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The Art of Deleting: A Study of Erasure Poetry, Practices of Control, Surveillance, and Censorship

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ARTDEL (The Art of Deleting: A Study of Erasure Poetry, Practices of Control, Surveillance, and Censorship)

Reporting period: 2018-08-13 to 2020-08-12

“The Art of Deleting” (ARTDEL) investigates the topic of deletion and redaction as a poetic, aesthetic, and political act. ARTDEL analyzes works of erasure poetry as forms of resistance and activism in digital culture. ARTDEL elaborates case studies on the cultural and political contexts of production and reception of poetry in Portugal, China, and the United States. The project is a comparative study of the legal and political processes applied by the state apparatus in the control and regulation of the literary field. Due to the scientific, socio-political, and critical perspectives concerning power and technology, ARTDEL is a timely project that significantly contributes to new knowledge on cultural production in the digital age, but also how different ideological regimes conditioned and continue to condition literary production and intelectual life.
During the first stage, at the outgoing host, UCLA, in the United States of America (USA), the ER sought to document and compile a database of all creative works in all languages that are either described as “erasure poetry” or take advantage of graphical erasures as composition procedures. This database contains so far circa 350 works, with the following fields: author, title, country, year, publisher, issue, page, language, url, publication type, source material, erasure type, software/material, and description.
The second research stage was initiated in Portugal, during the “secondment.” It focused on book censorship during the New State (1933-74). The main objective was to understand the procedures of the Censorship Commission (Direcção dos Serviços de Censura, DSC) and to research material traces of censorship, especially in the case of censored poetry, within an investigation of the materiality of censoring techniques. This task proved to be highly complicated, not only because of the revolutionary process of 1974 and the subsequent pilling and dispersion of the archives, but also due to bureaucratic issues.
Most importantly, the disappearance of all the archival libraries of the DSC and the political police PIDE/DGS left no evidence. The ER then developed a set of archival and mixed methods in information science, literary studies, oral history, interviews, fieldwork, and primary source hunting in order to find the original books held at the headquarters of DSC or PIDE. While researchers have treated the book reports and reviews, no one seemed to know where the original books censored by the regime were. These books are unique cultural artefacts because they contain the marks, stamps, annotations, and data left by the censors. After several months of research at the National Library of Portugal (BNP), the National Archives of Torre do Tombo, the Presidency of the Council of Ministers, and other public and private archives, the ER discovered part of the original archive-library from DSC. Work is still in progress to inventory these items, but the ER and the BNP’s librarians estimate that circa 1,000 books can now be rescued from oblivion. By collaborating with BNP, the ER was invited to curate and organize, together with librarians, an exhibition in 2021.
The ER has also conducted a series of interviews with poets that lived and worked under the Salazar and Caetano’s dictatorship, which are being prepared for publication.
The ER is in the process of moving at grand scale beyond the state of the art and compile the first full inventory of censored books via the transcription of the card index of DSC, which hyperlinks all original cultural and information artefacts such as censored books, reports, disciplinary processes, etc. It is estimated that, out of 12,000-13,000 items, ca. 8,000 card files are accessible. The ER has digitized all card photocopies (access to originals is impossible at this point, for several archival reasons) and is now transcribing them to create a full dataset.
The ER’s fieldwork in different archives has created an awareness among professional archivists and librarians that the censored books need to be treated as unique cultural artefacts that have traces of reading patterns and censoring decisions, because they have specific labels with data on the spine, stamps and marks, which need to be set in a special collection at the BNP for future preservation. Departing from this groundbreaking work, there are societal implications in terms of collection, document and memory preservation, storage, and history recollection.
Moreover, the ER archival research will give rise to the first exhibition ever to showcase the original books marked by the fascist censors during Portugal’s almost half-century long dictatorship. It is our hope to use the exhibition as a platform for recovering even more books that are held in personal libraries, since part of the archives were attacked and dismembered during the Carnation Revolution process. The catalogue book we are in the process of preparing will have a full list of the titles now discovered in the BNP’s collection, contextual essays, etc.
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