We’ve been cleaning the attic. Mostly it’s a matter of winnowing, clearing out some of the older and more useless junk in order to make room for the new junk we’re presently accumulating. Of course there are the physical mementos, the old baseball gloves and so on, but mostly it’s paper: receipts, documents, forms, reports, notes, letters. I’m pretty efficient; nostalgia doesn’t typically waylay me. For me a stroll down Memory Lane feels more like digging up a graveyard.
I have however found myself decontextualizing the junk.
I know what these old things used to mean, their purpose and value, their provenance and history, their rise and fall. But what if all this junk had been somebody else’s junk, stacked up in somebody else’s attic? Unplugging it from the context it once occupied for me, alienating it, rendering it opaque, stripping it of meaning — I’d likely be even less hesitant about getting rid of it: if it’s not valuable to me in the here and now then it’s worthless. But if I took the time to scrutinize these things one by one, sorting and categorizing them and piecing them together, would I be able to infer some sort of backstory for them, some context, however alien to me, into which they once fit together? Let’s call that sort of meaning-making the Rosebud Protocol.
Or, invert figure and ground: keep the context but drain it of its contents. Each empty cardboard box, each hanging file, each manila folder has a label already affixed to it: family history, class notes, expert-novice differences, AI system specs, questionnaires design/scoring, national demonstration project, startup business plan, taxes, insurance, home buy/sell, homelessness, ex-/repatriation. What sorts of junk, in what alternate realities, might fill up these empty sets, these blank slates, these formless voids?