On Wednesday, January 31, 2018, the Decoloniality Workshop Series continued with a discussion around Enmanuel Martinez’s dissertation chapter draft, “’What Is Past Is Prologue’: Shakespeare’s The Tempest and Empire Building(s) at the U.S. National Archives.” Enmanuel’s presentation examined the quote chiseled at the base of a statue named “Future” located at the entrance to the National Archives Building in Washington D.C., stating “WHAT IS PAST IS PROLOGUE.” In highlighting the archival space as a central node for concepts of empire, war, national identity, Cold War politics, and coloniality, Enmanuel’s paper asked us to consider several questions: “what is the context, [what] is the reason, for which Antonio’s fraught words are inscribed onto the physical surface of the National Archives Building; and conversely what content, which is to say resonance, does Antonio’s statement project onto our understanding of the history (and future) of the National Archives Building?”
As Enmanuel described effectively through the help of photos and videos, the enshrinement of the Charters of Freedom in the National Archives Building on December 15, 1952 through military escort exemplifies the crossing of colonial and archival powers in an expression of Cold War political theater. As he argues, “the space of the National Archives Building emerges as a national stage over which the U.S. American government rehearses and projects its global-imperial aspirations and anxieties, respectively. We must thus recognize the U.S. National Archives as a domestic archive whose arrangement is shaped no less by imperialism abroad than it is by nationalism at home.” Symbolic performativity and architectural place coalesce to reveal the archive as a key component in the construction of the same global project that allowed the US to solidify its continuing hold on several insular territories in the Pacific and Atlantic during 20th century, island territories such as the Philippines, Hawaii, Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands.
Comparative Literature PhD candidate Annabel We served as respondent. She considered the temporal resonances of the US’s pre-1952 imperial history as further ways of thinking through the Shakespearean quote and noted the difficulty of historians relying on the very archives they critique and examine, such as that of the US National Archives and Record Administration (NARA). Other attendees offered helpful suggestions on the paper’s structure. For example, one student asked that Enmanuel to further develop his analysis of Antonio, the power-usurping villain of Shakespeare’s play, through Rutgers University Professor Nelson Maldonado-Torres’ work on the “paradigm of war.”
In his responses to questions from the group of attendees, Enmanuel reminded us of the need to distinguish carefully between archive studies and library and information science. Enmanuel also helped us understand his own plans for the dissertation chapter moving forward. As he continues to develop his comparative analysis of the inscription on the statue “Future” and Shakespeare’s The Tempest, he hopes to draw upon Edward Said’s work on misreading, as well as Walter Benjamin’s writing on quotations as interruptions.
The Decoloniality Worshop (organized by Rafael Vizcaíno [Comparative Literature, Rutgers University]) is a space for junior scholars at Rutgers University to receive constructive feedback in an intimate community setting. This workshop series builds upon recent graduate student–organized events at Rutgers University and is focused on decolonial thought and criticism. Most recently, the inaugural Decoloniality Roundtable took place in May 2017. In March 2016, the Urban (De)Coloniality and Literature conference was held as the Program in Comparative Literature Biennial Graduate Student Conference.
The Decoloniality Workshop has a complete lineup for the Spring 2018 semester and is in the plan of continuing through the 2018-19 academic year. For more information, visit the workshop’s website at https://decolonialityworkshop.wordpress.com