Immaterial Archives: Lost Pasts, Salvaged Futures

Jenny Sharpe
UC Los Angeles

The Guyanese author, Wilson Harris, once famously declared that a “philosophy of history may well lie buried in the arts of the imagination.” This book-in-progress derives from Caribbean art and literature a philosophy of history that addresses the problem of archival loss. The artist, poets, and fiction writers of the study embrace silences, non-verbal sounds, sacred visions, and dreamscapes as creative responses to a fragmented archive. Their creative works not only deploy intangible and invisible phenomena for revealing the limitations of a material archive in addressing a history of slavery and post-slavery; they also introduce new channels of connection with the past. This is the first book-length study to examine how Caribbean arts transform our understanding of archival materials—whether they are written records and history books, sound recordings of music and oral histories, or virtual files on a computer—to include what the grantee calls immaterial evidence.