All posts by Sarah

The Logic of Disappearance

I was halfway through Cornelia Vismann’s article “Out of File, Out of Mind” and all I could think of was this scene from the movie Zoolander:

Derek and Hansel are trying to find a file for evidence, but they can’t figure out how they can do that when the files are IN the computer. Eventually, Hansel breaks the computer, thinking it will open up and the files will be there, magically. But it’s not a problem that the computer breaks, because there’s a backup. There’s always a backup.

Vismann brings up a wonderful point in her essay that we delete, cancel, and clear files, history, and documents from our computers not to get rid of those tangible aspects, but to get rid of the memory of them. We don’t just want things gone, we want them forgotten. Vismann says that people “often misunderstand the logic of disappearance”, bringing up a story of a man who tried to get rid of a law by literally ripping a page out of the law book. She also brings up Julius Caesar, and how people did not just want him gone, they wanted him forgotten. We don’t delete files to get rid of the evidence. We delete files wishing they never existed.

Another interesting point Vismann discusses is the idea that “A political secret was no longer what was kept in the files, locked away in chanceries or hidden in obscure archives; a secret was exactly that which was off the record.” This shift happened around 1900 and it drastically changed the legal ideas of what could be used and what could not be used for evidence. I’m not sure what I think about the idea of “off the record”, except that if something is said out loud, shouldn’t it be fair game anywhere? Maybe? What do you guys think about “off the record” rules?

I was also very interested in the progression of deletion of files. First, there were the wastepaper dealers who, as Vismann says, perform their work of destruction neither truly in the imaginary realm nor truly in the symbolic.” Another very interesting thing that she says is that “One does simply not find any how-to instructions for the destruction of files”….which is what made me think of Zoolander. Do ya’ll have any thoughts on the idea of being told how to get rid of files, or what it might mean to not have the instructions to delete files?
After the wastepaper dealers came the paper shredder, or the Reiflwolfe, literally meaning “tearing wolves”. I love that. Wolves are ripping apart my papers. Brings up an amazing mental image.
Deleting paper files, tangible files, is “dirty work” according to Vismann, or at least dirtier compared to deleting electronic data.

My dad once told me (ok, more than once, he tells me this all the damn time) that nothing can ever truly be deleted from the internet. So I guess with reading this article and thinking about Zoolander and my dad’s wiseish words, which is better: digital or paper files? The one that can be saved forever or the one that can be erased forever?