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Friday, June 17 • 10:15 - 11:15
The Paperwork Explosion / Ben Kafka
“The government’s laws and orders will be transmitted to the furthest reaches of the social order with the speed of electric fluid.” Such was the promise made to Napoleon by his minister of the interior, the polymath Jean-Antoine Chaptal, in the year 1800. It could be said to signal a shift in the West’s way of thinking about paperwork. The ideal of the paperless office had been born. Scholars and practitioners alike have long recognized the astounding versality, portability, and durability of paper, which is in many respects the ideal material support. As a corollary, the paperless office has been dismissed as a “myth” by social scientists, information engineers, and corporate consultants alike, who predict that paper’s many virtues will continue to make it indispensable for the foreseeable future. Starting with a short film from 1967 entitled The Paperwork Explosion, this talk will investigate fantasies of paperlessness. I will argue that the paperless office is indeed a myth, but not in the ordinary sense of the term. We must understand it as a myth in the sense used by the anthropologist Claude Lévi-Strauss, that is to say, as an imaginary resolution to real contradictions. I will conclude by reflecting on the role of archivists in protecting us from those who would mistake this fantasy for reality. 

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Ben Kafka

Associate Professor, New York University (NYU)
Ben Kafka is an associate professor in the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University. Described by The New York Times as the “unofficial standard-bearer” of paperwork studies, he is the author of The Demon of Writing: Powers and Failures of Paperwork (Zone Books, 2012) as well as a number of articles, essays, and reviews. He has been a fellow of the New York Institute for the Humanities; the School of... Read More →

Friday June 17, 2016 10:15 - 11:15
Kleine Zaal