Along the Archival Grain

Along the Archival Grain: Epistemic Anxieties and Colonial Common Sense

Ann Laura Stoler
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 314
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt7rtrg
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  • Book Info
    Along the Archival Grain
    Book Description:

    Along the Archival Grainoffers a unique methodological and analytic opening to the affective registers of imperial governance and the political content of archival forms. In a series of nuanced mediations on the nature of colonial documents from the nineteenth-century Netherlands Indies, Ann Laura Stoler identifies the social epistemologies that guided perception and practice, revealing the problematic racial ontologies of that confused epistemic space.

    Navigating familiar and extraordinary paths through the lettered lives of those who ruled, she seizes on moments when common sense failed and prevailing categories no longer seemed to work. She asks not what colonial agents knew, but what happened when what they thought they knew they found they did not. Rejecting the notion that archival labor be approached as an extractive enterprise, Stoler sets her sights on archival production as a consequential act of governance, as a field of force with violent effect, and not least as a vivid space to do ethnography.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-3547-8
    Subjects: History, Anthropology, Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. APPRECIATIONS
    (pp. xi-xv)
  5. CHAPTER ONE Prologue in Two Parts
    (pp. 1-15)

    This book is about the force of writing and the feel of documents, about lettered governance and written traces of colonial lives. It is about commitments to paper, and the political and personal work that such inscriptions perform. Not least, it is about colonial archives as sites of the expectant and conjured—about dreams of comforting futures and forebodings of future failures. It is a book that asks what we might learn about the nature of imperial rule and the dispositions it engendered from the writerly forms through which it was managed, how attentions were trained and selectively cast. In...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Pulse of the Archive
    (pp. 17-54)

    It is 1912. Pramoedya Ananta Toer’s novel,House of Glass, begins in the chill of the Dutch East Indies’ state archives and in the heat of colonial Java’s emergent Indonesian nationalist movement.¹ Dutch authorities call on Jacques Pangemanann, a Eurasian former police officer, newly appointed native commissioner to the elite Indies intelligence service, to defuse the movement’s spread. His mission is to read the classified state archives, and spy, report on, and then destroy Minke, the movement’s leader. But this complicity undoes Pangemanann and ravages his soul. He hears voices, develops a verbal tick and high blood pressure, becomes estranged...

  7. Part I: Colonial Archives and Their Affective States
    • CHAPTER THREE Habits of a Colonial Heart
      (pp. 57-103)

      Much of colonial studies over the last decade has worked from the shared assumption that the mastery of reason, rationality, and the inflated claims made for Enlightenment principles have been at the political foundation of colonial regimes and should be at the center of critical histories of them. We have looked at what colonial authorities took to be indices of reasoned judgment and the political effects of policies that defined rationality in culturally narrow and prescribed ways—at the epistemological foundations of received categories as much as the content of them. Students of the colonial consistently have argued that the...

    • CHAPTER FOUR Developing Historical Negatives
      (pp. 105-139)

      The above captures both the arrogance of Dutch colonial authorities and a delusional confidence in their projects. Who the “we” were went easily unstated, just as the possibility of social engineering was assumed. But whom did this slip between the mimetic and the perfected apply? To whom was this contempt for the ersatz attached? It wasnotto the indigenous population, as students of colonialism might expect—not to the Indies’ Batak, or Balinese. This scrutinizing gaze of reform was cast elsewhere, across the dimly discerned outlines of another population—those who occupied the racial corridors of Indies society—who...

    • CHAPTER FIVE Commissions and Their Storied Edges
      (pp. 141-178)

      Such nostalgic musings over the lost leisures of childhood as in the epigraph are the stuff of embarrassing memoirs and bad fiction. It would hardly be worth quoting did this cozy evocation not emerge from another sort of sentimental space. It appeared in the Indies European Pauperism Commission’s report of 1874, the melancholic contribution of one of its esteemed board members, Heer Weijhenke, charged to analyze the causes of increasing destitution among Batavia’s Europeans and their descendants. For Heer Weijhenke and his commission colleagues, an investigation by way of survey and statistics was not how they interpreted their task—nor...

  8. Part II: Watermarks in Colonial History
    • CHAPTER SIX Hierarchies of Credibility
      (pp. 181-235)

      Some twenty years ago, on what I remember as one of Leiden’s dark summer afternoons, in a desultory rummage for photographs of European colonial families who had lived in the Deli plantation belt of Sumatra, I experienced a jolt, what Roland Barthes once described in photography as a “floating flash”—the sort of “shock” of unexpected details that alters one’s vision, “pricks” one’s received understandings of what counts as a history and what makes up people’s lives.¹ I had come across a thirty-page, handwritten letter, dated 28 October 1876, by a certain Frans Carl Valck, who was then Assistent Resident...

    • CHAPTER SEVEN Imperial Dispositions of Disregard
      (pp. 237-278)

      This chapter is about the logos and pathos of empire, the durabilities of imperial dispositions steeped in matter and mind. In different guises, it wrestles with those habits of heart and comportment recruited to the service of colonial governance but not wholly subsumed by it. It seeks to broach the cast that imperial formations imposed over people’s intimate social ecologies—both the intensities and the diminished qualities of their affective lives. European colonial communities built their interior frontiers on social distinctions that were schooled as well as those that could “go without saying” because they were, in C. S. Peirce’s...

  9. APPENDIX 1 Colonial Chronologies
    (pp. 279-284)
  10. APPENDIX 2 Governors-General of the Netherlands Indies, 1830–1930
    (pp. 285-286)
  11. BIBLIOGRAPHY
    (pp. 287-308)
  12. INDEX
    (pp. 309-316)