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So yeah I’ve been re-reading my Capital, and that means first of all expect a lot more twittering and snickering about Bubbee Marx’ funniness, which is too little discussed, but also we come to this:

Moreover, only so much of the time spent in the production of any article is counted, as, under the given social conditions, is necessary. The consequences of this are various. In the first place, it becomes necessary that the labour should be carried on under normal conditions. If a self-acting mule is the implement in general use for spinning, it would be absurd to supply the spinner with a distaff and spinning wheel. The cotton too must not be such rubbish as to cause extra waste in being worked, but must be of suitable quality. Otherwise the spinner would be found to spend more time in producing a pound of yarn than is socially necessary, in which case the excess of time would create neither value nor money.

That’s chapter 7, page 52 in the 1906 edition, and this is a link to the lol Library of Economics and Liberty so we can all follow along. Whether Marx himself subscribes to the bourgeois cult of efficiency, let those who would speak as learnèd men speak, but we can all agree that to produce use-value to say nothing of surplus-value, you have to have tools of replacement-level efficiency. Agreed? Agreed. Which is why our man throws some excellent, if prima facie silly, shade at slavery in footnote 17:

Hence the principle, universally applied in this method of production, only to employ the rudest and heaviest implements and such as are difficult to damage owing to their sheer clumsiness. In the slave-states bordering on the Gulf of Mexico, down to the date of the civil war, ploughs constructed on old Chinese models, which turned up the soil like a hog or a mole, instead of making furrows, were alone to be found.

Can this be true? Discuss among yourselves. There are bigger fish here. Slaves have no incentive to not break tools, nor to treat animals decently, I mean clearly this is nonsense, slaves worked in the home, they cared for children, never mind go on, here’s Marx quoting Messr. Olmstead:

And I am assured that, in the careless and clumsy way they must be used by the slaves, anything lighter or less rude could not be furnished them with good economy, and that such tools as we constantly give our labourers and find our profit in giving them, would not last out a day in a Virginia cornfield—much lighter and more free from stones though it be than ours.

We will pause briefly to consider the Virginia “cornfield,” which by the 19th century was most assuredly not a thing. Two and a half hundred years of slavery had made into a deal the following things: cotton (a lil), peanuts, pigs (fed on peanuts), and tobacco (the biggest of big deals). This is like when that NYT plagiarist dude wrote about the tobacco fields of Palestine, West Virginia. NEVER MIND ON WE PLOUGH WITH OUR ROUGH-HEWN IMPLEMENTS:

So, too, when I ask why mules are so universally substituted for horses on the farm, the first reason given, and confessedly the most conclusive one, is that horses cannot bear the treatment that they always must get from the negroes; horses are always soon foundered or crippled by them, while mules will bear cudgelling, or lose a meal or two now and then, and not be materially injured, and they do not take cold or get sick, if neglected or overworked.

Marx is clearly aware of the internal rhyme of the spinner’s mule and the slaver’s mule. One is a technological innovation which permits two minders to manage like 1300 spindles, replacing (optimistically, with the neoliberal gloss of Marx, “liberating”) the labor of, say, 1300 Penelopes. The other is the rump end of feudalism, strong enough to survive all abuse, creeping slowly across the broken earth. A tool that hangs around for no reason really than that it’s around, it hasn’t been turned into a non-tool, and crucially, that it limits the ingenuity of its user, the worker.

Are you picking up what I’m putting down, Dear Reader? Are you ready to see how this passage of world-historical significance applies to the little-shits-given-about sphere of archivists and their descriptions and the managements thereof?

Behold, APPM (1989) on descriptions of “non-textual” materials, from Rule 1.1B4, footnote 4:

4. For cataloging individual nontextual archival items, see the appropriate alternate rules noted above.

oh man which refers to 1.0B1 footnote 2:

2. For book-like manuscripts (e.g., literary manuscripts and codices) and other manuscript material for which a more bibliographically oriented description may be desirable, see chapter 4 of AACR 2 and Bibliographic Description of Rare Books (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1981); for photographs and other graphic material, see chapter 8 of AACR 2 and Elisabeth Betz, Graphic Materials: Rules for Describing Original Items and Historical Collections (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1982); for motion pictures and videorecordings, see chapter 7 of AACR 2 and Wendy White-Hensen. Archival Moving Image Materials: A Cataloging Manual (Washington, D.C. [1984]); for maps and cartographic material, see chapter 3 of AACR 2 and Cartographic Materials: A Manual of Interpretation for AACR 2 (Chicago: American Library Association, 1982); for machine-readable and computer files, see chapter 9 of AACR 2, Sue A. Dodd, Cataloging Machine-Readable Data Files (Chicago: American Library Association, 1982), and Sue A. Dodd and Ann M. Sandberg-Fox, Cataloging Microcomputer Files: A Manual of Interpretation for AACR 2 (Chicago: American Library Association, 1985).

I submit that this is basically Steven Hensen taking whatever was at hand and hitching archivists to it. Why give archivists a thoroughbred when we’ve got all these different mules already under harness? No doubt this impulse came from a desire to maximize efficiency, and to promote cooperation across systems — if the universe is AACR2 in USMARC then bah gawd you know, we operate under conditions not of our own devising.

Ahh but it still just sucks. Some of the rules just suck. And maybe you don’t live with a lot of legacy APPM in your shop but it just fucking sucks. Every single goddam title is “Papers, 1701-1789 [bulk 1776-1789]” and we can have another sidebar about the idiocy of my personal beef with bulk dating, and if you want to automate that shit, like say, take 100 or 110 and copy paste into 245$a and find-replace capital “Papers” for “papers” and capital “Records” for “records” and pray that you can identify where your dates are and get them out of $a and into $f and oh godDAMNIT 245$g, then you will still have gobbledegook like “Reagan, Ronald, 1910- [Jelly beans and miscellany], [1950s-present]” and you will have to rewrite this by going and looking at the original stuff all over again, which begs the question, why in the everlasting fuck did the NEH pay for the creation of APPM? You mean to say we were somehow doing things WORSE BEFORE THIS WAS A THING?

I am of a conspiratorial bent about APPM. I think that people with a very strong catalogers’ streak, and (to absolve them of some of these crimes) people subject to early data-frugality — “Cnnt prt this many chars to s/l cd. Use abbvs.” — found a discipline which needed flexibility and creativity in description — my favorite is when I get to describe a collection created by a person about another person: Homer J. Simpson Starshipiana, 1974-1991. 520$aCollection consists of Homer Simpson’s Jefferson Starship memorabilia — and sold it on a phantom of interoperability instead. I think we got sold on APPM because of professional insecurity, a perception of diminished status, subalternity whatever. Elsewhere, Hensen laments that there’s no ISBD for archives. THERE’S A REASON FOR THAT. ISBD exists to make sure that you and I are not trying to sell copies of each other’s books, by accident, or for profit via piracy. It is a disciplinary regime. There could never be, can not be, and will never be an ISBD for archives because, dog, you don’t sell those shits. The only reason to lament that there isn’t an international standard for punctuation — PUNCTUATION DAWG — in a description of an archives-thing, therefore, is that the international standard assigns its own legitimacy. IF ONLY WE HAD THE BAR EXAM PPL WOULD RESPECT US MOR. And this was a kind of insanity that infected the minds of thousands of archivists working in the 1980s and 1990s, the people who ask in meetings convened about metadata — FUCK END MY LIFE NOW FOR REAL — “Can you do that though?”

Goddamn, fortunately for us living in the present, there are skilled people in SAA’s description section, and skilled people working with Teh Softwares, who are designing delicate, sturdy tools meant to be used by people with ingenuity and brilliance. Tools meant to transform the workplace from an abyss of tedium into a canvas of delights. ALL IS PERMITTED. To paraphrase my grandfather, if your description can’t be good, it can be careful; and if your description can’t be careful, it should be sanitary.

I’m really not being sarcastic — or comprehensible — here. But I don’t meant to shitbag Hensen. Hensen was — I dunno, arguably? I was like 10 years old lol — responding to a crying need from the profession for stability and guidance, doing the yeoman’s work of turning a billion isolated fiefs of description into a polity, and so APPM reached for the iron shirt of AACR2, without considering leather, or worsted. Something homespun, even.

J. J. Audubon, Bluebirds

Why is it a shock that we don’t have good access to this stuff? Think of the Library of Congress’ harvest of Twitter as if it were paper: 24 billion pages of text. Probably 6 million cubic feet. Growing by 14,000 cubic feet a _day_. Created by 140 million authorities. With integrity, chain of custody, privacy and political problems, such as: How do you reveal that a post by a Thai blogger committing lèse majesté against Bhumibol has been suppressed in his homeland by Twitter Co.?

What’s revealing is that the writer’s angle here — Can deleted tweets now be made accessible? — is almost shamanic: “Now, through magic, we can hear the 18 1/2-minutes that Rose Mary Wood erased! Or failing that, we can see Rep. Anthony Weiner’s chest again.” The carrier — UTF-8 instead of paper — has seduced us into thinking that since storage isn’t a problem, intellectual control isn’t a problem. Digital stuff is magic; in the interwebs, access is innate.

But intellectual control and access are built into physical care and handling of paper in a way that we haven’t fully replicated with born-digital collections. And so the Big Twitter Capture totally flouts the cardinal rule of good collections of ephemera: Define Narrowly, and Weed Ruthlessly.

There’s a kind of shallow populism at work here, the kind that believes that appraisal is strictly disciplinary and recapitulates in collections power-dominance over people. This is why we acquire widely: to guarantee that neglected parties have a voice in the susurrus of the archives. Theoretically speaking, this rhetoric of empowerment is bogus; people or groups marginalized from our collections are not themselves without power or voice, it’s just that we haven’t trapped either one of them in amber, we haven’t institutionalized their infra-power. The assumption that we can bring everything in without a solid plan for access, and just leave IT gurus and researchers to make sense of the pile is precisely the opposite of populism.