Keys to the Archive: A Gathering of Old Men


The collections at the Gaines Center afford us an opportunity to study the development and composition of his novels. But doing that work at a distance, with limited access to the research materials, encouraged us to ask how else we might engage Gaines’s drafts other than recovering his writing process. What other forms of reading and writing might the collections elicit through digital remediation?

This series of creative entries offers a number of answers to that question. Partly inspired by Lisa Samuels and Jerome McGann’s experiments in “Deformance and Interpretation,” these textual “deformations” develop new perspectives on Gaines’s draft materials using procedural alterations that reorder, isolate, alter, or add to the document at hand. Some use redaction to draw out aspects of the original documents that require reader attention; some isolate particular words to break the linear order of prose lines into fractured, impressionistic utterances; others use draft materials as the starting point for original poetic expression.   

In each case, these creative entries work toward reimagining Gaines’s unpublished writing and what it might mean for contemporary readers. As Samuels and McGann point out, among artists and poets, “interpretation regularly involves some kind of performative element” (46). Giving space to performative engagements with the archive in this project reminds us to continue reading Gaines with fresh eyes. Doing so reveals traces of the lives he preserved in his published writing at the same time it demonstrates how his legacy continues to inspire new approaches to representing South Louisiana.

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