Archives are the pay dirt of history, according to Germaine Greer, for whom they’re also a pay cheque: the university of Melbourne has just paid £3m for Greer’s collection, which spans 50 years. She plans to spend the cash on rehabilitating Australian rainforests. Given that her archive comprises an enormous 150 filing cabinets of papers, no wonder she feels like she should give something back to the trees.
I’m impressed by anyone who knew when they were 20 (her university essays and lecture notes are included) that they were going to be important enough to warrant an archive, and a saleable one at that. It goes so much against the grain of our times, when people who hold on to things are derided as hoarders, just before their family sends some soulless fiend from Channel 4 round to tell them off for keeping rubbish, and warn them of the perils of living like a hamster, trapped in newspaper nests.
And I’m also envious. When I was growing up, I had the box-room as a bedroom, and it had a door which opened inwards. It’s a real disincentive to leave stuff on the floor if you can’t then get out for food. And old habits die hard: I still chuck everything away as soon as I possibly can, because I still live in a relatively small space. A box of books for work arrived last week, so four bags of books went to the charity shop yesterday.
I hardly keep anything that I can throw away. Even keeping my accounts for seven years, as I’m legally obliged to do, pains me. It’s a spatial issue, but it’s also a mindset: I don’t think in terms of permanence, and my notes aren’t written for longevity.
I think I’m supposed to hand over my notes on this year’s Booker books to the Man Booker archive, which would make extra shelf space for me. But though the notes on the first 20 or so are okay, by around book 140, I’d become pretty libellous. Would I really want to be remembered by future Booker scholars as the judge who kept a checklist of hipster literary clichés, and added a triumphant tick to it for every narrator I came across this year who name-checked David Foster Wallace (six)? And that’s if they could read my writing which, after years of typing, has deteriorated badly.
As so much correspondence is digitised, collections like Greer’s – which contains letters from Indira Gandhi, Federico Fellini and Clive James – will be increasingly rare. That’s good news for writers who want to move around their living space without tripping over dusty boxes. But it will certainly take some romance away from posterity: handwriting reveals far more than typescript. So here’s hoping the universities grab these archives while they can. And if they’re saving the rainforest at the same time, so much the better.
Stallone the minimalist
Russians must have a big place in the hearts for pint-sized topless hard men. First, they have Vladimir Putin, who dresses on vacation as though he is hoping for a role in the reboot of the Schwarzenegger classic, Commando. And now his fashion role model, Sylvester Stallone, has an art exhibition showing in St Petersburg.
Stallone was studying art before his acting career took off, and he’s kept it up in his spare time. “I think I’m a much better painter than actor,” he has said. Well, I have always been rather fond of his minimalist mumbling and after looking at some of his paintings my eyes are spontaneously weeping, so I couldn’t possibly comment.Reuse content