Document, Index, Trace, and Death: Briet’s Antelope Lessons

Venue: Fisher Rare Book Library 120 St. George Street

Coach House Institute Lecture series on Culture & Technology (C&TLS)

The first third of this paper is about my concept of documentality, which I think avoids some dead ends in thinking about documentation in general. I take speech as my example of how the documentality of even such a seemingly ephemeral phenomenon can emerge and be strengthened, in this case through the modes of materialization of utterance provided by Aristotelian rhetoric, which, I also argue, are relevant to important contemporary verbal performances. The rest of the paper is about what I call “Briet’s antelope lessons”. I argue that from her brief discussion of the “vêture” of documents cascading from her now-famous antelope, we learn that its ambiguous connection to those documents poses a specific problem pertaining to the documentality of things. How is the fate of the primary document (the antelope) related to its secondary documents (its “vêture”)? And how are connections between documents and their referents established, maintained, and severed? Briet’s antelope lessons direct us to such questions. Four case studies are presented as illustrations of this problem: the gardens of Villandry, the glass flowers of Harvard’s Ware Collection, practices of telepresence, such as Second Life and webcam sexual activities, and the Visible Human Project.

Bernd Frohmann is Professor Emeritus and Adjunct Associate Professor in the Faculty of Information Studies at The University of Western Ontario. He is the author of “Deflating Information: From Science Studies to Documentation” (University of Toronto Press, 2004) and various articles and book chapters on information and documentation studies. His current research interests are in contemporary media studies.