Archival Half-Life: Degeneration and Decay in the Postcolonial Archive

Harleen Kaur, Arizona State University

Scholars of the colonial archive make clear that the colonial archive must be understood for its particular functionality as an object of governance, now developed into a source of study (Hall 2001; Mbembe 2002). Because of this, the colonial archive represents a particular form of colonial relationality through its physical structure, which then predetermines the subjectivities which can or cannot be traced through its remaining files (Lowe 2015; Stoler 2010). Further, the colonial archive puts forth an epistemological frame that binds ongoing subjectivity formation to colonial logics through its function as a permanent referential source (Arondekar 2009; Mudimbe 1988). Archival approaches like critical fabulation (Hartman 2008) combine research with narrative to exhume the silences in the archive (Trouillot 1995). This paper applies such existing scholarship of the colonial archive to the postcolonial archive, where remaining colonial infrastructure is generally insufficient to protect old colonial documents from the elements and natural degeneration (Hoskins 2013). Based on two months of archival production (Stoler 2010) in the Punjab State Archives, Chandigarh and Patiala, I put forth a theory of archival decay, where the messy formality of the postcolonial nation-state constructs an archival environment prone to the slow destruction of evidence of the violence of colonial governance – violence which continues to play out in the contemporary nation-state (Fanon 1963). Understanding the destruction and disappearance of files in the Punjab State Archives through a sort of half-life decay model – a molecular model of decay for radioactive atoms that are exponentially decreasing in their already discrete entities – this paper makes clear the formation of the colonial archive as one that is simultaneously ensuring its vitality through the validity of the state, while also erasing the logics of state formation held within.

No extended abstract or paper available

 Presented in Session 203. In and Beyond Colonial Archives