Writing in Progress, on jokes and feminist archives

This week I’ve learned not to leave writing deadlines for the Christmas holiday because it’s a real nerdy bahumbug. The article I’m working on right now is more generally about artist projects that use humour as a mode of encounter in feminist archives.

Working in archives of any kind is always hard, hunched over boxes, sorting through file after file, never sure whether you’ve found the right thing. When Derrida wrote of “archive fever” he wasn’t describing how your eyes and neck quite literally start to ache, but these haptic memories might be familiar to anyone who does research for a living. Much writing about working in feminist archives emphasizes these states of being and feeling, dwelling on the emotional reactions of artists and researchers: encounters with records of feminist activism can inspire optimism, or leave you depressed, worn-out by the sad forms feminist struggle can take. Feminist histories are often told against the backdrop of all kinds of traumas and injustices, from racism, to sexual assault, to domestic abuse, to the everyday exhaustion of trying to get by when the cards are stacked against you. Working in archives that house, in part, the insidious traumas of feminist burnout (Cvetkovich 2003), it helps to have a sense of humour; when the archive overwhelms, sometimes all you can do is find a way to laugh.