Messing with the Archive: Back Doors, Rubbish and Traces in Robert Kroetsch’s The Hornbooks of Rita K


In March 2005 I visited the Robert Kroetsch Fonds in the University of Calgary Special Collections. This consists of almost twenty linear meters of material, including letters to Kroetsch from writers, publishers and academics, letters to and from family members, multiple drafts of his major works and unpublished works, print-outs of e-mails he sent and received, plane and train ticket receipts, conference outlines and drafts of papers, photographs, course outlines, pizza menus, notes written on the backs of postcards, and more. Sifting through this material, I felt a mixture of excitement, voyeurism, frustration, and embarrassment. Dry academic correspondence sat beside intimate notes, which nestled next to what in other circumstances would be considered junk mail. In the first few days I tried to take it all in and to be as comprehensive as possible, close reading letters and poring over drafts. When running out of time, I developed a more ruthless, utilitarian approach, dismissing potentially interesting, intimate details if they did not seem immediately relevant, acutely aware of the time limit I had. I became conscious of my role as selector and producer—attempting to turn the exciting chaos into coherent stories, stifling the excess of the archive.

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