurable objects. How do you catalogue a disc with 1000 books on it let alone index an on-line docuverse?

42. Cotton, Bob and Oliver, Richard. Understanding hypermedia: from multimedia to virtual reality. London: Phaidon, 1993, p.8.

43. Landow, George P. Hypertext: the convergence of contemporary critical theory and technology. Baltimore: John Hopkins Press, 1992, p.63.

44. Ibid, p.196.

45. Poster, Mark. The mode of information: poststructuralism and social context. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990, p.11.

46. Ibid, p.116.

47. Ibid., p.84.

48. Ibid, p.85.

49. Conner, Patrick W. Hypertext in the last days of the book. Bulletin of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester. 74 (3), Autumn 1992, p.724.

50. Ibid, p.12.

51. Landow. Op cit., p.123.

52. Dyer, Alan and Milner, Kate. An examination of hypertext as an authoring tool in art and design education. In: Miall, David S. Humanities and the computer: new directions. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990, p.137.

53. In this respect see: Yates, Francis A. The art of memory. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1969.

54. Poster. Op cit., p.70.

55. See Bowcott, Owen and Hamilton, Sally. Beating the system: hackers, phreakers and electronic spies. London: Bloomsbury, 1992.

56. Landow. Op cit., p.188.

57. ‘Bibliography is the discipline that studies texts as recorded forms, and the processes of their transmission, including their production and reception’. McKenzie, D. F. Bibliography and the sociology of texts. London: British Library, 1986, p.4. (Panizzi Lectures, 1985).

58. J. Hillis Miller. Cited in: Landow. Op cit., p.28.

59. Ibid., p.3.

60. This is explored in: Kernon, Alvin. Printing technology, letters and Samuel Johnson. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987 .; Chartier, Roger. The cultural uses of print in early modern France. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987 ; and Eisenstein, Elizabeth L. The printing press as an agent of change: communication and cultural transformations in early-modern Europe. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1980 . From their work it is apparent that these changes and transitions do not take place over-night. According to Kernan it was not until about 1700 that print technology transformed ‘the most advanced countries of Europe from oral to print societies, re-ordering the entire social world, and restructuring rather than merely modifying letters’ [Kernan. Op cit., p.9]. Landow thinks that one of the lessons that can be learnt from the work of those looking at historical changes within reading practice, information technology, and culture is that all these changes have political contexts and effects. [Landow, Op cit., p.32].

61. Landow. Op cit., p.203.

62. Vergo, Peter. Introduction. In: Vergo. Op cit., p.1.

63. Foucault, 1989. Op cit.

64. Ibid, p.191-192.

65. Hooper-Greenhill, Eilean. Museums and the shaping of knowledge. London: Routledge, 1992.

66. ‘In the sixth edition of Edward Phillips’s New World of Words: Or, Universal English Dictionary (1706) “museum” is defined as a “Study or Library; also a College, of Publick Place for the Resort of Learned Men”’ Ibid, p.89.

67. Hooper-Greenhill. Op cit., p.123.

68. Pearce, Susan M. Museums objects and collections: a cultural study. Leicester: Leicester University Press, 1992, p.93.

69. Findlen, Paula. The museum: its classical etymology and Renaissance genealogy. Journal of the history of collections. 1(1), 1989, p.59.

70. Ibid., p.68.

71. Ibid., p.67.

72. Ibid., p.73.

73. Such as the library of Duca di Naja, Giovanni Crafa (1715-68) discussed in: Lyons, Claire L. The Museo Mastrilli and the culture of collecting in Naples, 1700-1755. Journal of the history of collections. 4 (1), 1992, p.126.

74. Anderson, David. Cinderella gets to the ball. Museums journal. 93 (5), May 1993, p.3133.

75. Hooper-Greenhill. Op cit., p.206.

76. Durance, Cynthia J. and Taylor, Hugh A.. Wisdom, knowledge, information and data: transformation and convergence in archives and libraries of the Western World. Alexandria. 4 (1), 1992, p.43.

77. Seal, Alan. Evolution at the Victoria and Albert Museum. Computers and the history of art. 3 (1), 1992, p.2532.

78. The Order of the General Benedictine Chapter. Cited in: Thompson. Op cit., p.53.

79. Shera, Jesse. In: American Library Association. ALA world encyclopedia of library and information services. Chicago: ALA; London: Adamantine Press, 1986, p.455.

80. In the use of this term I include all types of print and manuscript documents.

81. Baudrillard, Jean. Simulations. New York: Semiotext(e), 1983.

82. Hooper-Greenhill. Op cit., p.215.

83. Pearce. Op cit., p.272.

84. Eco. Op cit., p. 158.

85. Derrida, Jacques. Writing and difference. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1978, p.17.

86. An exhibition curated by Lyotard, held from March 28th – July 25th, 1985, at the Pompidou Centre, Paris.

87. Rajchman, John. The postmodern museum. Art in America. October 1985, p.115.

88. Ibid., p.171.

89. Flaubert, Gustave. La tentation de Saint Antoine. Paris: Charpentier, 1874.

90. Foucault, 1977. Op cit., p.92.

91. Ibid, p. 105.

92. This was because it ‘was an era when transformations in spatial and temporal practices implied a loss of identity with place and repeated radical breaks with any sense of historical continuity.’ Harvey. Op cit., p.272.

93. Kernan Op cit., p.4-5. Kernan speaks of the ‘library effect’ and the tension and contradiction relating to the primary forces of print logic, multiplicity and fixity, described as ‘the remainder house’ and the ‘library effect’ [Kernan. Op cit., p.55 and in Landow. Op cit., p.32.] The question of which aspect is dominant at a given time depends on the specific economic, political, and technological conditions. What I take this to mean is that the logic of printed books leads towards a multiplicity of material, an excess, and at the same time a conservation, a filling up. The library attempts to fix and freeze a prolific book culture which continues, however, to multiply and subvert this fixation. This was excellently phrased by Foucault as a double fascination placed upon the library ‘by the sumptuous spectacle of its past and the limitless acquisitions of its future’. [Foucault, 1977. Op cit., p.103.]

94. Harvey. Op cit., p.272.

95. Jameson, Fredric. Cited in: Owens, Craig. The discourse of Others: feminists and postmodernism. In. Foster, Hal (ed.). The anti-aesthetic: essays on postmodern culture. Port Townsend: Bay Press, 1983, p.65.

96. Baudrillard, Jean. Cited in: Rajchman. Op cit., p.113.

97. Baudrillard, 1983. Op cit., p.25.

98. An illustration of something similar can be found in Cotton. Op cit., p.120.

99. Landow. Op cit., p. 128.

100. Ibid., p.42.

101. Borges, Jorge Luis. The library of Babel. In: Labyrinths: selected stories and other writings. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1970, p.85.

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