I’m Reuben Stanton. This is an intermittent blog of relatively random things: thoughts about technology, reflections on my life and work, and some historical stuff.

My ‘real’ website is here, and I tweet intermittently @absent

Monthly Archives: February 2014

Manufactured nostalgia, authentic structure

We threw a new years eve party this (last?) year. We decided early on that we wanted to have a costume party of some kind, and after tossing a few themes about with various friends we settled on one we thought would work for everyone: we would have a 90s party. Reuben and Kate’s all or nothing 90s party.

Why 90s? Most of our friends are in the 25 to 35 age group, so they were teenagers in the 90s. This is more important than you might think: because we were teenagers, the 90s was the period in our lives when we really started engaging with the world, when we became aware of music, and art, and cinema, and each-other. It was a formative period. And because we lived it, we knew all the fine details. No clichés and stereotypes. We remember exactly what we wore. We were there, man.

So: we wanted our invitation to reflect the party theme, and to act as a nostalgia trigger — something to remind our friends of the 90s, to inspire them when it came to costumes, to get them in to the right mood. We wanted it to be fun.

In the past, Kate and I have made well received video invitations for events (another party, and a wedding). This was our original plan: to collect classic 90s videos (movie trailers, TV shows, advertisements) and produce a video mash-up in the style of Liquid Television. But after some discussion we realised that no, a video wasn’t actually appropriate.

Why? Because in the 90s, amateur video production was expensive and hard. It would have been almost impossible to collect all of those videos in one location and edit them together. You couldn’t send out a video invitation to someone without posting them a videotape, let alone send them one over the dial-up internet.

* * *

In Archive Fever 1, Derrida suggests that the process of archivization (consigning an external trace of an object to the archive) is determined by technological constraints such that it directly affects our reading of history. Or: we are limited in what we can capture in the archive by technological constraints. (Full disclosure: I am yet to read Archive Fever, my knowledge here is second-hand via Marlene Manoff 2 ).

The archivization argument seems to point to the political implications of the archivists curatorial decision: you can only add the objects that the technology will allow — “the structure of the archive determines what can be archived” 3 — thus determining what can be added to (and hence, retrieved from) the historical record.

But this technological limitation is also interesting when considered in the context of a layperson readingthe archive, especially if he/she is reading for some kind of nostalgic gratification. The structure of the archive is laden with meaning, and the technical constraints of a period are essential markers of the authenticity of the archival object.

* * *

Ok, so what does any of this have to do with an invitation to a 90s party?

Well, we wanted to create a (loosely defined) archive: a collection of curated works, representative of the era, with the goal of manufacturing nostalgia for the 90s. But for our invitation to be an authentic nostalgic trigger, we required more than just the correct archival objects: we required the correct structure, the correct technical limitations. And this was the 90s — when we, the non-archivist laypeople, began to break the boundaries between the personal collection and the public one.

I’m talking of course about the personal “home page” — the first living archive. So, without further ado, I present to you our own attempt at manufactured nostalgia: Welcome to my home page.

  1. Derrida, Jacques. 1996. Archive fever: a Freudian impression. University of Chicago Press. 
  2. Manoff, Marlene. 2004. “Theories of the Archive from Across the Disciplines.” portal: Libraries and the Academy 4 (1): 9-25. 
  3. Ibid. p. 12 

Two short questions

I’ve been thinking again. Well, actually, I’m a PhD student, I’m always thinking. More specifically, I’ve been thinking about personal digital archivesagain. And I have two questions:

What does the archive gain in the transition from physical to digital?

And, (perhaps more importantly):

What does the archive lose?

No coherent answers yet, but I thought I better note the questions down. All part of the messiness of my PhD.

Performing 2012

There is a certain amount of struggle required to get back in to a work rhythm after a break. So I’m writing this post partly just as a way to force me to start writing seriously about my work again, instead of posting drawings of my cameras, or photos of paint, or photos of my photos.

I had this idea that I could write a really great comprehensive post about all the amazing things I did and learned last year. But that was a struggle too. Not because there weren’t things to write about, oh there were. But because I didn’t know where to start. I started a list of All the Great Things that I Did, Thought, Read Etc Etc last year, but that got tiresome, and really didn’t do the year justice. And now I’m thinking — what is this about anyway? I’m keeping pretty good documentation of my PhD work in notebooks, in a Scrivener document, in Lightroom catalogue, in a series of artefacts. I know what I’ve read, I know what I’ve written. Why do I need to write about it, again, here, in public?

I’ve been reading “The Presentation of the Self in Everyday Life” by Erving Goffman. I’m not far through it yet, but I’m already fascinated by his take on human interactions and relationships: viewing our interactions through a frame of performance. When we interact with each other, we perform: we project a view of ourselves in an attempt to control the impression that the other (the observer) receives. But the observer also projects an “agreeable view” of said projection to form a working consensus: an agreement about the nature of the situation. In any given interaction, the observer is also performing.

When an individual plays a part, he implicitly requests his observers to take seriously the impression that is fostered before them. 1

This blog is part of my performance as a PhD student, as a professional designer, as an amateur photographer, etc. But who are my observers (and do I even have any)? Who, exactly, am I performing for?

And herein lies a problem: I am my own observer. I am performing on this blog, hoping that I will take seriously the nature of the impression. But I am well aware of my own performance: I know what I am presenting, here, in public. I know what I am keeping hidden backstage. As I read back through my blog posts about my PhD, the impression that I get is one of controlled thought, of meticulous thinking, of structure an neatness. But I know that isn’t true: a PhD is messy. And maybe that’s why I felt that a structured post about All the Great Things that I Did, Thought, Read Etc Etc can’t do my work justice: because it’s just not messy enough.

I don’t really know how to follow through on this idea just yet: it’s just an observation at this stage. But perhaps an interesting one for how I approach my PhD this year.


  1. Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. 1st ed. London, United Kingdom: Penguin. p28 

Just doin’ some photo framin’

I finally learnt how to properly mat and frame photos yesterday. For DIY tasks like this Youtube is an incredible resource.

Photos from various overseas trips: (clockwise from top) Nepal (near Chamki), Seville, Madrid.