The Pull of the Tide
When we walk the shore, combing the beach, we sift through wreckage lovingly, sensually, caught by the sparkle of broken glass, the smoothness of driftwood, the salty stink of seaweed, the clicking of shells tossed together. The beachcomber’s peculiar combination of distracted wandering and intense focus guides her through a shore/archive of fragments, enabling the collection of an idiosyncratic treasure.
The Middle Shore is an exercise in virtual collecting, one that highlights collectors’ processes of attending to fragmentary things. Originally conceived for attendees of On The Beach (3rd biennial Babel Conference in Santa Barbara, CA), the project explores the affective potential of “beachcombing” as a metaphor for work with the matter of the past. Like shell-collectors and others sorting through what the waves have washed up, scholars studying past cultures pick through chance survivals resurfaced in new contexts. We work with dead things, broken things, bleached and eroded things, but also with charismatic things that pull us in their direction.
The comparison between walking the shore and working the archive is suggestive for thinking about what we do when we visit collections—of texts, artworks, and buildings—and assemble "our" materials as scholars. But the intent of The Middle Shore project is to invoke not just the idea of beachcombing but also the beachcomber’s affective and phenomenological experience as it might be practiced in relation to fragments of the past. We want, that is, not only to talk about our memories of beachcombing for the sake of analogy, but also to act as beachcombers. The online space of The Middle Shore is designed to recreate the actions, affects, and sensations of moving through the littoral zone for users who are separated from coastlines and each other.
Forthcoming 2018: Volume 1 of the Electric Books series.