Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Zines, Blogs and the Historical Record

Simon Reynolds writes in the Guardian about the continued existence of printed zines in the age of the blog (he's also put up an interesting series of interviews with zine editors here, including John Eden of Uncarved/Woofah). Simon concludes:

'What's going on here is what academics describe as "slippage of the auratic". Walter Benjamin theorised about the "aura" possessed by the singular artwork, the painting or sculpture, in the age of mechanical reproduction. Yet as digital culture takes over, "aura" is being conferred on things that not long ago would once have been considered mass produced and characterless. In the age of the webzine and MP3, it is solid-form cultural artifacts – vinyl records, vintage DJ mixtapes, yellowing magazines – that become attractive in the face of the infinite dissemination and seeming ephemerality of web culture.'

I agree that part of the attraction of zines might be a nostalgia for material culture in the age of digital reproduction. But as a sometime wannabe social historian there is also something special about the printed zine as a contemporary artifact of a specific time and place. When I pick up, say, a riot grrrl zine from the mid-1990s, it tells me many things - not just what the writer was thinking at that time, but where they were based (from the address), what wider scene they were linked in with (from the listings) etc.

A future historian relying on blogs won't have to search through obscure archives in search of old hardcopy documents but they will face other obstacles. For a start blogs are much harder to locate in time and space - posts may be dated, but they can be revised, edited and re-written, making it difficult to be sure what is a contemporary record of something and what is something amended with hindsight. Many blogs don't even state what country they are published from, let alone city, so linking utterances to people's actual experiences of particular scenes is also problematic.

But the biggest problem is that while printed sources can last for many years, blogs can be deleted at will by the authors or other parties. In some cases the only documentation for something occurring can we wiped from the historical record because somebody forgets to pay their bill, because a host company goes out of business or because somebody is embarrassed by their juvenilia.

So please don't delete your websites and blogs even if you are sick of them - and if it's really good, maybe think about printing out a hard copy and sticking it in a library somewhere. Or maybe do a zine and send me a copy!

1 comment:

kerstin said...

Food for thought.
I haven't even made a hard copy of mine.