edge archiving.

edge methodology: toward the topological
December 23, 2010, 2:46 am
Filed under: edge discourse, edge glossary


I will start from a point of abstraction, and work toward several points of specificity in what I am terming an “edge topology.” Edges describe a topology of delineations, limits, obstructions, the layers for which are historical, geographical, and ontological. The layers do not, however, represent an ascending logic of material accumulation, thus rendering ‘history’ in these spatializing terms of progress. Thinking laterally, in this sense, produces an archaeology which flattens time into surfaces. Rather than dig for history, we must assume the historicity of a topology – a ‘history’ premised on the dynamism of its own temporality and spatiality. The Berlin Wall, for instance, is an edge which conjures this kind of historical dynamism, as a border which exists in the present as a multiplicity of temporalities. The border is now a ruin of history, the edge-site of memories, a tourist destination. At this border, time is experienced manifold, through its presence and absence, de-territorializing and re-territorializing the past as ‘history.’

The edges of this topology can be imagined as borders, boundaries, frontiers. Movement takes variable directions with, around, through, over, and below the planes on which these edges are imagined. Edges take variable directions as well: moving, expanding, folding, disappearing. Boundaries and frontiers – which can be pushed or moved forward – are edges that cannot be crossed, while borders are static edges that can be crossed over and under. As with boundaries and frontiers, however, the ‘edge’ has no beyond: the edge is a horizon, which transforms with movement, but which never ceases its function as an “end” which is always ending.

The figures of this topology each have historical resonances, for which the ‘edge’ itself resonates the sixties. The ‘edge’ proliferated in the sixties. The ‘edge’ became a mainstreamed figure of speech, a frequent descriptive for the counter-culture, and a way of imagining history. The ‘edge’ describes a threshold, or boundary, which was being pushed against and re-negotiated through the course of the long sixties – up to the very “end of history.” For the Diggers, it was “planet edges”; for the Merry Pranksters, it was “edge city”; for the Hell’s Angels, it was the edge of death.2 During the sixties, Harlan Ellison began his extensive “Edge Works” – a still growing compilation of articles, short stories, and essays which elaborate the tropology of the ‘edge.’ For Ellison, the ‘edge’ describes a tone – “is there an edge in my voice?” – as well as the vantage of a certain “world view.” Before proceeding into this notion of the sixties as “the world on the edge,” however, I would like to begin with an earlier world image, from which to engage a comparison by means of this notion of an edge topology. This should be understood as a historiographical gesture, while the gesture must ultimately be critiqued. The attempt will be to work against the narrative of an archaeological digging for the edges of history, and rather as a search for this narrative on the planes of our current historical imaginary. The ‘edges’ and ‘edge-sites’ of this topology cannot be understood through ascending and descending in history, but as emergent to a standpoint of historicity.

2This final ‘edge’ comes from Hunter S. Thompson’s account of the Hell’s Angels, in which he describes the death-drive of his subjects as a compulsion toward “The Edge.” (Hell’s Angels, 262)


“Contact Zone”
September 3, 2010, 12:57 am
Filed under: edge glossary

“Contact Zone”

re: Mary Louise Pratt: Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation

“Contact zone” is a term which, Pratt writes, “[refers] to the space of colonial encounters, the space in which peoples geographically and historically separated come into contact with each other and establish ongoing relations, usually involving conditions of coercion, radical inequality, and intractable conflict… ‘contact zone’ in my discussion is often synonymous with ‘colonial frontier.’ But while the latter term is grounded within a European expansionist perspective (the frontier is a frontier only with respect to Europe), “contact zone” is an attempt to invoke the spatial and temporal copresence of subjects previously separated by geographic and historical disjunctures, and whose trajectories now intersect.” (6-7)


Within the greater trajectory of an “edge history,” Pratt’s notion of “contact zone” presents a mode of edging the frontier imaginary with sites of intersection.  These sites of intersection, contact zones, mark edge-sites — rather than a mode of edge-crossing.  This is precisely the limit to imperial thinking, from which “contact zone” develops.  The “edge” reaches a similar limit, which is a dialectical limit of inside / outside edge imaginaries such as the American frontier.

As a point of intersection — or as an edge-site — a “contact zone” is an inward, liminal space which operates at the edge of utopianism and imperialism (encapsulated in the notion of “transculturation”).  The image of a contact zone is a kind of Venn diagram: a space determined by its outward edges.  The dialectical limit, therein, comes in the imperative of edge-crossing.  To cross the outward edges of a “contact zone” — as in Brautigan’s narrative (see article in “longer pieces”) — is to either push out of the utopian or imperial logic, or, to push out of a utopian imperialism.  Crossing the “edge” of a contact zone, historically, is the narrative of western expansion.

In its critique of the frontier, “contact zone” takes on an inward logic which is inherently postmodern — a collapse of the notion of an “outside.”  It is in this sense that “contact zone” might be understood as the “edge” of a frontier discourse — an edge from which an “edge” discourse might be further expanded.  What are the edges, or the outer limits, of these zones?

Through the global era, our cosmic imaginary has been territorialized by narratives of “contact zones” which operate as frontier sites.  Star Trek imagines space as an ocean, on which the ship and captain sail to different planetary islands, or encounter other ships along a horizontal plane.  The “contact zones” of the ship’s expeditions are sites of conquest, where different aliens (effectively, different human races) either engage in diplomacy or war.  Kirk and his crew represent a utopian vision of patriarchical multi-culturalism — a sixties utopia for the American masses — distinct from the traditions of primitivist or orientalized cultures they encounter.  These encounters take place in “contact zones,” which in these instances, operate as cocoons of cosmic Western expansion: vacuums from which alternative possibilities of space cannot be imagined.  Here, “contact zone” can be used to understand the particular hybridity of these spaces of possibility, or, of impossibility.