I created my first Tumblr blog in 2011, at the age of twelve. Now, it is 2021, I am twenty-two, and I can look back through the haze of a decade (a decade!) at what all those hours of scrolling have heaped up like the sands of time — for in the space of ten years, I have not missed a single month of posting. It is possible for me now to revisit the me of a year, five years, ten years ago, and watch the outline of the person I have become harden into shape like an image coming into focus.
The heap — alas, currently 15,661 posts in all — is profitable to no one but me. At the same time, however, it contains almost nothing that is really personal. Neither my full name nor my birthday are on it, nor are there any pictures and videos of me. There are no diary entries or 140-character bon mots. In fact, nearly everything on it was created by someone else or references something created by someone else; some of my favorite posts of Aprils past include an eye flirtation guide from 1920 (“Placing left forefinger to the left eye — May I C U home?”), pictures of Victorian lachrymatories and, of course, the annually reblogged first four lines of “The Waste Land.”
Online archival platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube are typically spaces in which the private becomes public, as people have become more and more accustomed to posting autobiographical, confessional content. Tumblr, for all its faults (and there are many), offers the possibility of the opposite: a space in which the public becomes private. By entering into communion with all the other items that have been posted on the blog, a reblogged piece of content contributes to the individual’s network of meaning-making and acquires personal significance. No longer is a photograph just a photograph: it becomes a nexus of one’s hopes, desires and memories, an externalization of the imagination.
Indeed, as the personal archive accumulates, the process of archiving itself becomes a creative process. The task of deciding what to let in and what to keep out, of organizing, tagging, presenting, combining and recombining demonstrates that creativity does not come out of a void: a certain flint must strike against the mind, existing material must be molded, kneaded, formed and reformed. In fact, it is precisely the void that the archive must act as a bulwark against. For, anyone who has ever been to the seventh-floor stacks of Olin and is a lover of books knows how terrifying the archive’s vastness is: the terror of the archive is the terror of death because it speaks to our knowledge of our own mortality. It presents us with the reality of the void while at the same time attempting to shore up memory against chaos. I will never be able to read all the books, watch all the movies, see all the artworks, listen to all the pieces of music, learn all the knowledge I want to. Even as I write this, the time I have left to do so shrinks.
“The tremendous cry of our faith and doubt against the darkness and silence is the most terrifying proof of our abandonment and our unuttered knowledge,” reads Alma to Elisabet in Ingmar Bergman’s Persona. The two women are on the beach. The beach is where Leopold Bloom inscribes a message in the sand with a stick — I. AM. A. — but he effaces it before he finishes the message. He knows that the tide will wash in, that the waves will come, are coming closer all the time. Still, one must continue to cry, to make traces.
Ramya Yandava is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Ramya’s Rambles runs alternate Mondays this semester.