We briefly discussed the game Myst on Thursday as an inspiration for the game in Codex.  Interestingly, Myst itself is a kind of archive.  To demonstrate, I looked up the list of book/ages in the Myst series that are explorable throughout the games.

For those unfamiliar with the game, some books in the Myst universe are Linking Books which people can write to take the player to other worlds.

The linked website is a wiki/archive of Myst worlds and story (some people have too much time on their hands), but I wanted to highlight that Myst is actually about archives in a way.

Archives and libraries in Myst are actually about maintaining people’s histories, homes, worlds, and lives.  This special nature of books in Myst make archives all the more important in the game.  Libraries are portals to new worlds and new discoveries and puzzles.

In the real world, archives may not contain people’s lives, but Myst’s hyperbolic libraries do demonstrate the importance of maintaining archives for culture.


This is an unusual archive I found online. As of yet, I cannot decipher the way the entries are organized, but it certainly stores a great amount of information in each entry. I have given the link for the entry on elevators, which contains a diverse collection of things to do  with the word elevator, including:

  • a haiku that mentions an elevator
  • song tracks that have either an artist or title that includes a form of the word “elevator” or “elevate”
  • definitions and synonyms
  • history of the elevator
  • quotes containing “elevator”
  • an interesting legend about a secret elevator in the Disneyland theme park
  • etc.

While some of this information could be found in an ordinary encyclopedia or archive of information, what stuck out to me about this one is that the information within the entry (though fascinating in its seeming randomness and obscurity) appears to be chosen and added at random.

Our discussions of archives hinge the definition of an archive on the existence of order and intended accessibility through that order. Fusion Anomaly embraces the random acquisition of knowledge, and that is very counter to the ideologies of the archives we have encountered thus far. The button at the bottom of the page links to what appears to be a random directory that leads to not a full list of entries, but a sublist. Depending on what you choose from the sublist, you will find another random directory linked at the bottom of that entry.

A traditional archive like those we have looked at so far operates on the principle that a person knows what he/she is looking for, follows the directory to get to the information, and then is satisfied or proceeds to look at relevant information that is suggested as helpful. In contrast, the Fusion Anomaly archive is not (as far as I can perceive, unless I am using the website very incorrectly) driven by a person’s own agenda. Instead of being an information vending machine, it is a journey through strange and unexpected places without a complete map.

One of the main themes of Mao II is the effect that crowds have in the world. From the very beginning of the novel, Karen’s parents must watch her, or just a crowd, get married. In a way, they’re watching their daughter give into crowd conformity, and lose her individuality. This is tied to other themes in the novel like media, one example being when Karen watches the news, taking in every story a piece at a time. Each story is separated and gets attention by millions of viewers. And this is how it has to be. DeLillo comes across as saying that everything needs attention by the masses to have any real effect at all in the world. And this theme is consistent throughout his entire story.

Companies like Apple aren’t new to this idea of affecting the world through mass production, crowds, and media. Apple opened pre-orders for the new iPhone 6 on September 12th, with a record of 4 million being ordered within the first 24 hours! Obviously, Apple knows how to manipulate the masses. For example, a line of 300 people waited for the new iPhone at Atlanta’s Lenox Square on Sunday, allowing themselves to form a crowd and give into Apple’s clever system. And because of how mass production, crowds, and media can affect the world, it’s estimated that Apple could sell between 55 and 60 million iPhones during the holiday season, having already sold more than 10 million during the opening weekend. Just in the way that Karen gives in and follows the crowd, millions will buy the iPhone simply because everybody else has it. And although mass production, crowds, and media are not inherently negative things, people often follow the masses as a way of simply not thinking for themselves. It’s no doubt that great good can come from the masses, but it can also produce other things like great ignorance. And this is one of the peculiar things about crowds. They can affect the world in great ways or terrible ways, but either way they’re controlling the direction in which society moves as a whole.

One of the major themes explored in Mao II is the idea of a crowd. The final sentence of the prologue is “The future belongs to crowds.” I find this quote to be remarkably true in today’s culture, as massive amounts of people tend to sway how we as a society think about things. This past Sunday was the People’s Climate March in New York City. The goal of the march was to raise awareness for global climate change issues and to influence the 120 heads of state meeting on Tuesday September 23 at the UN Climate Summit.  According to the article “Hundreds of Thousands Turn Out For People’s Climate March In New York City”, more than 400,000 people attended the march, including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, and former Vice-President Al Gore. The march stretched for up to 4 miles and featured over 1,500 different groups all advocating for discussion on climate change.

A crowd that size can be hard to ignore, and many people in the march are hopeful that the Tuesday meeting at the UN will prove beneficial in the fight against climate change. As DeLillo points out in Mao II, crowds are often the center of historic events and sometimes the greatest change can come from a lot of people acting in unison. Whether or not the 120 world leaders listen to the people or not remains to be seen, but I am hopeful that this crowd has changed our future.

“…lines of ghostly type on microfilm.”

The unnamed hostage finds himself wondering who and where he is in the third paragraph on page 112, in chapter 8. This particular paragraph stuck with me, as it seems to resonate just as much now as it would have in the 80s and 90s. There’s this idea that he is no longer himself, that he is, rather, “a second self, an immortality, the spirit of Jean-Claude Julien”. It’s as if, with each utterance of his name by “the intelligence network, the diplomatic back-channel, technicians, military men”, he becomes less himself, and more an idea.

Does this not apply to archives just as much as people? When we visited the GT Archives on Thursday, we discussed the digital and the material. The main examples provided were what many consider the highest awards in entertainment–the Oscars. As soon as we glimpsed the golden statuettes on screen, we already had our own ideas and perceptions of what they represented. To me, they evoked ideas of Old Hollywood, of glamour, of champagne and caviar served at a Vanity Fair after party. To someone else, they might have just seemed like another self-congratulatory accolade for an elitist industry. But, regardless of what they represented, they brought forth an idea. It was to the point that, when the Oscars were brought out of their box, I actually felt my heart rate increase. The idea of standing in the same room as this symbol of culture was physically exciting me.

But why?

Why should these awards do anything more for me than my old high school’s soccer trophies?

Thus, we see DeLillo’s explanation on page 112. “..he sensed they’d forgotten his body by now. He was lost in the wavebands…”. As the media, as the world, carries the name Jean-Claude Julien through the news cycle, he becomes an idea–a point to rally around. As his name spreads, he becomes less real. He is represented over and over, his image copied, and his story retold, but none of these representations truly capture the essence of him.

When I reacted to the Oscar, I wasn’t reacting to the statuette. I was reacting to the years of tradition, to the institution, to the idea of the Academy Awards. The idea that, through this one statuette, I was in the same room as the Academy, brought forth an almost visceral reaction. It has become more than a piece of sculpted gold…it has become unreal.

So, does the archiving of an object add to its mystique? Does it become more or less real? Does it depend how it’s displayed, or used? We treat our founding documents, the Declaration, the Constitution, as something to be revered, but if we had not held on to them, if we had not archived them, if we had abandoned them  a few years in, would we even care? Are they simply calligraphy on parchment, or are they something more?

Where does the object, the person, the signified end, and the signifier begin?


Reading through MaoII, one begins to explore the parallels and contrasts between Bill’s story-line and the wider historical context of the novel focused on crowd mentality of cults, terrorism, and political parties. Bill pursues loneliness and solitary with fervor, and even escapes from Scott who has begun to control his life and dictate his actions. He is the antithesis of the crowd follower represented in Karen, who in the opening scenes of the book is introduced as she is saying her wedding vows among hundreds of other couples in a “Moonie” wedding. This tension between the acceptance of individuals like Karen to a “total politi[c], total authority, total being” and the desire of the reclusive and pensive Bill to express his “internal dissent and self-argument” through writing develops as the plot moves forward. We see that the “underlying conflict of Mao II revolves around the friction between the masses and the individuals who resist assimilation into a crowd-centric future” (Dell’Aquila). The book asks us to examine our own lives and question our intentions, identify what drives us, and become aware of where we place our faith. Is it better to march out alone? To be a unique and perhaps unheard voice? Or, should and is our world drifting towards a more crowd based society? Is this tendency natural or should we be fighting it? Why are we drawn towards crowds and leaders that ask us to refocus our lives to their purpose?

To understand the life of solitude, one can look within Mao II to the life of Bill. Bill’s life is often a reflection of an individual rejecting the whole. He refuses to allow crowds to take hold of his identity through his rejection of photographs and his reluctance to publish his next work. These things are personal and unique to Bill and perhaps through his decision hide, he prolongs his assimilation. However, even as Bill represents the rejection of mindless faith and acceptance or adherence to a “deity” like figure, he propagates his own god-likeness in his decision to withhold from his readers details of his life. To his readers, Bill has become a legend — effectively a leader of his own crowd.

Looking at Karen and Scott’s lives we see individuals who have given their lives in faith to a person or cause. With the thousands of bodies, the masses described in the book, all thinking, feeling and doing as one, a powerful image is painted. Perhaps this is what is meant for humans, to work as one. Unfortunately, it seems that even as it is a powerful and awe-inspiring thing for individuals to come together as one, every example in Mao II makes the reader question if the masses are doing what is best? Does becoming a follower take away freedoms and potential and self expression?

One might also ask if it is possible for all humans to remain completely autonomous or if there will always be Karen’s and Scott’s in the world, ready to follow a cause with all that they have. There is undeniably something in humans that drives them to desire to give up their freedoms for a cause. Mao II discusses that desire, what happens when an individual decides to run from this desire or run towards it. As Bill comments, “anybody can write a great novel,” and “one voice [is] unlike the next” if one will take the chance to “sit down and find his voice” (159).




In Mao II, meaning is constantly divested from the medium of things, and invested in the interaction of groups; the machinations of individuals. When Charlie says, countering Bill’s disbelief in the face of the bomb blast, “You and I know better. We understand how reality is invented. A person sits in a room and thinks a thought and it bleeds out into the world. Every thought is permitted. And there is no longer a moral or spatial distinction between thinking and acting”. It is my opinion that this bleed is the central motif of the section. Take the print of Gorbachev: ostensibly about the former soviet leader, is really an unconscious connection to the collective of Warhol, of constant re-print and appropriation. It is also the idea of Bill Gray that has out grown Bill Gray. His legend grows with absence, allowing the minds of others to invent a reality which he has to live up to, and feels hunted by. In a similar way, Karen’s life as a Moonie constantly interrupts her current life through subconscious mechanisms.

This invention of reality speaks to the complexity of an archive as both a physical and psychological artifact. Scott keeps Bill’s new work from reaching out of his little archive much like the Archons of ancient Greece kept the knowledge, the value, within archives from reaching out. The separation, the spatial distance allows thinking to replace the reality of an object or narrative.  What, then, is the value of a physical record when the psychological one is so malleable as to become reality itself, supplanting, at least to those without access to the physical truth, the literal truth? If it only is accessible by few, does it not serve many more as the seed of more thought, and greater legend, surpassing its own value as information and medium, to the masses?

-Garrett Stache

“There’s the life and there’s the consumer event. Everything around us tends to channel our lives toward some final reality in print or on film. Two lovers quarrel in the back of a taxi and a question becomes implicit in the event. Who will write the book and who will play the lovers in the movie? Everything seeks its own heightened version. Or put it this way. Nothing happens until it’s consumed. Or put it this way. Nature has given way to aura. A man cuts himself shaving and someone is signed up to write the biography of the cut. All the material in every life is channeled into the glow. Here I am in your lens. Already I see myself differently. Twice over or once removed.”

This quote from Mao II by Don DeLillo gets me thinking about multiple things. Why do people insist on writing down everything that happens, in history books, in journals, or anything like that? Why do we keep things at all? The events described in this quote are rather mundane and ones in which someone wouldn’t ordinarily think of to write down or keep. But, perhaps, there is sentimental value- it could be the man’s first shave and he wants to remember the moment, or it could be the content of the couple’s argument that needs remembering. People are constantly plagued with keeping things- I know I keep small things, like the special napkin of a nice restaurant or a hang tag for parking at a hotel, with the intent of “scrapbooking them one day.” One day, these items will be on display- I hope- so I may reminisce. Everything has become a “consumer event” to be saved. I feel like this is why we struggle with identifying times, places and people where there wasn’t the ability to write or take pictures- stories were only told by word of mouth. What if we were able to keep track of everything back then, as well? Would we be so obsessed with keeping things in the worry that they would be lost if we didn’t? I think things would certainly be different- perhaps we would have developed certain technologies faster- but people have a natural tendency to keep things, and we always will. This quote, I think, is a good representation of archiving every little thing with a careful manner, as we saw in GT Archives during our visits. Every little thing matters and we must be careful with all of the details!