July 7, 2007

The judgment of taste and the “hipper crowd of shushers”

I was tickled to see today’s NY Times article in the Fashion section, “A Hipper Crowd of Shushers,” about how hip and cool younger librarians are now, in contrast to a generation ago. Throughout Kara Jesella’s article there are specific markers of hipness that distinguish the new breed of librarians as superior to their elders in matters of taste, in Pierre Bourdieu’s sense of of the word (See his Distinction : A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste).

But how incredibly annoying it is to see so many people, in 2007 especially, linking hipster aesthetics with progressive politics. (You see it throughout the NY Times article.) The Baffler magazine was revelatory in its exposure of the commodification of “rebellious” cultural identities in issue after issue during the 1990s, and I continue to be surprised to see how generally naive so many people still are about the social meaninglessness of their badges of cool other than as assertions of cultural superiority. (Read Commodify Your Dissent: Salvos from the Baffler if you haven’t seen these essays.)

I am sorry but if I were outside I would have to spit on the ground about this. There is nothing about tattoos, knitting, going to bars and having drinks with cute names, reading comics, wearing granny glasses, or being cool in general that has ANYTHING to do with being politically to the left. At one time, “hip” meant something political, but those times are dead and gone. Being cool is fine, have fun, enjoy it, but be aware of the function of taste in social distinction, and if you think your hip aesthetic choices constitute a critically based response to the world we live in, then you should think again and think hard. (Not that there is any conflict necessarily between being a hipster and being a progressive, but it’s not a credential, any more than looking like an insurance agent, which is kind of what I look like, is evidence of bad politics.)

The article definitely belongs in the Fashion section, where it is.

Restoring Order: The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870 (forthcoming)

Restoring Order: The Ecole des Chartes and the Organization of Archives and Libraries in France, 1820-1870

Author: Lara Moore
Expected: Spring 2008
Printed on acid-free paper

Between 1789 and 1793, the revolutionary French state nationalized thousands of libraries and archival depositories, thus becoming the proprietor of many millions of books and documents, ranging from Montesquieu’s Persian Letters to proclamations signed by Charlemagne. Unsure whether to condemn these materials as vestiges of feudalism and tyranny or to preserve them as the core of the nation’s historical patrimony, the revolutionaries initiated a series of contradictory plans to remake French archives and libraries. Few of these plans were carried out, however, and by 1800, most of the collections nationalized during the revolution sat abandoned and deteriorating in provincial warehouses. This book is about how the French governments of the nineteenth century dealt with the collections left behind by the revolution. What did they choose to preserve, or ignore? How did they distinguish between the authentic sources of national history and the irrelevant debris of a bygone age? How did they organize the materials they did deem relevant into a national network of libraries and archives? And who did they imagine would use these new collections? Who was included in the post-revolutionary “public”? According to most histories of French archives and libraries, the nineteenth century was a period of slow but steady recovery from the trauma of the revolutionary era. Confronted with the “chaos” of the nationalized collections, it is said, a few forward-thinking archivists and librarians gradually restored bibliographic and documentary order, sheltering the state’s collections from destruction and decay, preparing suitable catalogues, and improving public access. In contrast, Moore argues that the organization of archives and libraries in nineteenth-century France was neither steady nor progressive. By following the development of the Ecole des Chartes, the state school for archivists and librarians, Moore shows that conceptions of “order” changed dramatically from one decade to the next. More important, she argues that these changing notions of “order” were directly connected to contemporary shifts in state politics. Since each new political regime had its own conceptions of both national history and public knowledge, each one worked to “restore order” in a different way.