The Sea of Information

When Orgeron, Orgeron, and Streible talk about a “dense, rich, and largely neglected history,” their language carefully situates the state of educational film history as a stand-in for all film history and even the daunting task of the archive itself. I wrote about some of these issues once in a piece for UCLA’s Mediascape Blog, talking about the anxieties over information glut that have attended the history of the archive in western culture, and the compulsive need for hierarchical systems of organization. My central trope—the anxiety of the mis-shelved book, speaks to the fear that a historical artifact can be hidden in plain sight, obscured by the indifferentiable sea of entries that surround it (an idea that finds filmic expression in Citizen Kane, All the President’s Men, and Zodiac, among a host of other movies). Canons, whether personal (an informal list of movies you want to watch again) or institutional (the National Film Registry) are created in order to banish the thought of a lost film by drawing a permanent circle around what’s worth keeping. I’ve been thinking, however, about a number of film screenings I’ve attended in the past few years, and the cycle of loss and recovery as a value-making system. Continue reading “The Sea of Information” »

The Mis-shelved Book

Image 1: The Library of Babel, a possibly infinite network of galleries

Editors’ note: Occasionally we’ll run a blog post because its ideas are good, even if it may not seem to be explicitly about media studies. While reading this post, consider how categorization and record-keeping matter to film and television, particularly in the age of digital media. One example might be the possibility (or impossibility) of cataloging the huge number of film festival submissions, especially those that are not chosen to compete and never reach the public.

Anxiety surrounding libraries seems to be a recurring theme in the discussion of human knowledge. Bowker and Starr offhandedly reference the scenario of “a library book shelved under the wrong Library of Congress catalogue number”1 in establishing beyond a doubt the importance of classification systems. Gleick, in his discussion of the long tradition of TMI, cites Augustus De Morgan, whose sentiments that “the library cannot be rummaged also drive toward the same fear: that the library represents the perpetual threat of information glut, precariously kept in check by faith in a perfect and wise system of categorization. None of these figures would advocate for the dismantling of the library as an institution, yet their preoccupation with miscategorization and unsearchability reveal fears that the institution is greater than they or any intelligence, and that its very mass poses a threat to human knowledge. Continue reading “The Mis-shelved Book” »